The Big RoomPosted: June 26, 2021
Michael Herr wrote Dispatches, he wrote a novel about Walter Winchell, he wrote a short book (an expanded article) about Stanley Kubrick, he collaborated on the screenplays for Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.
He also wrote the text for The Big Room, a collection of portraits by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, centered around Las Vegas. Short essays about Howard Hughes, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, FDR, Richard Nixon, Bugsy Siegel, Nat King Cole, Colonel Tom Parker, Martin & Lewis, more.
When they talk about luck in Las Vegas, it’s just the way they have there of talking about time. Luck is the local obsession, while time itself is a sore subject in the big rooms and casinos. It’s a corny old gag about Las Vegas, the temporal city if there ever was one, trying to camouflage the hours and retard the dawn, when everybody knows that if you’re feeling lucky you’re really feeling time in its rawest form, and if you’re not feeling lucky, they’ve got a clock at the bus station. For a speedy town like Vegas, having no time on the walls can only accelerate the process by which jellyfish turn into barracuda, grinders and dumpers become a single player, the big winners and big losers exchange wardrobes, while everyone gets ready for the next roll. The whole city’s a clock. The hotels change credit lines as fast and often as they change the sheets, and for a lot of the same reasons. The winners and the losers all have identical marks on them, bruised and chewed over by Las Vegas mitosis, with consolation prizes for anybody left who’s not already inconsolable. Don’t laugh, people. It could happen to you.
The big room is not a clearing that anyone should charge into blindly, unarmed. The way in is hard, as dangerous as the approach to King Solomon’s Mines, and obscure as a tomb. In fact, many a headliner has had good reason to compare the room to the tomb, having experienced for themselves the non-contradiction that once you’ve made it here, it’s all over for you.