From north to south, sea to measured sea, Bangor to mighty Maine, I really do love all of these American cities. I hope my affection has come through in the stories and songs. As an East Coast loyalist (and a Giants fan) I’m supposed to be suspicious of Southern California, but in my opinion, Los Angeles is very much like Jersey, and therefore lovably dysfunctional. I’m also supposed to cultivate some Yankee disregard for the Deep South, but forget it; I dig it down there. Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, New Orleans — these are some of my favorite spots to visit, and I might even consider moving there, for a little while at least, if it wasn’t for the stifling heat.
But there’s always an exception, and I fear we’ve arrived at it. I’ll just come out and admit it: I don’t like Las Vegas. I find it to be an ugly, misleading caricature of America — a place where the things about the country that bug me all find their fullest expression. Worship of money and success, casino capitalism, gaudiness, grotesque consumption, rootlessness and ahistoricity, rampant overbuilding in an area that’s not exactly suited for human habitation, let alone widespread development, all of this stuff hits me over the head the minute I land at McCarran. None of this is America as I understand it, but I know it’s the image of the country that haunts the nightmares of anti-Americans abroad. It bothers me that there’s an American city I don’t really care for, because as a dumb patriotic fucker I want to believe that the American project can flourish in all circumstances and ennoble all who fly with the eagle, so I’d love to be proven wrong or just shortsighted about Las Vegas. Because in May 2017, Vegas is in my doghouse. And I’m pretty confident that comes through in the song and the story.
The story is the single most depraved thing I’ve ever written, including the filthy stuff I ad-lib in the shower. (Ask my poor neighbors.) I began with the vile image that closed the story and the pair of newcomers who are in over their heads in Vegas and worked backward from there. Should I ever be indicted, which could happen any day, I fully expect the prosecution to use this piece of writing against me. Goes to character. I’m like 50 Cent on “Heat”; the D.A. can play this motherfucking tape in court. Remember that song? No? It was a good one. Given the grotesque elements of this story and the Miami Beach one, I feel it necessary to reassure readers that I do not have an eating disorder of any kind. Last week I learned that my mommy reads this site. Seriously, mommy, I am fine. Mentally sound and all. Mama I’m so sorry I’m so obnoxious/my only accomplice my conscience/Yecch.
As for the song, it’s possible to hear it as a straightforward narrative about a man who wakes up to find he has all the money in the world in his bank account. To me at least, it’s more complicated than that, but I’ll leave it to you to puzzle out the deeper meaning if you care to. Aw, shucks, I’ll just go ahead and say it: “All The Money In The World” is about the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. I was attempting to personalize the global predicament and draw a character who is somewhat bewildered by his stroke of good fortune and who is blind to its implications. Sort of a clumsy guy, blundering around, having trouble conceptualizing his relationships to others and growing increasingly paranoid. I don’t know how much of that comes through; probably not a lot. As long as you get the Brandon Belt joke in the last stanza, we can be friends.
I wasn’t present for the mix. That was my own fault. I cut it very close this week. Mike Flannery now lives in Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County, which is best accessed by ferry: you can pick it up on East 35th Street and motorboat south for an hour, under the Verrazano Bridge and out into New York Bay to Sandy Hook and beyond. But getting from the 33rd St. PATH station to the ferry slip in the rain isn’t a fun thing to do, and even in the best weather I’m scared of sinking. It’s not my hide I’m worried about, it’s this laptop. It’s been such a good pal, and I’d hate to get it waterlogged. Anyway, I chose not to go to Atlantic Highlands today, and Mike was kind enough to do the mix for me anyway. There were practical consequences to my decision — a piano part that I really liked got excised, or maybe just de-emphasized. But Mike’s real care here is evident, and I am pleased to say that he Flannerized the entire track and made it sound as good as the songs on Try Your Hardest, his soon-to-be-released solo album. Without me whispering in his ear and making jokes, he was free to shoot the works. Which he did. If the final product is a little baroque, a little flashy, well, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to represent my Vegas experience in any other manner.