Thursday, April 25, 2013

Zombie Apocalypse Las Vegas

I just got back from the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival in (where else?) Las Vegas. It's my third time going, and if there's a better opportunity to see the kind of mid-century upbeat dance music I love--rockabilly, rock and roll, jump blues, western swing--I don't know where it is.

I always come back with a few hundred bucks worth of CD's. Leaving aside the current bands who play this kind of stuff, there is a mind-blowingly huge catalog of old recordings out there. Seems there were hundreds of record labels in the 40's and 50's, all recording great stuff that dedicated music nerds have saved and reissued on CD. For every Sun Records, there were dozens of tiny regional or city-specific labels who recorded some killer tracks by local bands who promptly went back to their day jobs driving trucks or whatever.

I feel like I went for a long time loving this stuff but having no idea where to find it. There are bajillions of recordings. Once you find a vein, there's so much it's almost overwhelming. Go search out Wild and Frantic, Hey DJ!; East Coast Teen Party; or Rock 'n' Roll Orgy--each of these CD series has a dozen or more volumes, all packed with great stuff. (Um, watch out googling that last one though.)

Aside from the music, the event itself is sort of like a Star Trek convention for Back To The Future nerds, right down to the ballroom full of people who are obviously not teenagers, dressed like 1950's teenagers and cutting up the floor like professional swing dancers. There's a huge classic car show which--even for a committed pedestrian like me--is pretty impressive.There are merchant booths selling vintage threads, tiki knicknacks, and industrial-strength pomades to keep your ducktail tuff--including some hair goop with the if-nothing-else-memorable name, Cock Grease.

There's a whole other post to be written sometime about the appeal of this whole subculture. Were I to summarize, I would say that there are a lot of reasons to wish it was 1955 again, if you were able to surgically remove the racism, sexism and homophobia. (One of the perks apparently being that you could give your product a name without worrying that a google search will bury it dozen pages of porn sites.)

Anyway, as per my usual habit, I went down a bit early and spent a couple of days in the old downtown around Fremont Street. That original Rat Pack, Bugsy Siegel-era center has been gussied up in recent years for slightly less seedy audiences; they've clapped a giant roof over the street, and the roof is embedded with gajillions of LED's, making it a gigantic Blade Runner flat-screen TV.

Also as is my wont when I visit a new city, I took a walk out of said tourist area. Within two blocks found myself in the most desolate, fucked-up urban post-apocalyptic ruinscape I have ever seen--and I have seen my share of fucked-up urban et cetera. It was like I'd walked into a parallel universe where the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended very badly indeed. Block after block of demolished (or close to it) motels, their original and now-very-retro pylon signs flaking away in the desert sun.

 Looks like you're still charging too much.

 At a certain point you just give up and fill the pool with rocks.

If Downtown and the Strip are like Blade Runner without the rain, the surrounding area was like... I dunno... Planet of the Apes without the apes.

You maniacs! You blew it all up.... And I really wanted a burrito!

I recently heard an episode of This American Life, talking about how federal disability insurance has largely taken over the role of welfare in the United States. This tour bears it out. Almost literally everybody I saw--and there were a few people out at eight in the morning--had a cane, a walker or some sort of mobility device. I saw a guy pushing his girlfriend around in a grocery cart. Vegas being what it is, the extremes of poverty are probably particularly visible. But it looks like there are whole districts that subsist entirely on federal Social Security.... and this is what they're like.

The next day I took the bus out to something called the Zombie Apocalypse Store. It's a ridiculously stupid, not to mention awesomely cool, little store that sells all manner of stuff you would need to survive the hordes of living dead. Machetes, ammunition, army MRE's, first aid kids.

I thought about asking them for a ride back to the hotel but I didn't like the look of the guy they'd already picked up.

The Zombie Apocalypse Store is located out the Clark County exurban sprawl, in the middle of a vast, depopulated, de-industrialized wasteland of abandoned one-storey industrial buildings, many of which formerly sold granite countertops and other necessities for the great twenty-first century housing bubble which now, five years after popping, feels like a whole other world. As I trudged back to the hotel, I thought it was one of the few places on earth where a zombie apocalypse would be an improvement. At least there would be people walking around.


  1. we have to compare musical notes some time...

  2. you ought haul out some of the cool vintage tracks for me to hear