Las Vegas was more than merely rhinestone glitter and a parade of reflected glory, more than a money-pocket for a sign and a snatching hand and booze-filled weekend pliers to the teeth. It was a place which encouraged invention. If Edison had been in Vegas he might never have found the light bulb amongst his workers in the lab. He would have spent and wasted until he was too gutshot to save, and he’d be found screaming in the desert to the mountainous west. Vegas was new songs, new stories, a place where a man cannot go too far, where excess doesn’t exist, and where degradation was merely a pair of shoes a man put on when he left another’s bed.
A few years on the strip and he’d come out changed, and although he didn’t know what direction that would take, he thought about the jaunt over the mountains into the impossible valley, the city that shouldn’t exist, a kind of cheap drive-by Shangri-La, and how he could disappear there like anyone else.
That night the crowd took on a flavour that was cinnamon-sprinkled over woodsmoke and cordite. He meandered between songs and took long breaks to talk to Moses and Emily about how he’d found a destination. He told them about what he’d gain there that he’d lost in Los Angeles on the side of the road. They listened, began to offer an opinion, and then bought him a drink.
Every song, he told the crowd later on, is either about arriving or leaving. If you spent your last dime on a phone call and the voice on the other side doesn’t want to listen, then you are writing a leaving song. If you throw down fifty on a ring and parade up to the chapel door, then you’re telling the story of an arrival, the story of a man hauled down like a side of beef from the rafters in the barn, or picking through rusted-out Cadillacs in the bright sun of a junkyard day.