It’s true that writers must suffer for their art. Take me, for instance. Since I’ve become a writer, I’ve had to see how many hot dogs I could eat in an hour and then write about how I felt (nauseous), eat as much of the world’s biggest Cold Stone hot fudge sundae as I could and then write about how I felt (nauseous), and watch other people stuff hot dogs into their mouths at the rate of 5.5 a minute and then write about how I felt (nauseous). It follows, of course, that when I did finally vent that nausea, I wrote about that, too. Seriously. Just read the opening chapter of BIG MOUTH when it pubs in June and you’ll see where my ralphing came in handy. I believe actors call this kind of “becoming your art” The Method. In writing, it’s called The Puking Pen. At least by me it is.
Last week I had to suffer for my art yet again. It was time to do more research for my third novel, which I’ve set in Vegas and which, of course, features the icon of The Strip: an Elvis impersonator. Cut to me sitting front and center at Trent Carlini’s Elvis tribute show “The Dream King.” I didn’t expect to be surrounded by much of an audience given that it was a Tuesday night. In fact, I was rather worried that I’d be the only one there. I mean, how many people go anywhere on a Tuesday night, let alone to a long-running Elvis show at the Sahara? I was wrong. The place was at least three quarters full. Surprise #1.
Surprise #2 came in the form of Carlini himself. You see, I was a little worried that I had forked over $78 dollars for a schmaltzy show. How entertaining could it be to watch someone sing the same old Elvis songs, doing the clichÃ© Elvis moves, with me knowing the whole time that he was just a big fake. Boy, was I wrong. Trent Carlini is a riveting performer. He truly entertained me. And he clearly wants to be a living homage to Elvis, not a caricature of him. Granted, my exposure to the real Elvis is limited to the clips I’ve seen of him over the years on TV and on the Internet, but Trent Carlini breathed life into the clichÃ©s rather than beating them like so many dead horses. After a couple of songs, I’d forgotten he was just pretending to be Elvis. By the end of the show, I was fully immersed in his imaginary world, quite willingly suspending belief and getting into the joy that is seeing Elvis perform. And what a performer Elvis, or rather Trent, is. Full intensity, fully physical, fully belting out note after note. One of the things that made the real Elvis so amazing, I think, was his stunning presence. And I gotta say, Mr. Carlini has presence galore. When he’s on the stage, you forget that there are backup singers and dancers and four-person band behind him. It’s all about the man in the white jumpsuit. I had a blast, clapping and whistling and rocking out with the rest of the audience. And at the end, when Trent gave his red scarf to a girl who clearly had Down Syndrome or something similar, I jumped to my feet for a standing ovation. Trent Carlini won me over as surely as he’d won over that dear girl. In my mind, Elvis was in the house.
I’m so very glad I bought that ticket to “The Dream King.” Not only did I get to see an Elvis impersonator in action, I got to see someone impersonate in a way that was nothing but loving and respectful. That’s very much how I’m handling Elvis tribute artists in my novel; Trent’s performance confirmed that decision. Plus, The Dream King gave me a darn entertaining 90 minutes in the Sahara and another entertaining 90 minutes in front of my computer screen as I madly typed out how I felt after the show. My fingers were exhausted by the time I shut down my laptop and rolled into bed at 1:00 am, just four hours before my wake-up call would come. See, more suffering for my art. But I’m a writer, and that’s what writers do.
At least I didn’t have to barf this time.