Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be in show business?
A: Wow, that's a good one. Making the distinction of working, rather than performing, I'd say, it had to be when I was a kid, must have been 12, and I saw Victor Borge. My uncle managed the civic center in Saganaw Michagan and so when I'd visit, I'd see the shows and I will always rememeber seeing his second and third night and 'getting it,' being in on the fact that the wonderful ad libs were a part of a well written show. I guess I decided then that I'd like to write, to be a writer.
Q: What was the first thing that you wrote that you saw in print or on stage?
A: Well, that would be back in school. Even in high school, I was writing and producing plays and shows. But, if I might say, there was a specific moment in Frank Sinatra's dressing room that did it for me. You'll remember that Sinatra loved writers, screenwriters and especially composers, and always made a point to give credit to the writer of the song, the writer of the arrangement, and one night, I was a kid, but at the time the cartoonist Gary Trudeau was doing a series of rather nasty cartoons dipicting Sinatra in poor light. It was cheap and everybody knew it, so I made a pretty mean-and pretty funny comment, to Jilly Rizzo and he said, 'Come on, you gotta tell the old man,' so he takes me into his Caesars dressing room and man, it was filled with big shots, like major league baseball guys and others. And Sinatra looks over at me, those blue eyes, and says "Well?" Jilly hits me on the arm and I tell Mr. Sinatra the line and he laughed, I mean, really laughed and then said, "Write that down, I'm using it." And he did, he said it on stage a time or two. And after that, I always felt like a writer, that Sinatra thought of me that way, you know?
Q: Tell us something about Frank Sinatra that we don't know.
A: Well, there has been so much written. My friend Will Friedwald did the best book, "The Song is You," just great, but, I think the thing that always amazed me is how much Sinatra really loved his fans, and how hard he worked to make sure they got a good show. I mean, if the curtain was late, he'd be pissed. Can I say pissed? He really loved his fans and I was one, and as a younger guy, I think he liked to hear my opinion from time to time.
Q: What is your favorite Vegas story?
A: Well that's funny you should ask because I've been after my old friend, impersonator Frank Marino to join me in doing a book based around performers' favorite Las Vegas stories. And, it is Las Vegas, not Vegas, mate.
I think the night I watched a very wealthy Saudi guy, a very polite man, by the way, bet every hole at a 21 table, upstairs at Caesars. And- here's the thing: he would stand on the first two cards, no matter if the total was less than eleven, he's stick and I watched him amuse himself, betting I think $100,000 per spot all night, that's one hundred G's times seven. He went through millions and after two hours, ended up about even, but it was wild, watching a guy whose income was estimated to be a million a day gamble and screw-around like that, buying us all Piaget watches and getting into the gaming.
Q: You are a bit of a pop culture expert.
A: Well, no, come on. I did take one of the first college courses on American popular culture, back in the 80's.
Q: You were the youngest contestant on NBC-TV's Name That Tune, winning $100,000.
A: Actually, much of it was paid in Creamettes. Seriously, I lived on those little pastas for years.
Q: But your articles, blogs and show reviews seem to capture that spirit, and you write with a clear voice that it is fair to ask you your opinion of Amercian culture.
A: Well, if you mean am I blue about anything, I am not. Ask a kid what music they listen to and they'll say 'everything,' and they mean it. The IPod generation, and I love it.
Q: What's on your IPod?
A: Everything. I must add, speaking to the UK, that I am a huge fan of Jamie Cullum. I got to speak with him, briefly, after a show and man, he's the best thing that's happened to jazz since Nat Cole. And his audience? He draws all ages. I mean, he's the nuts.
Q: The nuts?
A: Sorry. It is a poker expression, meaning the best possible thing ever.
Q: Your novel The King of Diamonds is about poker?
A: Well, no. The character's dad is known as a poker guy, he's a Hollywood big shot with a high powered poker game, but the story is about the son, an 'impossibly handsome' pop singer and illusionist, named Darin Diamond. I think it could make a hell of a movie.
Q: In your book, Steve Wynn is the man who brings Darin Diamond to Vegas. What is your opinion of Mr. Wynn?
A He's the best thing that happened to Las Vegas since, forever. I don't know him, but he's great.
Q: There are reports here about his divorce.
A: None of my business, and none of yours, I'll bet. I'd like to go back to something you asked, or maybe should have asked, about music. I think that good music is timeless. Jason Mraz is by far the best lyricist writing today. Nobody even close. Bella Luna and Life is Wonderful will live forever. Vinnie Falcone, the great pianist and conductor, was in Lake Tahoe with Andy Williams, oh, several years ago, and Andy put on some great shows, doing new takes on classics like Claire de Lune etc and I remember Vinnie telling me that great music exists, it lives in a timeless place.
Q: What art inspires you.
A: What art? Well, I dream about St. Alexander, the Bergamo Cathedral. In Florence, Guilano Romano's frescos in Mantua, and of course, Michelangelo.
Q: When were you first in Italy?
A: Never been. Seriously. I dream about, read books and am self-taught in art. I'm part Italian and dream to go meet my people. I'm also a Scot, so that's a combo for you.
Q: Like Jay Leno?
A: Jay is great, and he's going to do well. Very nice man.
Q: Do you have a favorite writer?
A: Matt Taibbi. As a journalist, he's the best. There's a guy here in Las Vegas,Steve Freiss, who is just all over every story. That dedication to gettig it right is so cool. I was crazy about the late David Foster Wallace and am getting into Jonathan Franzen but, as I'm banging-away on a new novel, I try not to read too much fiction now.
Q: Your seem to know an awful lot about magic.
A: OK. I'll take that. I've worked with some of the best magicians, booked many, written some magic acts and even created a few illusions. The King of Diamonds is about a magician and he's the guy who makes magic cool again, not unlike some great young guys in real life, like Jason Lattimer and R.J. Cantu. There's a guy, a super-star on college campuses called Justin Kredible and he's great. He's made magic so enjoyable. He's like so likeable. I was telling my old friend Valentino that his Masked Magician television specials really broke it wide open for so many great young guys.
Q: Do you see Las Vegas as a home for magic?
A: It already is. I mean Lance Burton is getting it done night after night and Criss Angel is going to be fine. As long as we stop bringing in Cirque and friggin Andrew Llyod Webber shit.
Q: Not a fan of Sir Andrew?
A: He did Starlite Express and it still smells at the Hilton where he did it. He is the most overrated, he's the worst. And Cats? Where do I go to get that goddamn song out of my head?
Q: Webber is working on a new show right now.
Q: God save the Queen!
William Watters novel, "The King of Diamonds, the magical life of Darin Diamond, launches this summer
- ► 2010 (85)
- ▼ March (7)