The Way-Back Pack

Celebrating Vegas icons could signal their slow fadeout


When does yesteryear become the past?

Perhaps that’s a fine distinction. Yesteryear is something we trot out to warm ourselves with its memories. The past is something we lay to rest.

Allowing a sniffle or two when the Riviera passes into history in May to be repurposed is easy, as it was for the parade of imploded landmarks before it. Though historic, they were brick and mortar and chandeliers. Elvis, Sinatra and Liberace were flesh, blood and bone—and more memorable as Vegas symbols than any single resort.

Oddly, then, the upcoming Elvis: The Exhibition–The Show–The Experience, opening at the Westgate in late April, leaves me a tad sad. However entertaining, informative and celebratory it turns out to be, it still transforms The Pelvis into a museum piece. Vegas under glass. Once a pop-culture talisman—in this instance, memories of Elvis—enters its museum stage, it feels framed, cemented in place and left to calcify (excepting the lighthearted kitsch of Madame Tussauds).

Later this year, the town will bust a gut celebrating Frank’s 100th birthday (born Dec. 12, 1915). Two months back, Bob Anderson kicked off centennial festivities with the Palazzo’s Frank The Man. The Music. Exceptional as the show and Anderson are—you can’t get any closer to re-creating a full-scale Sinatra concert in this town, or likely anywhere else—it feels less like a tribute than an attempted resurrection of a man who’d be a century old now.

And that proposed holographic Liberace show—devoid of details since its announcement—would be a creepy attempt to reanimate a great showman who, however vital to Vegas lore, feels far more in the past than even Elvis and Sinatra in terms of musical impact on contemporary performers.

Sensational as his musicianship was—who the hell else could do what he did with a keyboard?—he wasn’t a hitmaker and his flowery style of American standards has had no real heirs. By and large, audiences—as mentioned here previously—would come for the technological curiosity, not the man’s virtuosity.

Once, Vegas was a cool commingling of past and present, its history converging comfortably with its evolution—a fascinating generational prism. It still kinda is, yet you can hear the clock ticking on it, albeit very gradually.

Timeless as Sinatra’s music and legacy are, the generation that lionized and venerated him—and can trade memories of seeing him—is dwindling. About to be museum-ized, Elvis isn’t a living memory for young, club-culture Vegas visitors who weren’t alive the day he died, but rather a symbol of faded baby boomer dominance that’s transitioning into misty-eyed AARP nostalgia.

Always will he hold the title of “The King”: We never strip icons of the affectionate monikers we bestow. Yet while even Elvis’ death couldn’t dethrone him, time—as it does to everyone, even faster in today’s hyper-accelerated pop-culture turnover—will leave him farther away in the historical rearview mirror to those who can’t connect him to moments in their own lives.

That’s when yesteryear becomes the past.

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