Fifth Street

April 22, 2021

In this issue: What Did the Past Year Teach You? | Culture Is Back: Art, Theater, Music and More  | Media Sommelier | Photographic Memory: Remembering Bill Hughes


PERHAPS THE PROCESS of moving on from the pandemic begins with digesting the hard lessons. We internalize that which got us through the sickness, poverty, tedium, and fear, and shed what we found — sometimes to our surprise — we didn’t need after all. What has the past year taught you?

Here’s how you answered our Facebook query.

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I was right to have social anxiety most of my life; I just didn't know what I was planning for until 2020. – Josh Gordon

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Whether the Earth is shut down or wide open for business, I am truly a loner. – Nick Appuglise

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Slowing down allows me to become friends with a squirrel. – Jennifer Lake Smith

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Bras don't really need underwires. – Krystal Withakay

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If it doesn’t have a drawstring, it isn’t worth wearing. – Steve Evans

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To embrace unshaven legs. – Oksana Marafioti

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How to make tot waffles. – Heather Lang-Cassera

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There is not, in fact, a number of chocolate-covered almonds that would be considered "too many" to eat in one sitting. – Tod Goldberg

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How underutilized my backyard was in the past. – Dana Resnick Gentry

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Teachers are magic and vital, and I am not suited for homeschooling. – Ginger Meurer

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Some things can’t be learned by Google or YouTube. – Lisa Ledl Yalich

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More than I'm comfortable with about how people really feel about race. – Sean Powell

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Of all the things I love to do, the thing I love most is hanging out with my pets. – David Rosen

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When I hold space for another, my world expands. – Drew Lundberg

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Tipping convenience store employees feels really good. – Lora Dreja

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I don't need to go anywhere to be happy. – Monica Douglas

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I'm capable of making it through anything. – Derek L. Washington

          

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May 1
Walking event
’Rinth Cycle
May 1 is World Labyrinth Day, and before you quip it — why, yes, every day is a labyrinthine maze of disorienting pathways, false turns, and elaborate hoaxing mojo; sometimes there’s even a monster in the middle. But, as it happens, Labyrinth Day, and labyrinths themselves, propose themselves as a solvent for those anxieties. Walking through an elaborate, 11-course unicursal pathway in quiet reflection just might squelch your brain’s frantic yapping, at least for a while. Especially if there are a bunch of other people doing it beside you! The San Martin campus of the St. Rose Dominican hospital system — owner of a fine labyrinth — will host a noon walking event, though you can presumably celebrate on your own at one of the valley’s many labyrinths (including the one at St. Andrew Catholic Community Church, pictured right). vegaslabyrinths.org

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May 4-27
Theater
These Peeps Are Not for Easter
It may be inspired by the old-school raunch of a peep show in pre-gentrified Times Square, but Hot Trash is still a Troy Heard joint, so don’t ignore that part of the description that mentions “avant-garde cabaret.” In the Troy Heard Theatrical Universe, that could mean anything. As for what’re we gonna see: “There's a dichotomy of the best Strip talent performing in the sleaziest setup imaginable,” he says — “the most intimate setup we can have while following current regulations.” He then offers a memory: “I discovered the Times Square peep shows when I was on my senior trip to New York. I saw The Who's Tommy the night prior — yet that $2 curtained PeepWorld window made as much of an impression on me as that over-the-top Broadway spectacle.” The peep ain’t so cheap anymore — $250 for a four-person peep booth. Pro tip: tip. Bring those dolla billz! (And masks.) Majestic Repertory, 1217 Main St., hottrashshow.com

Through July 9
Visual Art
The Time of Her Time
Every evening since the pandemic shut down civilization in March 2020, artist Sierra Slentz has made a small ceramic sculpture, one that captures or responds to that day’s events, thoughts, rituals, feelings. Every night. It’s a diary in fired clay, and as much as it’s about the expressive potential of globbed earth, it’s about time: its remorseless passing, how we spend it, the marks it leaves on us. In contrast to Slentz’s previous effort in diaristic ceramics — 360 pieces that memorialized her daily encounters with the desert — this new one, titled Marking Time, chronicle the interiority of time spent indoors, her engagement with the larger world mostly mediated by the internet. Hung in calendar-like grids, Marking Time fills a long wall in UNLV’s Barrick Museum — time pinned up lepidopterally, for inspection, reflection ... and a question: What kept you going when everything stopped? unlv.edu/barrickmuseum

May 2
Community info event
Baby, You Can Drive My Car, Just Very Slowly
There are crazy dreams, there are impossible dreams, and then there’s the state’s “zero traffic fatalities by 2050” initiative. Helloooo, have you met drivers? At least the state transportation people have smartly committed to a date 29 years in the future, when achieving it will be someone else’s problem. Okay, enough sarcasm: We can all agree that fewer road deaths is a good thing. You can hear more at this community explainer, hosted by the Mob Museum. 2p, free with museum entry ($29.95), maybe less if you know a guy who knows a guy; themobmuseum.org

May 8
Music
We Got Your Jazz Right Here, in the Park
Like nature regenerating after a catastrophe, jazz is back in the park. And Grace Kelly is an ideal starter: She’s an accomplished saxophonist and a singer in the Norah Jones mold, her music accessible while largely eschewing the lamer clichés of smooth jazz. And, as her live videos on YouTube will bear out, she’s got stage presence, even when covering a song by Coldplay. Which is to say: just the relaxing note for a picnic dinner and free concert. Future shows include Special EFX Allstars (May 15), Najee (May 22), Ottmar Liebert (May 29), and Nick Colionne (June 5). Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, 5:30p seating, 7p performance, social distancing in effect, free but tickets must be reserved.

Through June 29
Visual Art
Blooming Folly
Who looks at a perfectly beautiful flower and thinks, How can I mess that up? Las Vegan Sean Russell, for one. He snaps them with his cell cam, edits them digitally, then — and somewhere Georgia O’Keeffe is making The Scream face — prints the blooms on his iffy laser-printer. Next he affixes them to painted wood panels, and hits them with resins, sealers, and stains. The result is this exhibit, Bouquet of Folly. And yet: Somehow, despite this new patina of compromising technique, the flowers retain some of their ethereal beauty, mutated now toward a different definition of pretty. Russell means them to be mostly ornamental — he’s using “folly” in its architectural sense, designating an element that’s nonfunctional, wholly decorative — though he allows that they may “perhaps conjure something greater in the mind of the viewer.” Well, yeah. East Las Vegas Library, 2851 E. Bonanza Road, lvccld.org/gallery-exhibits

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1. SO YOU'RE DOUBLE-VAXXED and street legal — ready to gonzo-romp through the reopening city, your bloodstream abuzz with Pfizerized impunity. Get out there and save capitalism! But first, a little pre-launch reading. Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that often-misread template for Sin City gonzo-romping, three local writers — Krista Diamond, Dayvid Figler, and Veronica Klash — weigh in on the book’s fading glories.

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How does it hold up here in Las Vegas? Not well, say Diamond and Klash. In his manic search for kicks, Thompson’s character brutalizes powerless hospitality workers (a point also made by Soni Brown on Black Mountain Radio), while the book and its subsequent imitators overlooked the upbeat, non-gonzo side of the real Las Vegas. “I don’t think Thompson wrote this book for women,” Diamond observes. “I don’t think he wrote it for Las Vegas either.” Figler is more forgiving, noting that in this of all cities, a drunken tourist’s perspective may be as valuable as locally correct knowledge. In any case, after 50 years of unimaginable local change, evolving social values, and the novel’s own generative notoriety — Klash describes a bachelorette party showing up at the Neon Boneyard dressed in Thompson’s iconic bucket hats and Hawaiian shirts — it’s hardly surprising the book wobbles badly in a contemporary reading. The ’70s are over, man.

2. After the torrential coverage of the last few days, what is left to say about the Derek Chauvin verdict? Maybe just this, from The Guardian, by Nicholas Russell, fast becoming one of the valley’s must-read writers. It’s an exhalation of weary anger, measured despair (“What is there to say about this system and its shepherds and this country’s tacit embrace of them than to point out that even the sitting president could do little more than make a phone call?”), and careful thinking.

3. Instead of a clever opening sentence, here’s a straightforward injunction: Read this argument for returning America’s national parks — all 85 million acres of them — to the nation’s indigenous tribes. “We live in a time of historical reconsideration,” writes David Treuer, a Native American author, “as more and more people recognize that the sins of the past still haunt the present. For Native Americans there can be no better remedy for the theft of land than land. And for us, no lands are as spiritually significant as the national parks. They should be returned to us.” It’s a deeply provocative thesis, and that crackling you hear is a million Caucasian spines stiffening in automatic resistance. But, after detailing the grim history of genocidal killings, forced removals, and broken treaties that put most of that land in government hands, Treuer proposes that these preserved parks — widely considered “America’s best idea” — be entrusted to a tribal consortium that would operate them on behalf of all Americans. “The national parks are the closest thing America has to sacred lands, and like the frontier of old, they can help forge our democracy anew.” Agree or not, it’s a powerful idea that should shift the conversation the way Ta-Nehisi Coates did with “The Case for Reparations.”

4. Just when you think The Sopranos is over, it pulls you back in — and that’s the beauty of this terrific essay by Peter Coviello. My favorite pop-culture writing not only smartly analyzes a work on its merits, it vectors in from multiple contexts — in this case, through the lenses of Coviello’s big Italian family, the larger Italian-American assimilation experience, the pandemic, and more. I’ve never seen The Sopranos, am not Italian, and have never been within insulting distance of New Jersey. But none of that mattered as much as watching the author eloquently draw real meaning from these braided influences. (Just as we all do in real life, only better!) Here’s another piece in the same vein: Former Las Vegan Alyse Burnside considers A&E’s popular exercise in psychological voyeurism, Hoarders, alongside Hoarders, a new collection of poetry by Kate Durbin, in a meditation about consumerism, trauma, and empathy.

5. Do you secretly wonder: What if the pandemic ends, and all the death and grief and deprivation, all the occasions for gratitude (at having survived) and empathy (for those who suffered) haven’t actually changed me for the better? You are not alone. Scott Dickensheets

 

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LAS VEGAS LOST a great photojournalist last week — and local journalists lost a good friend — when Bill Hughes passed away on April 16. Bill Hughes’ career in Vegas spanned 30ish years among multiple publications, including Desert Companion, but his style was unmistakable no matter where his photos appeared. I worked with Bill for many of those years, and was his friend for many more, so I’m kind of a superfan of both Bill Hughes the photographer and Bill Hughes the human.

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Ironically, it’s hard to find photos of Bill himself. (Even his Facebook profile selfie is a tricky cluster of refractions.) But it’s also metaphorically fitting: He always sought to shine a light on others with his lens. The headline photo for this article, a rare self-portrait, is of Bill circa 1984 when he was a student at Texas A&M. It depicts him engaged in one of his favorite practices, painstakingly hand-painting photos to make them simmer with expressionistic life. It’s not just a cool photo of Bill; it also neatly summarizes the unique aesthetic he brought to his visual record of life in Las Vegas.

Bill loved action, energy, color, movement; his shots always vibrated with antic but controlled intensity. I suspect he considered photography a dramatic art form, something closer to theater than, say, painting. (But, ha, I also suspect that Bill, the very definition of down-to-earth, would never make such a pretentious claim.) Even during the pandemic, confined at home, he produced a photo series of his home appliances — iron, fan, toaster — using smoke and lights to make them throb with cryptic vitality.

His flair for the dynamic and dramatic was connected to his penchant for turning feature photo shoots into participatory, physical affairs. Bill’s pictures frequently showed his subjects immersed in their passions, literally. He loved to capture people throwing things, spilling things, splashing things, jumping off things, being buried beneath things — often while drenched in the colored flashes Bill usually had rigged up. (At right, the background editorial photo for his Facebook page, which itself offers a nice exhibit of his work.) The evident pleasure he took in setting up these sometimes elaborate shots was amusing, and not just to Bill. Invariably, the subject was amused too, and it was pretty standard for a photo session to end with them amiably quizzing Bill about his tools, techniques, and methods. Whether the subject was a Strip celebrity or local band, I always felt like they understood that getting the Bill Hughes treatment was a distinctly Las Vegan honor. Through all his work — from striking portraits to surreal images of nightclub bacchanalia to stark, eyewitness photojournalism — he helped tell the grand story of modern Las Vegas. Which is funny, because for all the manic mojo he poured into his craft, Bill Hughes himself was one of the most placid, gentle, and kind people you’d ever meet.

He was also one of the most curious. It reminds me not to forget his less obvious, but no less important, contribution to local journalism. Bill’s curiosity was more than a nice personality trait; as many of his past colleagues will tell you, Bill’s curiosity was a journalistic resource in its own right, a utility you came to rely on. Here’s what would happen: You’d be interviewing your person, and Bill’s there the whole time, either discreetly snapping candids or quietly scoping out angles or setting up lights, and just as you’re wrapping it up, you’d hear Bill utter what might be his signature phrase: “Hey, I’m kinda curious …”

And, without fail, he’d ask the most interesting, insightful, perceptive question of the entire interview, the best question it never would have occurred to you to ask. And when you returned to the office to start slogging through the writing, Bill’s question was more often than not the springboard, the centerpiece, the conceptual linchpin of your story. It’s crazy to think about how many stories he invigorated and enlivened from behind the scenes with those questions that came from a deeply human place.

Many of us who grew used to this habit of his developed a ritual to close out our interviews. We’d wrap it up, and then turn to him and ask, “Do you have any questions, Bill?”

Then we’d start taking notes. Las Vegas, and Las Vegas journalism, will be less interesting without Bill Hughes.

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Photos and art: Pandemic illustration by Delphine Lee; labyrinth by Christopher Smith; Hot Trash courtesy Majestic Repertory; ceramic art courtesy Barrick Museum; Grace Kelly by Christian Nordstrom; flower art courtesy Sean Russell; drummer photo by Bill Hughes; Bill Hughes self-portrait courtesy Melanie O'Neill; CityLife photo by Mike Prevatt

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