Suburban Xanadu: Annotated Contents

I’ve gotten some praise for my vivid chapter and sub-chapter titles. I realize, though, that some people might not get all the references right away. Here, I explain how I named the chapters of Suburban Xanadu. See the creative process at work, then enjoy the book.–dgs

Introduction: Enter the Green Felt Garden

This title is an obvious play on Demaris and Reid’s poorly researched 1964 page-turner, The Green Felt Jungle. I wanted to establish my thesis, that casino resorts were safe, orderly retreats for middle-class Americans, not bastions of lawlessness.

One: The Righteous and the Wicked

Referencing Ezekiel by way of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I tried to capture the moral tension between those who wanted to gamble and those who felt it an unpardonable civic weakness. I listened to the RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik incessantly while writing the last draft of this book, and I borrowed from more than one of their lyrics.

Two: The Unwholesome Allure

It plays on the chapter’s epigram, a quotation from a 1950s news account that calls Las Vegas “basically unwholesome,” but in an innocuous, nice way. It was vaguely inspired by Rob Zombie’s The Sinister Urge. This chapter discusses the creation of the casino resort in the late 1940s, and the birth of the Las Vegas Strip in the early 1950s.

Three: A Fruitful Containment

I wanted to juxtapose the efforts of antigamblers to stifle and limit gambling (tied to the foreign containment of communism) with the growing success of the Strip.

Four: Organizing Luck

The increasing commercialization and bureaucratization of the casino industry in the 1950s first showed the paradox: how do you run a business based on random events?

Five: Wiseguy Empire

This title came pretty naturally; it opens with Sinatra and the Rat Pack at the Sands, discusses the creation of Caesars Palace, and closes with the inauguration of the Black Book and the diminishing influence of organized crime. This tied all those elements together.

Six: When the Suits Come Marching In

Obviously a spoof on “When the Saints Come Marching In,” I actually had a vivid, ridiculous image in mind. On the Ocean City Boardwalk, there’s this strange glass cage that contains a bizarre collection of puppet primates called “The Monkey Band.” They are a dixieland band, and if you put a few quarters in, they “play” a tune for you. The first time I saw this monstrosity, they played “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It just gave the song an absurd flavor that has stayed with me. It’s interesting that corporate types frequently derided for “ruining the business,” yet without them the busines wouldn’t exist today.

Seven: The Casino Archipelago

Another obvious allusion here, this one to Solzhenitzen’s Gulag Archipelago. I recall that he wrote about a scattered nation-within-a-nation of prisons in the Soviet Union in his introduction. Not wanting to trivialize the seriousness of the crimes against humanity perpetrate by the Stalinist regime, I wanted to catch an echo of Solzhenitzen’s title. It seems that no matter where I visit a casino, I feel right at home (or right at work–I have to stifle the urge to card underage gamblers and give people directions). It’s just one big casino, spread out from coast to coast.

Epilogue: Odds Against Tomorrow

This one might be obscure, but not to Modern Jazz Quartet fans. They composed a soundtrack for the 1959 movie Odds Against Tomorrow. Looking back at my book, I felt that some might feel it was an exuberant celebration of the triumph of casinos, a “booster” history. If you are familiar with the haunting eponymous final song from the MJQ’s Odds Against Tomorrow album, you probably have a sense of the pessimism that crept in as a grappled with my own ambivalence about the role of casinos in today’s America. My final conclusion, that while they provide, at the very least, good jobs and opportunity, was both the result of my research and the heart-felt conviction of someone who grew up surrounded by the growth of the Atlantic City casino industry.

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