It’s a great camp organization, by the
way. It has done wonderful work with John. I recommend it.
Since driving straight back would get
me into Atlanta in the middle of rush hour, I detoured via the Blue
Ridge Parkway and through Cherokee.
You know who I saw there? Merle
Haggard. Well, Haggard on a billboard.
The Carolina Cherokees have a casino.
I didn’t stop in, but it is fun, sometimes, to watch the white man’s
dollars flow into red hands (some of them anyway).
Given the needs of the tribe, I can’t
object. I’ve watched this corner of paradise for many years, off and
on, and I can see that there are now more health centers there, more
education, more offices. Sure some of the money gets siphoned off
into strange pla
ces, but that’s the way it is with anything you don’t
really earn – that’s why Houston and Saudi Arabia are screwed-up.
Anyway, back to Haggard. What I
realized, suddenly, is that casinos are the new vaudeville.
Instead of doing Pantages Time
or Keith Time to reach the Big Time , former
big-timers do a circuit of casinos. If they’re lucky they stay on the
road and make money until they die or can’t take any more dough. If
they’re not they may go further down the ladder – to Branson, perhaps, or the church circuit, or maybe
they do their penance in dinner theaters .
All we have really done in 100 years is
to reverse the entertainment career path, or maybe just brought it
around full circle. You don’t make it big by playing one-night stands
in Nowheresville, USA. You make it by getting on TV, signing the
“standard rich and famous contract,” getting some hits (or parts
in hits) under your name.
Then, once you’re recognized on the
American street, you hit the street. Then you get your act, and you
go on the road.
A few years ago the Mississippi Gulf
Coast – Biloxi and Bay St. Louis – they were part of the circuit.
Now they’ve been replaced by upstate halls like Tunica, which is just
two hours from Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley.
I find that amusing somehow.