This is a section from a play I wrote called An American Book of the Dead – The Game Show, which premiered in April, 2002 in Los Angeles as a Circle X Theatre production. Eventually I might node the entire play in sections, but I felt the urge to node this one, out of order, because I noticed that Ereneta had written a write-up about Louis Prima, and frankly I adore Louis Prima, as you’re about to see, and I think pretty highly of Ereneta, having only just recently made his acquaintance.
This is the culminating bardo of the game show. It’s the closest the contestants come to enlightenment; and, honestly, if I had my choice between what most people, especially Westerners, consider enlightenment, and the chance to go back in time and see Louis play the Casbar Lounge with Keely, Sam and the Witnesses, it’d be a no-brainer. I’d pick the latter in a heart beat.
So without further ado...
The Bardo of Louie Prima and Keely Smith with Sam Butera and the Witnesses playing the Sahara Lounge in Las Vegas, 1955
. . .
: Barry, you’ve just selected the Bardo of Barely Missed Blissed.
(With a loud bang, this panel explodes. Then another lights up instead: “The Luck Amplifier”.)
Nope, sorry. I spoke too soon. You got the Luck Amplifier.
(Now that blows up, and another panel lights up.)
Whoops! Wrong, again. It’s the Bardo of Good Grief.
HOST: This is crazyloo-wacko! What gives, Don?
ANNOUNCER: I... I’m not sure, Blink. Wait. Here we go: the Bardo of Purest Joy.
(But again, the panel explodes. Then suddenly the whole wheel blows up, including the Enlightenment Bull’s-Eye. When the smoke finally clears, one panel remains unscathed at the edge of the wheel: “The Bardo of Louie Prima and Keely Smith with Sam Butera and the Witnesses playing the Sahara Lounge in Las Vegas, 1955”. Lights fade except for these glowing letters.
A wild, New Orleans jam crescendos. Lights rise on Louie, Keely, Sam and the Witnesses, frozen in time. Then a special lights Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, all hepped out in the slickest of Fifties threads.)
SAMMY (to the audience): It’s 1954.
DINO: Quarter to three. The Sahara’s Casbar Lounge.
SAMMY: And you, you fabulous gem...you... are Frank Sinatra.
(A spot hits Sinatra, with cigarette and scotch.)
King of the Rat Pack.
DINO: Chairman of the Board.
SAMMY: And Lord of all you swingingly survey.
DINO: And even though all three of us have finished our shows in the big rooms, you’ve dragged us here to this cramped lounge--
SAMMY: To watch amazed and bathe in the glory of the true Swing King of the Strip.
FRANK: Jesus, Sammy. Jesus. Holy Fuck. Would you getta loada that Ginny clyde?
(Every time Prima sings, he and the band shift to another preposterous position, but Keely stands planted, sporadically scratching her nose or rolling her eyes.)
LOUIE: Zooma zooma... zooma zooma... zooma zooma baccalà!
FRANK: Prancing around like an ape high on Spanish Fly, his side kick Butera swinging his sax ‘tween his gams like it’s his own hopelessly swollen cock. And Keely...
DINO: Lovely Keely.
FRANK: Standing there stiff as a petulant schoolgirl, while Louie points his horn at the sky and wails like the world’s court jester giving the Old Man upstairs a friendly va fongool.
SAMMY: Oh, and you laugh...
DINO: And I laugh...
FRANK: And we all laugh so fugging hard we think we’re gonna croak laughing.
KEELY: I got it bad and that ain’t good.
LOUIE: I got it good and that ain’t bad.
(A riot of canned laughter.)
SAMMY: And as hilarious as it is, the music is amazing, tight.
FRANK: Fugging couldn’t be tighter, and yet he mocks it at even as he’s laying it out.
DINO: Hell, the music itself is mocking itself.
FRANK: And, shit... ain’t that the truth.
LOUIE: You’ll find your fortune falling... allovertownallover-townallovertown.
Make sure that your umbrella... is upsidedownandweedlybop.
FRANK: The bastard is a fugging genius and he don’t even get it.
LOUIE: I’m a poet who don’t know it.
FRANK: Doesn’t even understand he understands everything.
SAMMY: And it stuns you.
DINO: Like a hammer to your heart.
SAMMY: Knowing that you’ve never laughed so hard.
LOUIE: Use your mentality!
KEELY: Wake up to reality!
SAMMY: Utter sadness knowing you will never be this happy again.
FRANK: And yet--
DINO: And yet, somehow, that bastard’s, making you laugh again.
SAMMY: Even at your own searing sadness
DINO: Tearing you apart with laughter, utterly washing you away.
SAMMY: And somehow, in this one moment, you, the Chairman, can see everything.
FRANK: Everything. The future.
SAMMY: Don’t look, Frankie.
LOUIE: Ol’ Black Magic has me in its spell.
FRANK: I can see that dumb bastard cheating on his butternut squaw, pushing her away.
KEELY: That Ol’ Black Magic that you weave so well.
FRANK: And I can see myself wooing her, and her taking a very high shine to me.
LOUIE: Those icy fingers running down my spine.
FRANK: Hell, I’m thinking about marriage with this broad.
KEELY: The same ol’ witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.
SAMMY: But she sends you to Endsville ‘cuz you got a foul mouth.
DINO: And no way to change it
SAMMY: And she don’t wanna raise her kids round that.
FRANK: That’s crazy. I’m Frank Fuggin Sinatra!
SAMMY: Don’t look, Frankie.
FRANK: Jesus, I can see that bastard’s career swelling, taking him to the big rooms, the movies... then tanking back again to the broken Big Easy barrooms where he started.
SAMMY: Meanwhile you just get bigger.
FRANK: I’m Frank Fuggin Sinatra.
DINO: Chairman of the Board.
FRANK: I see it all, Sammy. I see the tumor ballooning in Louie’s skull.
LOUIE: The same ol’ tingle that I feel inside.
KEELY: Then that elevator starts its ride.
FRANK: Dino, I see the poor bastard rotting away semi-comatose in a New Orleans nursing home.
LOUIE: Down and down I go. Round and round I go. In a spin. Lovin’ the spin I’m in.
KEELY: In a spin.
FRANK: Unable to speak.
KEELY: Lovin’ the spin I’m in.
FRANK: Three years it takes him to die.
SAMMY: Frankie, Don’t look.
LOUIE & KEELY: In a spin.
FRANK: Then I see you dying, Sammy.
LOUIE & KEELY: Lovin’ the spin I’m in.
FRANK: And Dino.
DINO: I’m beggin’ ya, Francis.
FRANK: And even me. Even the Chairman’s final curtain call.
LOUIE & KEELY: Under that ol’ Black Magic called love.
FRANK: Everything. Everything gone.
Holy shit: the Ginny bastard knows the secret. Right here right now in the Casbar Lounge. And it ain’t the legendary oversized cock in his pants. Or even gorgeous Keely with her Cherokee cheeks glowing like a cigar shop statue come alive. And it ain’t even that I, Frank Fugging Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, have descended to this dump to see him. It’s--
LOUIE & FRANK: Sing, sing, sing, sing. Everybody’s got to sing.
FRANK (nearly overcome with emotion): God damn him.
LOUIE: Life is a wonderful thing.... Boy, you gotta have a little swing. Man if I could only sing like Bing... then I could really swing.
DINO: Your heart swells like an ocean.
SAMMY: Huge, Frankie. Your heart’s bloating up big as Caesar’s Palace.
DINO: Shit-- big as the Empire State.
SAMMY: Big as the biggest building they’ll ever build.
FRANK: Times two, and knock ‘em down, and build ‘em up again. And that ain’t even big enough.
DINO: And every player who’s ever flipped a coin, or spun a wheel--
SAMMY: Or thrown the bones ‘cross the craps pit, or yanked the arm on a one-armed bandit... is swimming now inside you.
FRANK: It’s too much, Sammy, Dino. It’s just too much.
SAMMY: And then...
DINO: And then...
SAMMY: The Chairman sheds three perfect crystalline tears--
LOUIE: Whattalife whattaworldriddle.
DINO: Pure as Polack vodka.
LOUIE: Whattalife and whattariddleworld
(Colors flash individually on Barry, Kim and Tonya’s booths. The music merges into a cacophony of sirens, as lights chase and pulse sickeningly.)
DINO: They roll down your cheek--
SAMMY: And fall back into the world of the living.
DINO: A man.
SAMMY: A woman.
FRANK: And a woman.
(Lights out on everything.
Lights up on the Gameshow. Blink and the Spokesmodels wander around the rubble of the Bardo Wheel, and inspect the now empty isolation booths.)