Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John O'Brien and Vegas Mavens

Bill, Erin and John O'Brien, 1970

 Vegas Mavens has posted an essay about my brother John and his novel Leaving Las Vegas.

During our interview, Mavens writer Josh and I discussed one of my favorite passages from the book that appears on page five. This burst of poetry and geometry absolutely dazzles me:

His point was made, and he moved along, in keeping with the tangential nature that must consume at least one of them. There is a bottle in his future--perhaps sooner a glass--elsewhere on the line. Sera is a circle, twenty-nine years around.

There is a woman (a circle) and a man (a straight line). The metaphor is perfect in it's every permutation: in the primal symbols of female and male, and in the visual moment when Ben and Sera first glance off each other. Their tangential one-point contact is also an accurate representative of their relationship as a whole. His line does not bisect the circle or thread through it's middle just as Ben does not penetrate Sera.

After their brief and chaste affair, Sera will continue to roll around her diameter and Ben's line will plod on. That line is resolute in its path and the liquor that marks it. Whether it comes to an end or continues along towards a spiritual vanishing point depends on the reader and how he spends his Sunday mornings. Sera's age, 29, is a prime number, divisible only by itself and the number one (how much do I love that?).

Hence on page five, John has effectively diagrammed his entire novel in 50 easy words.

All I can do is sigh. All I can do is shake my head. All I can do is put my fingers on the goddamn keyboard.


Josh and I talked and talked and talked, but we didn't get to all of it. There are parts of the film that I like very much, such as the sad melodic opening:

Insider note: At 3:06, Stuart Regen walks through the set in a cameo appearance. It is perhaps subtler than those of Richard Lewis and Steven Weber, but far more significant. Long before Ben and Sera glittered on the silver screen, Regen plucked a copy of Leaving Las Vegas from a bargain book bin because he liked the cover. He purchased the book for one dollar and subsequently fell impossibly in love with the story. He optioned the rights for $2,000.

Without Stuart Regen, Leaving Las Vegas would never have been made into a film. He succumbed to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in August, 1998.

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Thanks again to Josh for an evocative and fresh viewpoint on the Leaving Las Vegas story and John.

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Cleveland Bob said...

Nice piece, EB.

In case I haven't mentioned this before, when my wife and I moved to Cleveland in '97, we walked through your Lakewood home when it was for sale as a FSBO. Your Dad was most gracious and we had a nice chat with him about both his remarkable collection of tools and machines in the basement as well as the loss of your brother.

He was quite emotional even then and I left our brief encounter with a deep sadness for both John and your Father. We didn't purchase the house and I still think about that day when i drive by Lakewood Park.

Just thought I'd pass that along.

Erin O'Brien said...

Bob, I think you did mention this to me ... maybe in a private email? I'm not sure.

I am very glad you posted that reminiscence here in any event.

And here's a photo of the house Bob is talking about.

Bill said...

Very nice post. I love how the book was found and made into a movie.

WV: bilis perfect

J9 said...

I fell like an idiot. I knew you had a writer brother who committed suicide, but never having seen or read Leaving Las Vegas, I didn't put that all together until today. I'm going to read it as soon as I can get my hands on the book. From the excerpts, it looks to be an interensting read...

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks, Bill, and my that is some word verification. Hm.

J, why would you say such a thing? Why ... none of my readers are idiots!

: )

Thanks for the comment.

Kirk said...

Cleveland Bob mentioned Lakewood Park. Erin, did your family live on Lake Road? I'm asking because my brother and his family live on that road, not too far from the park, and I've think I may have passed that house on the way there. I'll have to keep an eye out for it next time.

That clip reminds me just how good that movie was. For some reason, I remembered Lewis being rude to Cage in that scene. Obviously, he wasn't, and instead seems conflicted about the whole situation. Funny how you notice things differently the second time you watch a movie.

Erin O'Brien said...


The house is at 14000 Lake Ave, right at the corner of Lake and Parkside. Lakewood Park abuts the west side of the lot.

The Expatresse said...

Goodness. I had no idea.

Cleveland Bob said...

It's funny. I just watched the clip again and while I know the story and its inevitable ending, there remains an urgent and helpless sense that, "if only I could get through to Ben and help him", things would be all right.

Simultaneously very frustrating and compelling storytelling via a great opening sequence.

John Venlet said...

Erin, though I have seen the film Leaving Las Vegas, I have not read the book. I was completely unaware that your brother John was the author. I shall obtain a copy and read it through, because I found the film disturbingly gripping.

I am sorry that you lost your brother under the circumstances which he left this world.

Thank you for posting both the link to Mavens' essay, and sharing your additional thoughts.

Ms Amanda said...

Well, now that I know your brother penned it I'll be reading the book. Maybe I'll give the movie another viewing as well, since I remember not liking it at all the first time.

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks, Bob.

John, I appreciate your kind words. To you and Expat and Ms. Amanda and anyone else who might be interested, here is an in-depth essay I wrote about John and his work for a local paper a few years back, and a companion blog post with more photos and embedded links.

Erin O'Brien said...

And since I'm on a link roll:

The interwebs constantly report that Nicolas Cage wore John's Rolex during the filming of LLV, but that is patently false.

And some more John trivia and notes on the press.