It seems strange to be writing about love and Las Vegas at the same time. I can reconcile the ideas of lost love with Las Vegas, or betrayed love, or love of money. I can reconcile thoughts of lust, greed and gluttony– even wrath, sloth, pride and envy. But love? That just does not seem to fit quite right.

Maybe that contradiction served as a reason for the Cirque du Soleil to stage their tribute to the Beatles in Las Vegas. In reflection, it may have been a contributing factor in my decision to see that show rather than one of the hundreds of other opportunities.

Let me start at the beginning. Last week at the end of January, Stephanie, John, Jim, Brian, Melissa, Liz and I spent five days and four nights in Las Vegas. This was the third annual trip for the members of our little urban tribe. On the first trip in 2005, Liz ran a half-marathon. Another ten of us went along to cheer her on. (And have some fun in a city that is all about having fun.) I did not go. That same weekend, Stephanie had traveled to Washington state to visit her cousin, Tim. Tim was dying of brain cancer. Growing up, Tim and Stephanie were closer to brother and sister than cousins. Stephanie needed to see him. I could not afford to go with her and while the last-minute invitation to Las Vegas was considerably less expensive– although no less time consuming– I could not justify going off to have fun in Sin City while my child bride made the difficult trip to say goodbye to her cousin.

So I stayed home. I went to work. I spent time with my friends. I talked on the phone with Stephanie every day. And at the end of the weekend I suffered a traumatic brain injury and nearly died.

I survived. I survived due in no small measure to the love and attention of my family and friends. When the one-year anniversary came around and I was still drawing breath my friends suggested a return to Las Vegas as a way to celebrate. 29. January, 2006 marked the first Brainiversary. The same day 2007 marked the second.

This year we spent a considerable amount of time at the poker tables. We played a number of tournaments and supplemented those entry fees with monies won at cash games. We tried our hands at other games as well. John won big– twice– playing Let It Ride. I won, albeit more modest winnings, playing craps. Everyone lost money at Blackjack and Pai Gow. We are in no danger of busting Vegas anytime soon. My own journey through the win-loss cycle turned out well. I won some money in the first few hours of being in town, and then slowly lost over Friday and Saturday. Late Saturday night– to be honest, around 3:00 am Sunday morning– I won back all my losses for the past two days playing poker. I was back to even, and decided to leave off gambling on a good note. I decided not to gamble any more this trip. I took some of the money I had set aside to gamble on Sunday and spent it on a ticket to see Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE at the Mirage.

Too much whiskey.  Seeing double.The Cirque du Soleil described their show: Born from a personal friendship and mutual admiration between the late George Harrison and Cirque founder Guy Laliberté, LOVE brings the magic of Cirque du Soleil together with the spirit and passion behind the most beloved rock group of all time to create a vivid, intimate and powerful entertainment experience. I have loved the Beatles since I discovered records. As a kid, I patiently copied my father’s records to cassette. I would play the records over and over again in my room; the cassettes I would play in my Walkman or in the car. I honestly believe that there has never been a more influential group of rock musicians. Derived from or inspired by, so much of rock traces back to this group. As I grew up, my own tastes and interests moved away from those of my father. I discovered new bands, new sounds, new approaches. But I often could hear the connections back to the Beatles.

For LOVE, over sixty artists worked in conjunction with the legendary producer Sir George Martin to interpret the exuberant and irreverent spirit of the Beatles. The loose story of the circus-based artistic and athletic stage production traces the Beatles’ biography in broad, symbolic strokes. The show does not use literal representations of people or places. What events they do portray are painted with a wildly and amazingly creative, symbolic brush. A representation of the German blitz of Liverpool opens the show, for example– concluding with a dark envisioning of “Because” from Abbey Road. The production has chosen to represent signature fictional characters from the Beatles’ lyrics. I recognized Lady Madonna, Sergeant Pepper, Lucy, Eleanor Rigby, and Mister Kite. Four was a recurring theme, as well. Four faceless, mop-topped figures resembled the Beatles themselves. The stage, albeit set in the round, was often divided into four quarters by translucent screens. It was a beautiful performance. Incredible art in its own right, inspired by a lifetime of monumental art.

Charles Spencer of Britain’s Daily Telegraph wrote this about the show, and his words describe my feelings with poignancy and clarity: “Cirque du Soleil is […] overpoweringly moving. For it achieves the apparently impossible, allowing you to hear the Beatles with fresh ears. […] At times you seem to be listening to the music of your childhood and youth as if for the first time.”

The theme they draw through the Beatles resonated with me. I began thinking about the connection love makes in my own life, its methods of expression, its power to lift up, and to inspire. The trip itself is an expression of that feeling. – On the last day, the actual anniversary of my injury, tragedy struck our group once more. John’s father died of brain cancer. John learned of this in Denver while on a layover between flights. His brother, Rick, lives in Denver and caught the first flight to Chicago. That flight was the same connecting flight four of our group planned to take home. Rick told John as he boarded the plane.

This week has been fraught with emotion– a wake, funeral mass and burial. It has been that power of love that I hope has lent John as much strength as it did me, two years ago. The trip has gained deeper meaning for all of us, a defiant symbol to stand strong against adversity and pain, to take comfort in one another.

Perhaps I am manufacturing connections between art and life where none ought to exist. I am not sure– I know the strength and emotion are there within me. I feel that bond to those around me. I see it through the beautiful and compelling lenses of art inspired.

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be in time.
It’s easy.

All you need is love.
All you need is love,
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

All you need is love.
All you need is love,
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
It’s easy.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love (All together, now!)
All you need is love (Everybody!)
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

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