If you missed Part 1 from last week, read it here.
6. My next question was the flipside: what was the most bizarre thing he has seen firsthand under the streets of Las Vegas? For months and months, Matt roamed the underground waterways of Las Vegas. He mentioned how he would be walking through a seemingly desolate underpass, when the sunlight found its way down and cast light onto beautiful art galleries of graffiti. Amazing sights like this kept him exploring, kept him stumbling upon creative creatures that Matt highlights in his book. Finding the pathways that people used to get in to the underground was also inspiring for him. He said that once you get in, you want to keep going until you find a way out. One time, he mentioned, a passageway brought him right out onto the tarmac of the North Las Vegas airport!
7. Many people living in this city say they can’t wait to move away, and some are even dying to move away. The years just seem to tick by for these people. I asked Matt if he liked living here or if he’d had enough. He said he has a love/hate relationship with Las Vegas. He loves the natural desert beauty of southern Nevada, the inspiration for writing, and the weather 9 months of the year (does anyone love the 110 degree summers who’s not cold-blooded? And I’m not just talking about reptiles!). Las Vegas is not known for its art scene. There’s a plethora of culture coming into this city every minute of the day in the planes arriving at McCarran airport, but then these people leave. Matt cites this lack of artistic culture as being a drag, but he also finds it inspiring to be part of the artistic movement, especially the movement happening right now in the downtown.
8. I asked Matt where he saw Las Vegas in twenty years. He laughed after I asked him that question. Some of his friends say that Vegas will be a ghost town, the desert taking back what we took from it. But Matt thinks it’ll be some sort of middle ground. He believes it still won’t be the same Vegas before the recession, the Vegas where buildings were being erected faster than they could mix cement and water to form concrete. He said that diversity is good and cites businesses like Zappos to be leading the effort to sustain Vegas’ economy.
9. I asked Matt what his creative influences were in literature and film. Since his father was an English professor, Matt quoted the classics of Hemingway and Steinbeck. And then there are the works of Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, and The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell to be inspiring in form. As far as Vegas writers, John O’Brien and Hunter S. Thompson were the first two authors he said. We discussed John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas and how this masterpiece was the author’s own suicide note. In film, Matt admitted that he loves the Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, and Jason Reitman. I didn’t ask him who would win in a fight, but I’m sure some Vegas bookie would take that bet!
10. I asked Matt what projects he is working on. He mentioned the Shine a Light community project, which he is the founder. This program aims to assist those underprivileged people who are forced to use the underground as a place to escape. Creatively, Matt has an experimental novel in the works that he is excited about bringing to life. Matt has started in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ world-renowned MFA in Creative Writing program where he is also teaching undergraduate courses. He plans to use his new novel as his thesis project.
Matthew O’Brien is the author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2007) and My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2010). He has won several first-place awards in the Nevada Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, including Journalist of Merit in 2002 and Outstanding Journalist in 2006. Matt can be found online at www.beneaththeneon.com and on twitter @beneaththeneon and Facebook.