Notable & Quotable: Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017

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In "The Dawn of a New Las Vegas," author Joshua Baldwin reports on the massacre's aftermath in an essay for The New York Times. He is at work on "American Eternity: Las Vegas Chronicles," a book of essays.

LAS VEGAS - At around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, the evening after the massacre on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, a packed express city bus detoured around the closed streets surrounding the site of the attack. A passenger yelled out, mystified at the mind-set of the suspected gunman, Stephen Paddock, "What I don't get is, why would you go through the trouble of setting up the retirement he had and then end your life like that?"

Las Vegas is often an incoherent place, but its distinct brand of confusion has hit a new pitch in the aftermath of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

For a few years now, I've been covering the frenzied energy that can only flourish at America's last-chance terminus. Coming into town yesterday, though, I anticipated a decidedly more subdued tone than the one I've encountered in my wanderings through conventions, grand openings and hotel-casino implosion parties.

In his 1987 book with the artist Guy Peellaert, "The Big Room: Portraits From the Golden Age," the journalist Michael Herr wrote of Las Vegas: "There has never been another place like it for connecting the unconnectable." I've often been inspired by those lines in my quest to understand this uncanny city.

But the night after the massacre, the atmosphere was flooded with unconnections, fragments at the dawn of a new Las Vegas, where the logic of drawing connections had utterly disintegrated.

On Slate.com, Warren Zanes writes, "Tom Petty Was Rock 'n' Roll's Ambassador to the World: Even if he would have been the last one to admit it."

Tom Petty showed us that rock 'n' roll is a thing of infinite possibilities. Two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards: However limited it looks on paper, in practice it's an almost sculptural medium, stunning in its plasticity, something that can always be given a new shape. But just because rock 'n' roll is infinite in its possibilities didn't mean it would go forever. And it didn't, really. But perhaps no one more than Tom Petty lived it to the end with such joy, such commitment to seeing this form take new forms. No one, I came to believe, was less ready to see rock 'n' roll lose its central place in American popular music.

As has been noted many times, Petty met his hero, Elvis Presley, on a movie set in Florida. He shook the star's hand, thanks to an uncle in the film industry. But Petty also went on to form a band with a Beatle, George Harrison. And Bob Dylan. And Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Artists like Del Shannon, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash worked with Petty. It seemed that the history of popular music knocked on Petty's door, attracted by his cool, by the mind and the humor, by the sheer musicality of the man. He may not have sold himself as rock 'n' roll's ambassador to the world, but that's only because Tom Petty didn't sell himself as anything. In the self-mythologizing department, he had the material to create one hell of an act. But he didn't have the stomach for it. He was thinking about that next record.

There's a temptation to say that this day marks the official end of the rock 'n' roll era. But that's both a little too neat and a little too saccharine. That the-day-the-music-died approach would surely get a quick rolling of the eyes from Petty and a sharp dismissal. Yes, if rock 'n' roll's situation is judged by the state of the charts and the sound of mainstream radio, it's over. Has been for a while. But the most significant parts of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle have never been lived up there on the higher floors.

In "Speaking Ill of Hugh Hefner," Ross Douthat of The New York Times excoriates the Hefner mystique.

Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain's hat,and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself - a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.

The arc of his life vindicated his moral critics, conservative and feminist: What began with talk of jazz and Picasso and other signifiers of good taste ended in a sleazy decrepitude that would have been pitiable if it wasn't still so exploitative.

Early Hef had a pipe and suit and a highbrow reference for every occasion; he even claimed to have a philosophy, that final refuge of the scoundrel. But late Hef was a lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan, playing at perpetual boyhood - ice cream for breakfast, pajamas all day - while bodyguards shooed male celebrities away from his paid harem and the skull grinned beneath his papery skin.

Now that death has taken him, we should examine our own sins. Liberals should ask why their crusade for freedom and equality found itself with such a captain and what his legacy says about their cause. Conservatives should ask how their crusade for faith and family and community ended up so Hefnerian itself - with a conservative news network that seems to have been run on Playboy Mansion principles and a conservative party that just elected a playboy as our president.

Notable and Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at graham@theitem.com.