Two years ago, while watching the stock market collapse, I thought the
following: look at that! billions lost! and among those billions, some
of my millions. This was a joke, but not a joke. When you reach my
age, you understand that you are a player with skin in the game, no
matter what game it is. It could be a game with decent odds, like
craps, or it could be a sucker's game--the sort favored by Colonel Tom
Parker--like roulette, but either way, you are in the game of your
life, the mortal man betting against the house, which is God or fate
or whatever you happen to believe in. As Bob Dylan sang, "The game is
the same, it's just up on another level."
All of which came to mind when I decided to put my experiences and
what I have learned from those experiences into a book. I had been
asked over the years to write my stories, but I had always resisted.
Because who needs it, I thought, and what's the point? But when I
reached seventy--well, you don't reach seventy so much as hit it, like
a stock car driver hitting the wall--I understood that telling my
stories, to friends or to the world or anyone who was interested, was
just as important as living them. It's like turning your bowling shoes
back in at the end of the game, or adding your ideas to the general
suggestion box--it's part of having your small money mixed with the big
money of society. Simply put, an experience is complete only when it's
returned to the world as a story. It's been the structure of my life:
you scheme and plan and try and fail and try again and accumulate and
lose and win back, and then you tell.
I wrote my book because it's time to tell. After all, life is
relationships, and relationships are memories, and memories are really
just stories. By telling these stories--in this one, I am being
muscled by the mob; in that one, I am sitting on the roof of Caesar's
Palace in Las Vegas with Sinatra, trying to lift him from his funk--I
wanted to preserve those relationships and see just what could be
learned, then pass it on, to my children and grandchildren most of
all. If an old man is not a teacher, then he's not doing his job.
And in writing, I realized that my story is just a small part of a
bigger story, which is the story of my generation and time--I am just
one of the thousands of kids who came out of the neighborhoods of New
York and Chicago and Philadelphia and so on, kids, hundreds of
thousands of us, with no formal education but who were maybe the best
educated generation in the history of the country, having learned from
our parents and on the street. I understood too that the story of my
life, which is the story of the kid with a dream when the dream comes
true, the hustling, working, scheming kid who produced and made and
gave away, is just a strand, part of a whole, and that it would not
make sense until I set it down.
You see, I had finally grasped the central lesson of my own
adventures: if you keep going when everyone tells you to quit; if you
press on even when you have been told it's all over; if you ignore the
singing of the fat lady and the falling of the curtain; if you drive
on, even when it's dark and even in the rain, then you win. That was
the promise of America when I was a kid, and it' s still the promise
today, but only if you believe in it and only if you keep trying.
I called my book When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead because
that's the truth. I will keep talking until the big hand comes down
from heaven. But I am a spiritual man and I believe that even that
does not have to be the end. In fact, my next book, published many
years from now, will be called, Dead, But Still Talking.
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