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.