It is the summer of 1922. A young man by the name of Nick Carraway moves to Long Island’s West Egg to begin work as a bond salesman, and he becomes enamored with the allusive multi-millionaire next door who holds lavish parties and lives a life of exuberance and decadence, a man who has built his image around and within the American Dream, a man whose search for lost love and prominence ends in tragedy. He is Jay Gatsby.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, considered his magnum opus, in April of 1925, and almost a century later it remains as popular as ever, with numerous radio and theatrical adaptations, as well as five films including a lost silent film from 1926 and the most recent 2013 version directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.
Despite its success today, The Great Gatsby, originally titled Trimalchio in West Egg, was ill received, with H.L Mencken of the Chicago Sunday Tribune calling it “no more than a glorified anecdote.” In fact, Fitzgerald himself felt the novel lacked the gravity of his previous novels such as This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned. In a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, he wrote, “The worst fault in it, I think is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe. However the lack is so astutely concealed by the retrospective of Gatsby’s past and by blankets of excellent prose that no one has noticed it--tho [sic] everyone has felt the lack and called it by another name.”
But perhaps Fitzgerald’s mistake in the underdeveloped relationship between Gatsby and Daisy gave rise to a love story that is both relatable and intangible.
“We’re all rooting for Gatsby, but he does objectify this love in a way that it becomes part of the material that he’s collecting, so it becomes tragic,” says James Jay, writer, poet and owner of Uptown Pubhouse.
For eight years, Uptown Pubhouse has been hosting an annual Gatsby Night in celebration of the Great American Novel. According to Jay, Gatsby Night’s roots lay in Seattle with his friend Joe Meola.
“Joe used to own this place called Dexter & Hayes on the corner of Dexter [Avenue] and Hayes [Street],” says Jay. “He used to do a Gatsby Night where they would dress up all fancy like characters from the novel and play music from that period.”
A year after Meola’s death in 2008, as a tribute, Uptown Pubhouse hosted its first annual Gatsby Night. With costume contests, live book readings, dancing, music and Prohibition-era cocktails, Gatsby Night immediately garnering welcomed attention from the public.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we do this tribute for Joe and see who shows up,’” Jay recalls. “It turned out the first year was pretty successful, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we try a little more next year?’”
After winning Gatsby Night’s first Most Gatsby costume and attending for the first few years, Dapper Dre signed on to host, with this year being his fifth.
“I’ve always been super into themed parties and [Gatsby Night] definitely hit me right at the right time. I had just gotten a three-piece suit,” laughs Dre.
He says the first few years were a bit slow, but “now it’s kind of taken on its own momentum, and we really just have to add the icing to the cake. Because the cake is going to be there, everybody is going to be here for the cake, but you’ve got to give people something new and different instead of just throwing the same old party.”
Jay, who taught Intro to Literature classes at Northern Arizona University, and Dre see eye to eye when it comes to keeping things fresh for Gatsby Night.
“When I used to teach I would want to refresh things,” says Jay. “I don’t want to be one of those guys that goes off their old notes and does the same thing every semester. So for the Gatsby party we’re trying to do something different each time.”
With this year being its eighth, Dapper Dre has coined its theme: The Greatest (Gr8est) Gatsby on Earth, with an emphasis on some of the more theatrical, circus-like aspects of the novel. With help from Flagstaff’s Circus Bacchus, this year’s Gatsby Night will feature small circus and acrobatic performances, as well as live music from DJ Jonesin’.
“I think this year with the acrobats [it is] going to be a different ball game, just a lot more to see and to interact with. I think what we’re getting to now is: How do we use this space to its biggest and best?”
Also new this year is a $5 entry fee which will go toward the performers, as well as a $50 Gatsby Dinner special provided by Paddy’s Grill, Uptown Pubhouse’s latest culinary addition.
Within recent years, Gatsby Night has reached its maximum capacity and has seen lines stretch along Leroux as far south as Monsoon, and Jay says the party keeps evolving.
“I think the fun thing is people are dressing nicer and nicer and doing interesting things, so the people attending the party are also making the party,” he says.
“I think we’ll have 100 percent participation,” adds Dre. “It’s like you’re there. You’re back in time. You’re fully stepped in the story. You’re totally emerged in the fantasy world that is the Gatsby party. That’s the experience I think we’ve really tried to push the whole time.”
From its fantastic descriptions of Gatsby’s lavish parties to the dusty Valley of Ashes, and from Daisy’s green light at the end of her dock to Dr. T.J. Ekleburg’s looming, deteriorating eyes, The Great Gatsby is both scenic and symbolic. Descriptive enough to place readers right into the Jazz Age, a term apparently coined by Fitzgerald, but vague enough to let them float around inside Gatsby’s eccentric world. It is a love story steeped inside the American Dream, attracted to an oversaturation of wealth and grotesque displays of class, an attraction desirable and dangerous.
“I think part of the appeal is they get the notion, you come into this environment and fantasy,” says Jay. “For one night you put on the armor of affluence, but then you put it away after the night.”
So we beat on, admiring and admonishing Jay Gatsby, within and without, enchanted and repelled, forever inspired by the morals, the story and the timelessness of The Great Gatsby.
Uptown Pubhouse will host the 8th Annual Gatsby Night: The Greatest Gatsby on Earth on Saturday, Jan. 20, with a Gatsby Dinner at 6 p.m., followed by a champagne hour and the party at 9 p.m. Dinner $50, party entry fee $5. For tickets and information, visit Uptown Pubhouse on Facebook at www.facebook.com/uptownpubhouse/