Tuesday, October 19, 2010

HEY LIBERACE! Charlie Adams & The End of the Liberace Museum

Thirty people have lost their jobs. They worked for the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, which shut down two days ago, on October 17th.

Would you believe that a museum could survive for so many years, just on people wanting to admire somebody's silly hairstyle, corny music and a life built around over-the-top costumes? But why mention Graceland at all?

The workers at Lee's tributary knew the end was near; it was as obvious and painful as a rhinestone condom. Years ago, Liberace's museum was almost as successful as the Nashville shrine for Elvis, with about a half-million visitors. In recent days, it was almost as vacant as the expression in George Michael's eyes.

Wladziu Liberace (or "Lee" as he was known to his fans) was an influence on a lot of stars who discovered that showmanship and salesmanship had something in common. Another flamboyant figure around the same time was the wrestler "Gorgeous George." One might argue that Elvis would not have dared showing up in flashy costumes if not for Liberace, and that today, Hulk Hogan wouldn't be wearing feathered boas in public. These days, people point to Adam Lambert as a child of Liberace's. Well, yes, but if he really was, he came out through the asshole, didn't he? An adequate pianist, Liberace became a sensation thanks to his costumes, his coif, and his 200 watt toothy smile. He also had a sense of humor (before "camp" was a common word) and winked as he told the world he was crying "all the way to the bank" over what critics were saying. He also banked plenty of money from what scandal writers were implying in Confidential Magazine and The Daily Mirror. He successfully sued them since they had no actual photographic proof or notarized statements of male lovers that he was gay. Lee in fact went to his grave denying that he was homosexual.

On Jack Paar's show Liberace memorably ad-libbed music for some poetry from "Cassius Clay." He appeared in many an amusing TV variety show sketch, and even turned up as the evil pianist Chandell as a guest-villain on "Batman." He made albums featuring musical flourishes that were the audio equivalent of drawing a circle over an i instead of dotting it. These albums of semi-classical favorites and overly familiar pop hits were favorites of grannies everywhere.

The maestro died of AIDS February 4, 1987 at age 67, but loyal fans still remembered him and went to his shrine. Till now. 500,000 visitors one year, now just 50,000, and with building renovations needed and no big royalties coming in on Lee's music, or big contributions, Lee's costumes have been mothballed and his memorabilia stored away. Vegas ain't what it used to be, and each generation chooses who remains a legend and who doesn't. And so Liberace joins the tarnished angels in that wing of heaven where Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker also grimace, mime, and smile for all eternity.

Liberace's piano style could be described in one word; "plinky." His vocals could be characterized as coming out as a slightly more masculine Paul Lynde. And his message might be summed up in a phrase that was a favorite of Michael Flanders: "Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not." Even so, he did it his way, he became rich and famous, he is STILL beloved, and how many performers ever had a museum in their honor? For almost all of us, what Liberace achieved is an "Impossible Dream." (All right, not everyone dreams of anal sex…) And as this entry slowly sinks into smarm, we wave a white flag trimmed in lace, and offer "The Impossible Dream" as plinked AND narrated by the one, the only, the undefeated, undisputed…LIBERACE.

For those who wish to delve further, there's a Rapid download of a dozen of his best loved instrumentals, AND you also get a novelty song from Charlie Adams. The hillbilly offers a very good-natured call-out, "Hey Liberace," at a time when most rednecks would've gladly hung poor Lee by the thumbs off a backyard pepper tree. The museum's gone, but the musical memories linger on.

A DOZEN Liberace Favorites, Rapidly shared. Featuring show-off piano numbers: Begin the Beguine, Stella by Starlight, Nola, Laura, Tico-Tico, Stardust, Kitten on the Keys, Chopsticks, Blue Tango, Old Piano Roll Blues, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and I'll Be Seeing You. '

Update November 2011: Rapidshare deletes files if they aren't uploaded often enough to suit them. A few songs have been re-upped individually via a better service:

LIBERACE plays and sings "The Impossible Dream"

Hillbilly Charlie Adams cries out "HEY LIBERACE!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of his most memorable TV cameos was an unbilled appearance in an episode in the second season of The Monkees. His contribution was to destroy a piano with a large sledgehammer with great glee. In the penultimate episode of that season you had Frank Zappa using probably the same sledgehammer to destroy a car.