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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
January 8, 2009
As a freelance writer I was intrigued with the request to write a feature article on Liberace. I like a challenge. The legend of Liberace is so 20th century. Piano virtuoso, master Las Vegas showman, and closet queen of the ultimate bling, Wladziu Valentino Liberace was a lesson in collective denial until his death of AIDS complications February 4, 1987 at his Palm Springs residence "The Cloisters."
A devotee of Hunter S. Thompson, I reasoned a visit to the Liberace museum was in order. The Liberace Museum is located in the Liberace Plaza, next to the Good Times Lounge. Alcohol comes in very handy when trying to resurrect the ghosts of homophobia past, especially the ones carrying a candelabra.
Properly medicated we took the tour of antique piano, show cars, and rhinestone riddled costumes never complete without feather and furs. The most obnoxious of which was a black "upside down" monkey cape acquired from actress June Havoc. Liberace may have lived a lavish lifestyle, way over the top, the Monkey coat was just disturbing and offensive. Mollifying piano music helped make even the monkey carcass easier to process.
The Liberace Museum is not for the aesthetically squeamish.
In between exhibit buildings we dropped into the Good Times Lounge for a cocktail named in honor of the ghost we were chasing, actually we had to be rung. I ordered a couple of Liberace's. The Bartender had no idea what I was talking about. Talk about disconnect. Talk about killing the mood. " 1/3 shot of Kahlua, milk of some sort, and rum, in a shot glass" I said, already ready to go. He just said "Oh" and shuffled away.
I left the Museum understanding the only thing keeping the memory of Liberace alive is the foundation he created to do just that. A showman unwilling to give up the limelight, Wladziu made sure it would continue shining long after his mortal passing.
Later that evening, as friends and I walked the Vegas Strip intent on munchies, martini's and mayhem, it became clear to me the ghost of Liberace, with all his fame and glory that helped popularize Las Vegas to the world, is fading faster than Brittany on a cocktail of Valium and Vicodin.
The only thing connecting Liberace to Las Vegas now is a continuing commitment to excess and denial. That, and the museum were they keep his stuff. On the strip men and women passed card-sized pictures of prostitutes starting at 35$ a visit. I'm not sure what the people pushing the pictures were paid, but that hardly matters. Unable to speak Spanish I didn't ask.
We toasted Liberace and Benazir Bhutto with lychee nut martini's at the Venitian's Tao. Benazir had been assassinated earlier that day and it seemed only fitting that both be recognized for their contributions regardless of how garish or grandiose they might have been. Both spoke to an era, one passing the other long passed.
Of course I had a second martini, chasing gay ghosts is thirsty work.