"A piano is full of suppressed desires, recalcitrance, inhibition, conflict." ~Anita T Sullivan
Through his live Las Vegas shows, highly popular television series, and oodles of promotional appearances, we all came to love the complicated "One-man Disneyland" known as Liberace.
There he was, in all his glory, decked out in his trademark glitzy diamond-encrusted jewelry, capes trimmed in ostrich feathers, ermine and rhinestones (mountains of tough-n-tedious-to-clean finery, some literally weighing hundreds of pounds) -- and sets crowded with custom-made grand pianos, live animals, one-of-a kind cars and stretch limos, high-kicking chorus girls and boys, hypnotists, jugglers, magicians, puppeteers and, of course, his ever-present twinkly candelabras.
Wladziu "Lee" Liberace (1919-1987) was admired for the same reasons that folks dig Vegas. He took the haughtiness of high-culture, haute couture, fine art, and classical music -- everything that once defined the upper echelons of society -- and made them all approachable to the masses by calling into question what was considered "good taste." With millions of dollars worth of high-priced props and his over-the-top persona, however, while on stage he was still able to vanish into what made him happiest of all -- just playing the piano. Underneath it all, he was a true virtuoso.
To write this post in honor of Liberace's recent birthday (would have been May 16), I watched an hour of Liberace performances on You-Tube just to see for myself. What an original he was: his wacky stage antics clearly influenced the likes of Little Richard, Elton John, Bette Midler, Marilyn Manson and probably even KISS. But most miraculously, I saw the way he quietly disappeared into his music -- lost happily inside the rhythm and endless notes that lay scattered across the piles of sheet music in his head. How Zen...that even during his self-manufactured, stagey Las Vegas tumult, he found peace and joy in his own ability to masterfully play the piano.
What most people don't know about "Lee," however, is that in November 1963, the spectacle of Liberace almost ended when he was nearly killed by his own beloved costumes. It seems that night after night, while on stage, under the spotlights, as well as in his dressing room, he continuously breathed in the toxic fumes of the carbon tetrachloride used for cleaning his stage outfits. Additionally, the intense chemicals were released from the fabrics and were then absorbed into his skin, shutting down his kidneys and causing momentary renal failure. Although the prognosis was grim, he made a miraculous recovery and went on to entertain another generation of admiring fans.
I'm guessing that marabou doesn't launder all that well. But then again, who of us wears capes trimmed in feathers, mink and rhinestones? (Publicly that is!) Most of us wear cotton and/or cotton blend clothing that can be easily washed. I personally prefer purchasing clothes that can be laundered over those that require dry cleaning. Not just because I'm a cheapskate, but because I don't care to support the dry cleaning industry until it has a truly green standard. I choose to not wear clothing that must be chemically cleaned, with the potential to release those toxins into my skin (ala Liberace), as well as into the environment.
Liberace was all frills, but I am no frills! And it's incredibly simple to make your own laundry soap. In a food processor, grind one bar of Ivory soap with two boxes of baking soda and a cup of borax (as a water softener). Pulverize the contents until the mixture is powdery and soft. Depending on the size of the load and how dirty the contents are, use one-quarter to one-half cup per load of laundry. Run your washer using the appropriate settings for the size and type of cycle required for the contents. Your clothes will be clean and the water used will not harm the environment.
Though the world almost lost a truly original entertainer because of toxic cleaning agents, over the years, with his bravado and charisma, Liberace amassed an astonishing assortment of esteemed honors. He was named Instrumentalist of the Year, Best Dressed Entertainer (says who?), and Entertainer of the Year. He also won two Emmy Awards, six gold albums, and was honored with not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Best of all -- despite his "dirty laundry" -- he was known and loved throughout the world as the well-deserved "Mr. Showmanship."
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