Pipes of Peace

What can we say about Liberace that has not been said before? Not much, to be honest. The saccharine-sweet ivory tinkler is a bit much for me, fascinating though he is/was. But he's one of those artists that keep on popping up on my radar, and yet in the more than 11 years that I've been writing this blog I've yet to 'do' him, as it were.

So, allow me to make amends with his hateful 1959 B-side Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me.

Issued in Britain as the flip to his instrumental version of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic You'll Never Walk Alone, the release followed a turbulent few years for Wladziu Valentino Liberace (known to his family and friends as Lee), who made his first recordings in 1946.

Revered as one of the world’s greatest entertainers, his enormous success relied on his position as America’s non-threatening, asexual ‘mama’s boy’, and his low-brow popularisation of high-brow music would never have happened if his audience – including the 35 million that regularly tuned in to watch him on TV - had seen him as anything other than sexless. 

In 1956 an article in the British newspaper The Daily Mirror (by columnist William Connor, writing under the pen name Cassandra) described Liberace as ‘the summit of sex - the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love’. Liberace, at the time the highest paid entertainer in the world, sent a tongue-in-cheek telegram to the Daily Mirror that read: ‘what you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank’, although he would later sue the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not homosexual and that he had never taken part in homosexual acts. 

Lee testified that, at a performance in Sheffield, ‘there were cries from the audience of “queer” and such things as “go home, queer”,’ which upset him ‘very much, and it upset the audience too.’ He won the suit, perjuring himself in the process, and the £8,000 damages he received led Liberace to repeat his new ‘I cried all the way to the bank’ catchphrase to reporters.

The Daily Mirror was not the only publication prepared to take a pop: the headline in the July 1957 issue of the US magazine Confidential trumpeted that ‘Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be “Mad About the Boy”!’ Liberace also sued Confidential, this time filing a $20-million libel suit and telling the press that ‘this story is a damn lie and I’m damned mad. If it takes every nickel I’ve got I’ll guarantee it will never happen to anyone else as long as I live. All of us take a certain amount of kidding about ourselves and our work, but when they come out in print and tell such lies, I’m going to move. It’s real heartbreak to see your life’s work destroyed so viciously by a magazine in an article of this kind. It’s a lie. It’s trash.’

Lee kept up the pretense to the end, even after his former chauffeur and lover Scott Thorson filed a $113 million lawsuit against him (in the first same-sex palimony case in the US), he denied any kind of homosexual involvement. In December 1986, less than two months before he died, Liberace settled the case for $95,000. The week after his death (on February 4, 1987) the Daily Mirror made a half-hearted attempt to recover the money from his estate, running the headline ‘Any Chance of a Refund’. 

Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me is a rarity in the Liberace canon, in that it contains a vocal performance by the pianist. Lee would flex his larynx on occasion, but the results were always pretty dire... and never more so than this. The song, incidentally, was composed in 1955 for the International Children's Choir: it has since been covered by dozens of artists, including country singer Vince Gill and Carlos Santana.

Here are both sides of the 45.

Enjoy!

Download PEACE here

Download WALK here

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