On this day in 2000, Duran Duran rolled into Las Vegas for two shows at House of Blues. Before the shows, they managed a trip over to the Liberace Museum to visit the car that adorned their recent Pop Trash album. Las Vegas locals will tell you that museum the band visited is gone, though the beautiful building where it lived still stands. Luckily, the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts have continued to preserve some of the most precious artifacts from the original king of bling and they are again on display at the Hollywood Cars Museum. Chairman and CEO of the foundation, Jonathan Warren, generously invited me down to see the collection and, of course, spend some time with the iconic Pop Trash car itself.
It is impossible to overstate the impact of Liberace on popular culture especially in music. His wardrobe has been an influence on almost every style of music over the years and his bling has crept into hip-hop culture in a huge way. Case in point, at the 2019 Grammy Awards, pianist Chloe Flowers was behind Liberace’s famed piano for Cardi B’s performance of “Money” (see video below) and Macklemore and Kesha explored the museum while in Las Vegas on tour. Check out the episode here!
The incredible Flowers has been an ambassador for Liberace’s music and style and recently joined the foundation’s Board of Directors, ensuring that his legacy will continue to thrive with each new generation of musicians. Her recent video for “Flower Through Concrete” features another of Liberace’s distinct pianos and her astounding talent on the keys takes more than a few queues from the legend himself.
The influence of Liberace on fashion and music would not be complete without talking about his stunning collection of cars. The first artist with a Vegas residency, his flamboyant style and flair for the incredible created the template for the residencies of today whether it’s Cher or Bruno Mars. One of the most distinct parts of the Liberace experience was the use of cars on stage. It’s safe to say, Liberace knew how to make an entrance. He knew he needed to take it to a new level for his residency at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City in the mid-80s and that is when the custom bling roadster came to be.
Standing next to the custom roadster photographed for the Pop Trash album, it’s hard to describe the way the crystals capture the light and change color as you move around it. However, the car started with more humble ambitions. Built over a Chevrolet chassis, this 1962 kit car was originally beige in color. Las Vegas resident, John Hancock, served as Liberace’s glazer and created the crystal and glass tiling that adorned his most famous cars and instruments. You can see Hancock working on the car in a video here.
While the car makes for a spectacular album cover in any context, it works especially well on Pop Trash; an album that found Duran Duran struggling to find their identity as a three-piece band in a music industry that wanted nothing to do with them. But yet, they kept on creating music in their own distinct way, unafraid of the criticism and challenging new listeners to hear what the band was really about. As I was researching this article, I was struck by this appearance of Liberace on MTV in 1985. As a young music fan, I’m sure Liberace looked oddly out-of-step with the new pop aristocracy but he didn’t care. Watch until the end and you will even see him throwing some shade at Boy George! He stayed true to himself as an artist and that is why he remains a legend even today.
Like Liberace, Duran Duran were often noticed more for their style and image than their musical talent and Pop Trash turned those negative connotations into a rallying cry. What could be more stylish and extravagant than Liberace’s crystal adorned roadster?! Celebrating the bling of Las Vegas in every way, Pop Trash songs like “Hallucinating Elvis” and the cracking make-up of “Lady Xanax” capture the highs and lows of Sin City, a place where everyone can star in their own pop trash movie for just one night. Until I moved here full-time, I don’t think I fully grasped the depth of the Pop Trash album or how strong Duran Duran were to keep the band together at the time.
The Liberace Garage sits close to the Vegas Strip of today but is forever close to the Las Vegas of yesterday. The impact of Liberace on the city changed entertainment forever and visiting the museum is one of the best days out in this town. The next time Duran Duran plays Las Vegas, I’ll be organizing a visit to the famous Pop Trash roadster as a Daily Duranie field trip (and yes, there will be cocktails) so stay tuned for more details once the tour dates arrive!
Thank you again to the Liberace Foundation and Jonathan Warren for giving Daily Duranie a peek into a unique moment in Duran Duran’s history.