A funny thing happened tonight while watching "Behind the Candelabra", a story about Liberace. Midway through the movie, my flatmate, Marco, came in and we talked a bit, during which I mentioned how fun it was to see the film because I remember growing up and Liberace being a part of Vegas. I never saw him perform, but he was there, on billboards and TV, in conversations and the newspapers, Mom would go see him with visitors from out of town.
Whenever I tell people I grew up in Vegas, they have two reactions (often both, in succession): surprised that anyone lives in Vegas; what an interesting place it must be to grow up. At the height of my loathing of Las Vegas, I would draw on a well-rehearsed vocabulary in response: vapid, soulless, conservative, stifling, unhealthy. As my physical and emotional distance grew, I toned down the vitriol (especially in Europe, where Vegas seems to most as magical and remote as any place could), politely acknowledging its unique character, while mentioning the less uplifting aspects of being under 21 and gay in the world's second-largest Mormon city in days before Glee.
Marco's reaction when I said I remember Liberace (including where he lived - everyone knew which house was his) took me aback, and a few images of Vegas came to the fore: Liberace, Siegfried & Roy (for whom I played "welcome back" music for in Eldorado High School marching band regalia after a world tour), Kenny Kerr, Casino, living with the showgirl from the billboards - and suddenly I understood a little bit better people's reactions to my roots.
Not that I knew, or had even met all these people, but these were the people that made Las Vegas, what made up the colour and character of my hometown - this was my normal. Other cities have their mayor, the birthplace of a president, a baseball team; Vegas has the Rat Pack, Elvis and Bugsy Siegel. Perhaps there were conservatism, homophobia and ugly stripmalls, but where didn't in America? At least ours sparkled with a little neon and glitter.
I always say I'd love to see Vegas through a non-native's eyes. Tonight, for an instant, I did.
Too much of a good thing is wonderful.
My flatmate (in Vegas, not Marco).
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