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The lure of music stars on a cold winter night

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including "The Confident Writer," a grammar-based college textbook.

"We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened." 

— Mark Twain 

Looking through the car window, I noticed winking stars etched against the backdrop of a dark sky, but I was young, and the firmament held little fascination for me. I turned my attention back to the discussion in the car. We four teenagers were en route to a concert where we would enjoy a real star — an earthly star. 

Once seated in the auditorium, we giggled and chatted until show time. After  much fanfare, we watched in amazement as Wladziu Valentino "Lee" Liberace strode across the stage. Wearing a white costume that glittered and glimmered under bright lights, he twirled around several times while holding one side of his ermine-trimmed cape as it swirled behind him. He faced the audience, smiled and bowed ever so slightly. 

Then, in a voice as soft as a kitten's meow, he asked if we liked his outfit. The ooh's and aah's, accompanied by eager applause, told him we liked it. Winking and wearing his perpetual smile, he said, "You should like it since you paid for it."  

We loved his tacky glitz and glamour, including his mirrored piano crowned with a candelabrum. His props had become his trademark and perhaps his greatest draw. Music critics were not kind when evaluating his performances, but as he often said, "I cried all the way to the bank." At the height of his success, he changed the line to say, "Remember when I cried all the way to the bank. Well, I bought the bank." 

On that star-clustered night, we left at the end of the concert. I learned later he stayed until the wee hours of the morning, playing any song the audience requested, and Liberace knew thousands of songs by heart. Little wonder he was called Mr. Showmanship.

In the following years, Elvis Presley came along, and he too knew how to wow an audience with gaudy costumes, but he had a voice as smooth as the velvet on which his images are now seen. Known simply as The King, he swiveled his hips and made teenyboppers swoon, much as Frank Sinatra had done before him. There must have been something wrong with me, for although I liked Sinatra's songs, Liberace's showmanship and Presley's voice, I never once squealed or swooned. Recently, though, I saw a young girl on television behaving just the way many in my generation behaved. She wept openly as a contestant on "American Idol" sang in a voice as silky as that of Liberace.

In an effort to avoid cultural aging, I have watched "American Idol." There it is. The secret is out. Besides, what's not to like? Underdogs can become instant stars. In the past, one judge played "Simon says," and here's some of what Simon said: "That's absolutely the worst performance I've ever seen. What's with the big eyes? Don't you know this is a singing competition?" I liked Simon, although I couldn't distinguish good music from bad. It was just not my music. I understand the words to songs like "I'll Be Seeing You," but songs with words about turning the sun black bewilder me. Each generation has its own music. Today's music will in time be old-fashioned, and every current star will be a has-been. 

As I grew older, I attended a concert with a neighbor. We listened to Luciano Pavarotti, and he was also a showman, but his performance needed no glitter. Critics say he had a voice for the ages. I'm sure they were right, but here's my problem. When I took art appreciation in college, our professor was an expert on raising turkeys, if that tells you anything. We would listen to classical music in class, and the professor would then ask us what we were thinking as we listened. I doubt that anyone told the truth, but the fictional thoughts were the apex of creativity. I learned zilch about music, and even earlier when my mother insisted I take Hawaiian guitar lessons, I was glad to be a quitter after stumbling through "O Sole Mio." 

As I matured, famous stars no longer appealed to me, but the wonder of stars that twinkle against the velvet void of a night sky still have the power to lure me outside, even on a cold winter night.