(Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Terry O’Neill) Above: actor Taron Egerton & Elton John– Egerton is amazing!
I was born in the 1970’s. Although Elton John’s music was everywhere, it bounced past me and off of me.
True story: One Sunday morning in September, 2018 I woke up with “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” in my head, repeatedly, loud and clear.
“My God”, I thought: “Elton John is amazing. And his music was the backdrop of my life.”
In the era of pre-Internet radio, Elton was bursting from grocery store intercoms, wafting around at gas pumps, bouncing out of car steros. And then when MTV was young in the early 80’s—a channel I watched like it was my job while babysitting my younger brother—Elton John was a video king.
He was Broadway-showy, he was poppy, he was ballad-y— none of which impressed me except for “Empty Garden”, the crushing song he wrote for the loss of John Lennon. I was *much* more into the unique synthesized funk and “chicken-grease” guitar-playing of a new guy in a trench coat and legwarmers who alternated between shrieking and singing falsetto in an empty church (Prince… song “Controversy”).
Are you with me?
With the Internet at my fingertips in September 2018 I searched several Elton songs, and fell in love. I became nostalgic for my whole life. (For the record, literally, my favorite discovery is “Strange Rain”, a B-side from his first album)
As a healthy live-music addict for decades, I became suddenly sullen as I realized I never saw Elton John in person and my chances were gone. But:
Common Google searches started populating “Elton John Farewell Tour” in the search bar as I looked for more old songs. WHAT?!
Within 24 hours, and hundreds of dollars later (still glowing on my credit card statement today), I had an Air BnB room in upper Manhattan, a flight, and a ticket to see Sir Elton John in November 2018.
I went to experience the legend, witness the talent, and swim in nostalgia. I didn’t expect to leave Madison Square Garden spiritually inspired to become a better person. But that’s how I left. His sincerity, kindness, and humility were more catchy than his music.
He spoke often between songs, sharing backstories and giving thanks to meaningful individuals, like Bernie Taupin, his fellow song co-creater of many decades. I was shocked to hear that 1991 was the “lowest point” of his life… “could not have thought less” of himself … I thought: Elton John thought poorly of himself? The guy in the glitzy glasses, colorful outfits, and catchy songs?
And that is why I recommend the movie Rocketman, a Broadway-style fantasy biopic. It is a human journey, of inspiration, escapism, and emotional delicacy. Executive Producer… could only be… Sir Elton John.
You can’t go wrong.
No spoiler here: The film is centered in Elton John recounting his life story in a group therapy setting. This is the lens through which you get to learn Elton’s life, the people and addictions and facets of being a musical genius that led him to check himself into a rehabilitation center (which happens in the movie roughly 1982 but actually happened in 1990). The narrative closes about 1982.
This sweet heart of a man is a triumph. See the movie. On the big screen. See it. Go.
When I saw him perform in New York in November 2018, he did not give details of his “lowest point”, but something I learned later is the seemingly deep friendship he had with Freddie Mercury (Queen), who we all lost in 1991. And that Elton John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. And that Elton John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 in part for his charitable services. None of this is in the movie.
If you are a fan and never heard: Check out NPR’s Fresh Air interview between Terry Gross and Elton John from 2013. (I heard it in 2013, and I immediately liked Elton as a person then too! But still not his music..)
The Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour continues through 2020. You can still see him. Let the cost glow on your debt list too—it will shine like the lights of Madison Square Garden bouncing off the sequins of Elton’s sparkling pink kimono. Yes, that’s what he wore for his encore.
Most of us only dream of having that much style, and grace. <3