Monday, October 22, 2018

Elton John At Madison Square Garden | Lefsetz Letter

My heart belongs to Philadelphia Freedom.

And Elton John.

After the show he stood up and gave me a big hug, I was confused, I had my rap all ready, to explain who I was, BUT HE ALREADY KNEW! DAVID TOO!

I was bewildered. Flummoxed. What do you say when your hero treats you like a friend?


Elton LOVES Brandi Carlile.

Proving we’re all the same under the skin, except he’s a lot more famous, and a lot more rich. Hell, I ain’t got no money, but I’m rich on PERSONALITY! Ain’t that what Prince sang? That’s rock and roll, where your identity means more than your bank account, and we all pray at the altar of music.

When Elton broke I was in my first year of college. In the hinterlands, in Vermont. I’d read that “Your Song” was a hit, but I’d only heard it once, the track I cottoned to, became enamored of, that I had to play every day when I came home from skiing was…


And Elton did tonight.

Take me to the pilot of your soul, mine is in music, you forget at this late date, and then you hear one of these songs performed live and you’re taken back to what once was and it’s all there in color, in 3-D, that’s the power of music, it makes the past COME ALIVE!

And the first time I saw Elton it was at Carnegie Hall, in the spring of ’71, it was after “Friends” but before “Madman” and Elton introduced a new number, “Indian Sunset,” and he played it again tonight, it was a highlight, I could see my sophomore dorm room in Voter Hall, spinning that record as I fell asleep, with a timer to turn the stereo off. This was back before iPods, before even boom boxes, you could only listen to your music at home, and I did, incessantly.

And I remember driving on Route 30 in my ’63 convertible with the top down on a day like today, with a crispness in the air, singing along to “Saturday Night’s (Alright For Fighting),” and I did as well tonight. When was the last time you went to a show where you knew every song? NEVER!

And it’s kind of odd, Elton says he’s retiring, but he’s so alive. You’re supposed to ply the boards until we wince, hope you’re gone, but Elton seems to just be hitting his stride, although his knees are hurting and he ambles as opposed to strides, but when he puts his digits on the ivories it’s like no time has gone by, furthermore he does not use a teleprompter, he remembers every word, JUST LIKE YOU AND ME!

Now this is a greatest hits show, and Elton says it’s the songs the band likes to play, and the troupe is lean. With original Nigel Olsson on skins with bass drums that look like cannons and Davey Johnstone with long blonde hair and…it’s amazing what one guitarist can do. And Ray Cooper’s on percussion, and Kim Bullard adds some keyboards and there’s another drummer and a bassist and by not mentioning their names I’m pissing them off but the truth is this is a throwback to what once was, when you had a combo, and that was enough. This was a band, and their goal was to rock our socks off.

So they opened with “Bennie And The Jets.” When you have this many hits, you don’t have to save them.

And then “All The Young Girls Love Alice,” from deep into “Yellow Brick Road,” it was one of my absolute favorites, and to hear it performed tonight made the circle complete. I remember walking in the leaves, the double LP came out in the fall, noticing the girl named Alice on campus, but then she transferred and I never saw her again, but this song always brings her back.

And by the intro I knew it was “Border Song.” That was nearly fifty years ago, but only yesterday in my mind. Funny about aging, the digit counter keeps turning but inside you feel just the same.

But the piece de resistance of the first half of the show was “Tiny Dancer.” I bought “Madman Across The Water” over school vacation, I played it that whole month of January 1972. This was before “Tiny Dancer” became legendary, before it was in “Almost Famous,” and when I heard the intro tonight…

It brought tears to my eyes. I don’t remember the last time I cried at a show. I was crying for what once was and what still is, marveling that I’m still the same person but so much time has passed. That I’ve followed this thread of rock and roll all these many decades and I’m a lifer, and I’m not the only one.

And “Burn Down The Mission” was not the finale, as it was in the early days.

And I could have been one of the few who knew “Believe,” but I continue to do so, Elton’s had nine lives. When he was done on the charts, he triumphed on film and on Broadway and there are very few legends, but he’s one of them.

And when he played “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” I remembered buying “Caribou” just after graduating from college, discovering I had the same shirt he wore on the cover.

And that let into BITCH!

Now it was time to stand up and dance. It was an involuntary exercise, I couldn’t sit still. I thought of Mark Stiegemeier playing it as he skied the bumps at Snowbird, at the freestyle world championships back in ’75.

That’s right, the bitch is back.

Stone cold sober as a matter of fact. After raising $400 million to fight AIDS.

And the show went on and on. With a costume change. With solo and band numbers. And as the gig wore on you could see Elton sweat, he was not painting by numbers, he was into it, just like Ian Stewart when the Stones began, only in this case Elton’s piano was the main instrument.

How come some people are so good? Are they born with it? Blessed?

Then again, Elton said he and Bernie wrote songs that no one covered. So they demoed them and took them on the road, they were forced to, they didn’t expect the supernova.

But that’s what happened. Album after album, year after year.

I only lament the fact we’re never gonna see the whole album shows. You know, “Elton John,” “Tumbleweed Connection”…and even though Elton says it’s a throwaway, I’d love to hear “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player,” just to hear “Elderberry Wine” and “Teacher I Need You.”

It was different then. The Beatles had established the paradigm, everybody was following in their footsteps, everybody wanted to be a star. But the difference with Elton was he was a fan. Still is. They send him fifty tracks to check out for his Beats 1 radio show, but that’s not enough, he’s still checking out more. And when you come from a place of fandom you’re humble and enthusiastic, you know you’re part of a great musical tradition and proud to be so.

And you are too. And so am I.

It was all we had, it was all we needed. TV was “My Mother The Car” and “Mr. Ed,” sugar without nutrition. You needed music to survive. We were addicted to the radio, we salivated over new releases, we thought if our favorite stars came over for dinner our lives would be made.

My life’s pretty much been written in stone. I can’t change the past, and there’s only a little time to steer in the future. But looking back tonight, I feel that I have not wasted my life. And believe me, I wonder. I have no kids. My wife left me. I had horrific surgeries. I don’t own a home, but if Elton John knows who I am, what else can I ask for?



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