Monday, October 18, 2021
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Column: Saying goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road and Elton live

🕐 5 min read

Like many, I grew up a fan of Elton John. I was first introduced to him when my late older brother, Larry, came running into my room when I was 13 and he was 23, shouting, “You have to hear this song.”

The song was “Crocodile Rock.” I was hooked immediately, and have been ever since.

I ran right out – or rather convinced my parents to drive me – to the local record store, the Melody Shop, in Tyler. I used my allowance to buy “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player.”

That enthusiasm continues to this day. I own pretty much every album Sir Elton has released.

My favorite? Of course, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is perhaps the best album ever made – and I agree that every single song on it is great. Myself, I’m a little partial to “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” Yes, it has probably the strangest lyrics Bernie Taupin has ever written, but that is precisely why I love it so much, it’s a weirdly told story of how he and Reginald Dwight (Elton’s birth name) met and grew into the music business.

Elton is on his final tour. I know lots of artists say that – the Stones have done, what a dozen? The Who likewise – but I believe Elton. As he said when my daughter Kinsley and I saw him in San Francisco recently, he has a family now, something he never thought possible earlier in life when he was juggling his party days with trying to figure out his sexual identity.

The party days are gone – sober for nearly three decades – and he’s comfortable with his life, as he and everyone should be. And, as a longtime fan, I couldn’t be happier for him.

Yes, you read right, my daughter Kinsley and I took a road trip to the West Coast to see him on his final tour. It was the result of her calling me with an impromptu idea and not needing to twist my arm.

I had seen Elton before, in 2014 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, with my wife. It was a great show.

This show in San Francisco, at the Chase Center – the new home of the Golden State Warriors – was purely amazing. Elton played in excess of three hours with a passion that only someone knowing the end (of his touring days, that is) is near. It was as if he wants to put more into every song than ever before because there is no next time for the folks at each stop.

Among the highlights was an unforgettable version of “Levon” that shook the entire building. Equally rocking was one of my favorites, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” though not a radio hit, a classic from “Yellow Brick Road.”

He also played numerous songs that weren’t in his prior repertoire when I previously saw him, such as “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much).” The most moving among these was “Believe,” which was prefaced with a personal moment when Elton spoke of wishing he had done more in the 80s (his party days) to prevent the AIDS epidemic, something he has since more than made up for with the work of his foundation.

The song is also a beautiful way to convey a simple message. We are all human. Let’s believe in each other. As Elton said, “When I came to this arena to play tonight, I didn’t ask what color you are, what religion you are, who you love, what politics you practice.”

All were welcome – and that is how it should be. As much as she enjoyed the music, I’m so glad Kinsley was there to hear the emotion in Elton’s speeches to the audience. It was a step away from his superstar self and – if even for the moment – simply talking with some friends.

Kinsley herself is one of Elton’s biggest fans. That comes from growing up with me as a father. Instead of asking me to change to Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, or hip-hop, she listened intently when “Daniel” or “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” would come on the radio (though when she was little I would change channels or forward the CD to the next song when “The Bitch is Back” would come on).

Now 72, Elton must look around when artists such as Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek pass away at age 70 and 75, respectively. He paid them a touching tribute, by the way. How much longer does he have? Whatever it is, 10 years or 30, he wants to spend it with those he loves the most, and he deserves that.

But five decades of making music and touring is hard to give up. You can tell with every pounding of the piano keys, every story told about songs and their origin.

I doubt he is finished making music, however. Another album or more could be down the road. Also, I wouldn’t rule out a residency such as the one he did in Las Vegas years ago called the Red Piano.

But whatever the future holds for Sir Elton, as a nearly lifelong fan, I wish him nothing but happiness. He brought me much joy as a youngster, throughout my adult years (though the disco-ish album “Victim of Love” could have been done without), and now one of the greatest thrills – yet most melancholy moments – of my entire life, and alongside my daughter to boot.

Farewell Captain Fantastic. Thanks for the memories.

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