Wednesday 24 January 2018

Elton John: Hail a flawed genius

Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)...E
Elton John at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)...E
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In an 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, Elton John said it was lonely at the top. Sitting in his hotel penthouse suite after a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York, he was depressed right down to his pink fluorescent socks and matching polka-dot hobnail boots. He spoke like a man who'd had enough.

"I sang Yellow Brick Road and I thought, 'I don't have to sing this any more.' It could be the last gig forever. I'm definitely not retiring, but I want to put my energies elsewhere for a while. Y'know, I feel really strange at this particular point in time. I always do things by instinct and I just know it's time to cool it; I mean, who wants to be a 45-year-old entertainer in Las Vegas like Elvis?"

Twenty-five years later, I actually got to meet and have a quick interview with Elton in his dressing room in Vegas. He most definitely hadn't retired – having just come off stage after entertaining 10,000 people in Caesar's Palace with rollicking versions of Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting, Crocodile Rock, Bennie and the Jets and The Bitch is Back. He was the toast of Sin City that night.

The man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, has certainly come a long way from his days growing up in a modest semi-detached house in Pinner in Middlesex, from which he set out from the age of 10 for weekly lessons at the Royal Academy of Music and learned Chopin and Bach by heart.

He has brought that classical magic to bear on some of the greatest pop songs of his generation – Daniel, Someone Saved My Life Tonight and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – and in the doing sold nearly 300m records worldwide in a career that has marked him out as one of the greats. His 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy might be a concept record, but it is one of the most compelling collections from that great era of music.

I also remember from that epoch nearly crying with emotion in the mid-Seventies when I saw Elton on The Muppet Show doing a duet with Miss Piggy of Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Those were innocent times.

Less innocent times, however, were years later in the mid-Eighties or thereabouts, when, flying over the Alps in his private jet, Elton would point down at the mountains capped with white snowy stuff and say in recognition: "That's the amount of cocaine I've snorted!"

In a 2010 interview, he said: "Drugs bring out the darkest side of your soul eventually, especially cocaine and alcohol. And the unrealistic life, the craziness. I mean, I rang up the office from a London hotel and said it was too windy, could they do something about it. How crazy is that? Stop the wind! I was serious."

By the time of that interview he had long since cleaned up his act. Thankfully, however, he hasn't cleaned up his outspoken views.

He monstered Madonna (though they ended their feud recently). He also had a go at the big acts (you know who you are) who shamelessly mime to their songs while pretending the songs are live.

"All lip-synchers should be shot," he said in 2011.

"Only drag queens are allowed to lip-synch. Bands who fly in vocals – f*** off. I want to kill them."

He added that it was "hard to tell Girls Aloud from The Saturdays. And then there's Cheryl Cole. It's all crap".

Quite the opposite for Elton was growing up listening to his parents' record collections. "I remember so well the day my mum came home with a 78 of Heartbreak Hotel. She said that she'd just heard it in a record shop and she knew she had to buy it straight away.

"So she put it on for both of us to listen to.

"And I'd never heard anything like that in my entire life. It changed the way I listened to music forever," he once said.

The incontrovertible proof of Elton John's flawed genius can be found at length in his back catalogue – and today in concert in Cork.

Elton John plays The Marquee tonight in Cork.

www.ticketmaster.ie

Ticketmaster Outlets Nationwide: 24hr Credit Card Bookings: 0818 719300 (ROI)

Irish Independent

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