Sir Elton John is retiring. Yes, the Honky Cat is calling it quits after nearly 50 years on the road, and I can’t say I blame him.
I was a big fan in high school and college. I bought nearly all of his albums, and saw him twice in concert.
The first time was at my university, and the second was at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Both concerts were three-hour spectacles of amazing songs, showmanship and razzle dazzle. The sparkling glasses, electrified tuxedos, platform shoes, garish costumes would startle Vegas. Indeed, Elton John could outdo Liberace. I know this because I’ve seen both of them in concert.
A few weeks ago, I thought of buying tickets to what may be his last North Carolina concert. The PNC Arena in Raleigh in March 12, 2019. I thought about it, until I checked the ticket price $250 for the nosebleed section, $2,644 for Row 1.
I know I’m being old fashioned to raise my eyebrows for this platinum opportunity. Some pay more than $1,000 to attend a sporting event. But those people aren’t me. Even though I was an Elton fan back in the day. Even though I’m still a fan, of sorts.
My fondness for the singer-songwriter began my junior year in high school, when I first heard “Your Song.” I know exactly where I was—at the bathroom vanity, getting ready for school, with my transistor radio tuned to WLS radio. It was during the fall of 1970, a year after Woodstock. The haunting piano melody the plaintiff voice of John the balladeer caught my attention. He sounded nothing like the hard-driving psychedelia that clogged the airwaves.
My Cousin Gary from Los Angeles told me he had seen Elton around that time. He was playing a small venue in Southern California. Elton John looked so weird with his thick glasses, and his stage presence was such that Gary shook his head. That clown will ever amount to anything, he thought.
Elton John went on to become a world icon. Over the years, he’s had forty top 40 albums and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He has received an Oscar, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, a Disney Legends award, and the list goes on. He played the Pinball Wizard in the Hollywood version of “Tommy, the Rock Opera.”
His remake of “Candle in the Wind,” re-recorded to memorialize Princess Diana in 1997, was the fastest-selling number one record in history. According to the Guinness Book of Records, “Candle in the Wind 1997” is the second highest selling single of all time, topped only by Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” in 1942.
Maybe you remember Elton’s live performance at Westminster Abbey that September day. He and Diana had been fast friends, raising money for AIDS and other charities. He sang the tribute flawlessly, just as he’s done on his many hits: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Sacrifice,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “I’m Still Standing,” to name a few.
Born Reginald Dwight in suburban London, Elton John was a child prodigy, teaching himself to play piano by age four. Thanks to his 40-year career, he is estimated to be worth more than $450 million, due in part to his songwriting with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Of course you’ve heard Elton John’s music: the soundtrack to The Lion King, alone would be enough to put him in the history books.
I’m sad that Elton John is leaving the road, though I can’t blame him. He and his partner have two young sons. He’s done Vegas for years on end. It’s time to pull back.
Indeed, time is slipping away for all of us. I’m not the 18-year-old I was when Elton John rocked Horton Field House in 1972. I don’t recall what tickets cost, but I’m guessing no more than $8, a bargain even then.
Elton John turned 71 this past Sunday, but I figure I’ll have to remember him as he was in the ‘70s.
If any of you feel like shelling out hundreds of dollars for a trip to Raleigh next year, count yourself among the privileged. Seeing a true musical legend doesn’t come every day, and the days of such stars are waning fast.
Elton John on the Cher Show, 1975