In Praise of a Madman

I grew up listening to what is now affectionately known as “Classic Rock.” Artists like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Band, David Bowie, Steely Dan, on and on and on.

I mean, it was a great time to listen to the FM radio.

There was one person for me, though, who stood head and shoulders above all the rest. (Even though he’s actually quite short.)

This guy…was my rock and roll idol in my adolescence.

 

You all know him. Elton John. Captain Fantastic. The Rocket Man. Or, as a high school classmate so sardonically, yet prophetically put it back then, “the homosexual who sings on stage.”

I played some piano in my younger days, and one of my brothers suggested to me, when I was about 13, 14 years old, that I ought to give Elton John a listen.

Well, I went to the local Gibson’s and purchased an Elton John album, the first one I ever bought with my own money. The album was Madman Across the Water.

I’ve been a madman for the Madman ever since. Thanks, bro.

I gotta say, I was really glad there was a lyric sheet included in the album, because I found that British accent of his almost impenetrable in places when he sang. But he had a terrific voice, and he sure could play the youknowwhat out of a piano. (Still does, still can.) I started learning how to play his songs, envisioning myself as a big-time rock star one day. I would put on my Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, start the first track, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, and play right along with it on my baby grand. It felt awesome!!

Back then, I had a peculiar habit (one of several) of playing the first side of an album for days before ever flipping it over to hear the second side. So, it was quite a while after I bought the Madman record before I heard “Indian Sunset”, the first track on Side 2. If you’ve never heard this masterpiece by Elton and his longtime lyricist, the phenomenal Bernie Taupin, do yourself a favor and download it, since that’s how we listen to music nowadays. The melody and lyrics, combined with Paul Buckmaster’s exquisite orchestration, make for a sublime listening experience.

Through the years, I’ve had several such experiences listening to Elton and Bernie’s fabulous work. (And they’re still going strong 49 years later!!) Listen to “Ticking”, off the Caribou album, and see if it doesn’t give you chills when you think about the mass-murder culture we live in now. Listen to “American Triangle”, from Songs From the West Coast, which speaks to the ignorance behind, and the resultant tragedy from, homophobia. Listen to “Home Again”, from The Diving Board, and reminisce about the crazy dreams of youth bringing you full circle. Or just crank up the volume on “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and rock your ass off!

Of course, there was also the sheer spectacle of Elton’s shows in his heyday. Outrageous costumes, outlandish glasses, Hollywood-caliber entrances, handstands on the keyboard, you name it. The man always knew how to give a crowd its money’s worth. Even though he’s toned down the flash in recent years, he still gives you an evening of great music, hit after hit after hit, he and his band firing on all cylinders, making sure everybody who attends has a great time.

But I don’t just like Elton John for his music. I admire him for the way he’s overcome some personal obstacles and is now doing so much to positively impact the world. Go on his website and check out his inspiring work in the battle against AIDS. His foundation has raised over $300 million to combat this disease across the globe, largely due to his indefatigable efforts. See how you can join the fight.

Also, I admire how much Elton values his sobriety. This guy had a serious drug problem back in the day, coupled with some other crippling addictions, but he had the presence of mind to do something about it and get help, and now, with his husband and their two sons, he is a happy, healthy family man.

He still has his flaws, as do we all, and as he will readily admit. Despite them, though, I believe he is a decent, kindhearted man blessed with a monstrous amount of talent. I’ve seen him perform three times in my life, (once with my other piano hero, Billy Joel; talk about awesome!) and I’m ready to go again, anytime.

Sir Elton, you da man. Long may you rock!

 

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