The Artful Dodger

I’m getting excited.

Elton John, my rock and roll hero for nearly 50 years, is performing Sunday night, November 20, from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Why is that a big deal, you say? Glad you asked.

One, this concert is his final North American appearance on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which concludes next year. His last stop in the USA, over 50 years after his epic American debut at the Troubadour Club (also in L.A.). The L.A. Times music critic, Robert Hilburn, attended that show and predicted in his review, “He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.”

Boy, was he ever right.

Two, this event will be livestreamed on the Disney+ streaming service, beginning at 7:30 P.M., Pacific Standard Time, with “Countdown to Elton Live” from Dodger Stadium, with the concert scheduled to start about 25 minutes later.

Dodger Stadium, in case you didn’t know, holds an important place in Elton’s history, as well as the stadium’s.

He performed two sold out shows there in October, 1975. The last act to perform in Dodger Stadium prior to that was…the Beatles, in 1966.

In 1975, Elton John was the biggest thing in rock music. His two latest albums, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies, BOTH entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at Number One, the first time any artist had accomplished that. (Twice that year, he had four albums in the Top 200!) He sold out shows everywhere; over 100,000 people saw him over the two Dodger Stadium shows. He ruled the airwaves; you could hardly turn on the radio without hearing at least one of his hits.

Elton was at his zenith that weekend in Dodger Stadium, the biggest name in the world. Man, what that must have felt like.

And now, as he concludes a lifetime of touring, he returns to that summit one more time.

And he’s invited us all to join him. It’s gonna be an amazing experience, a helluva show.

I absolutely can…not…wait!

A Cat Named Hercules

On this date, March 25, in 1947, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was welcomed into the world, in Pinner, Middlesex, England.

He would grow up to become my rock and roll idol.

Elton. Hercules. John.

In case any of you forgot, let me remind you of this man’s accomplishments in the music world, courtesy of eltonjohn.com:

Elton has achieved 1 diamond, 32 platinum or multi-platinum, and 21 gold albums, over 70 Top 40 hits, and he has sold more than 300 million records worldwide. He holds the record for the biggest selling single of all time, Candle In The Wind 1997, which sold over 33 million copies. Since launching his first tour in 1970, Elton has over 4,000 performances in more than 80 countries to his credit.

Elton is the most successful solo male in the history of the American charts and the third most successful artist overall, behind only Madonna and the Beatles. He has logged 67 Hot 100 entries between 1970 and 2000, including nine No. 1s and 27 top 10s. He achieved seven #1 albums in the three-and-a-half-year period from 1972 to 1975 — a period of concentrated success surpassed only by the Beatles.

Not bad, right? The guy’s had an absolutely awesome career. He’s an immensely talented musician and composer, and he knows how to put on a terrific show. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing him in concert four times – once alongside Billy Joel – and he’s never failed to deliver.

(I do wish, though, I had seen him earlier in his career, performing in all those outrageous wardrobes and doing handstands on the piano. That must have been spectacular.)

Of course, he’s received a few awards and honors along the way. Again, from eltonjohn.com:

Besides his knighthood, Elton’s landmark awards include Best British Male Artist BRIT Award, 1991; Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Bernie Taupin), 1992; Officer of Arts & Letters (France) 1993; induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1994; Polar Music Prize, 1995; MusiCares Person of the Year, 2000; Kennedy Center Honor, 2004; Billboard Magazine Legend of Live Award, 2006; Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award (with Bernie Taupin), 2013; BRITs Icon Award, 2013; Rockefeller Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013 and the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative Leadership Award, 2013. In 2002, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and in 2004 he became a Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers.

Elton has won 13 Ivor Novello Awards between 1973 and 2001, been nominated for a Grammy Award 11 times (winning in 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000), and received the Grammy Legend Award in 2001. Three of his albums have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including his 1970 eponymous album. Elton has 4 Oscar Award nominations (winning in 1995 and 2020), and a Tony Award (with 4 nominations) for Best Original Score for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aidain 2000.

Now, at 75, Elton remains part of the current music scene. His latest album, The Lockdown Sessions, includes collaborations with contemporary artists like Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X. And he continues his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, no longer on hold due to COVID, on into 2023.

Add to that a happy home life with husband David Furnish and sons Elijah and Zachary, and his continued work with numerous charities like the Elton John Aids Foundation, and it’s clear this guy is not slowing down at 75. Good for him; I wish him all the best.

Happy Birthday, Sir Elton! From the first time I heard you (way back when), I’ve been a big fan. You and your longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, have provided a remarkable soundtrack for my life, and I thank you.

Rock on!!

Living and loving, kissing and hugging,

Living and loving with a cat named Hercules

Elton John, “Hercules”, 1972.

Keep On Rockin’

I got to thinking about all the rock and roll stars I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live in my life. Maybe you won’t be impressed by this list, but I kinda was.

Elton John. Billy Joel. The Eagles. Bruce Springsteen. Steely Dan. Rush. Neil Diamond. Stevie Wonder. Dan Fogelberg. Roger Waters. Phil Collins. Cher (with Cyndi Lauper). U2. The Doobie Brothers. Cat Stevens. The Allman Brothers Band, Joe Walsh, and The Marshall Tucker Band (together).

Oh, and N’Sync, with two of my nieces. Shriek!!!

Many of these guys, I’ve seen twice, and in Elton and Billy’s case, four times each.

Then, of course, there are the ones who got away, like Genesis, Wings, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Stevie Ray Vaughn, to name just a few.

Oh, and Johnny Cash.

Yes, Johnny Cash, my first musical hero. I would have loved to see him live.

I thoroughly enjoyed every concert I attended. (Well, not so much N’Sync, but my nieces loved it.) There’s nothing like the energy at a live rock concert. When it’s good, the performers and the audience feed off each other to make an unforgettable experience.

If you were to ask me what my favorite show was, I’d give you different answers, for different reasons. The easy answer is Elton, because he’s my favorite artist, from a long way back. Billy Joel, because he’s another piano player, like I once was (though nowhere near that caliber).

For professionalism and virtuosity, Steely Dan and Rush take the honors. For the sheer spectacle, I gotta give it to Cher and Roger Waters. Those weren’t just concerts, they were events.

The Eagles were and are my favorite band vocally. Their harmony just shines.

Stevie was just incredible. He is so musically gifted. He’s really one of a kind.

But nobody, and I mean nobody, gives more of himself onstage than The Boss. Bruce Springsteen just lays it all out there every time, and the E Street Band is always equal to the task. It is amazing to watch.

It’s great to see live shows coming back now, after going missing last year. There are still some restrictions in place, though. My sister-in-law and her daughter are going to a concert tonight, but they have to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result from the last 24 hours. It’s a new world, folks.

But it’s still a chance for fans to go see their favorite artists, sing along jubilantly, and just forget the world for a few hours and be only about the music. And that’s worth something.

Rock on, y’all.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Rocking

 

As long as there’s been rock and roll, there have been rock and roll idols.

From Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, to the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2 and more, there have been certain stars who have shone brighter than all the rest.

You bought all their albums, you put their poster on your wall and, if you were lucky, you got to go see them perform in person. And you shared the experience with a whole host of other fanatics.

The brightest star for yours truly has always been, and always will be, Elton John. Sir Elton John, that is.

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This past Saturday, I went to see him in concert. For the fourth time.

And he was absolutely awesome!!

He was energetic, engaging and in peak form. At seventy-one, no less. Just incredible.

 

Elton claims this tour is his last, even calling it his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, a twist on the title of his popular album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. 

Yeah, right; how many other performers have made that same claim, only to turn around and say, “Ehh, maybe not.” And I get it; performing must be awfully tough for a performer to give up. All that adoration is like oxygen to him.

So, we’ll see if, at the end of this three year worldwide tour, Elton sticks to his word.

But, if this was really my last time to see him in person, he definitely made it memorable.

 

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The show began with all the lights off, and snippets of several songs throughout Elton’s long and illustrious career playing over the speakers, getting us all into an appropriate frenzy.

Suddenly, on came the spotlight, and there he was, seated at his piano, where he announced his presence by emphatically striking the opening chord of Bennie and the Jets.

And, so began two and a half solid hours of spectacular entertainment. He was totally on top of his game all night.

 

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Among the Elton John classics we heard that night were:

Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Philadelphia Freedom, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, Candle in the Wind, Your Song, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, The Bitch Is Back, I’m Still Standing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Burn Down the Mission, Daniel and oh, so many more.

I’ve also got to single out three standout performances. There was Indian Sunset, an obscure, but brilliantly written tune by Elton, for an equally brilliant vignette by his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin.

There was an extended version of Levon, featuring some of Elton’s best piano playing of the night. It even featured the familiar Elton pose, head back, eyes shut, mouth wide open as he pounded the keys with abandon. I mean, he and his band absolutely rocked the house.

And there was the crowd favorite, Crocodile Rock, which greatly pleased, among others, my wife to hear. The fun part was when Elton and the band stopped playing to hear the audience’s full-throated rendition of “Laaaa, la-la-la-la laaa…” in the chorus. We sounded great, if you ask me.

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He closed the show with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in keeping with the theme of this tour. As he sang, a video montage played onscreen of all his different looks, and a few of his more memorably outrageous outfits (Donald Duck? Really?) over his career.

As I watched, I thought, I don’t think anyone has had quite the journey that Elton John has had. This dude has had an amazing life, not just as an entertainer, but as a human being. The places he’s been. The people he’s met. The things he’s seen and done. His triumph over addictions. His significant contribution in the fight against AIDS.A456E868-1E53-4E1B-9BC8-71BFAF6FC56F

He has to just look back over his life sometimes and just think, Wow.

Early in the show, Elton lauded the singular talent of the late Aretha Franklin, reminding us we would never see the likes of her again.

Well, I say the same thing for Sir Elton John.

If this could actually be your last chance to see his show, I highly recommend you go. Performers like him come along once in a lifetime, and that’s the truth.

Sir Elton, thanks for all the good times. You are my once and forever rock and roll idol.