Gay Icon Elton John Sings in his 60 Birthday
For close to forty years, Elton John has been at the forefront of the music industry. He has released over 50 albums, selling more than 200 million worldwide, selling out huge arenas since the early 1970’s, and most importantly, establishing The Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars since its inception in 1991. He’s also been respected and recognized by his peers and fans all over the world as one of the most important musicians and entertainers of all time.
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, he began playing the piano as a child and composing his songs in the London suburb of Pinner, Middlesex, England as a teen in the 1960’s. He adopted the name Elton John from two of the members of the first group he founded, Bluesology Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. Since his enormous success that began as a solo artist in 1969, Elton lived his life as a closeted gay man. Only those in the industry were aware of Elton John’s private life. His addictions to alcohol and cocaine, as well as suffering from Bulimia, came as quickly as his fame. When he finally sobered up seventeen years ago, he made the decision to live his life honestly as an openly gay man despite the repercussions that he expected. Sadly, for many performers (mostly male), living life openly gay has been equated to a death sentence in the entertainment industry but not for Elton and his timeless music. His status in the business was stable and already over two decades long, but he was willing to sacrifice future sales and acceptance in the industry by being true to himself. Fortunately for the gay community and for people suffering from HIV and AIDS, Elton was a Godsend. Unfortunately, living openly is still a rarity for gay men in the mainstream entertainment industry. How many openly gay men can you think of that have the worldwide appeal of John and his music?
On March 25th, Elton John turned 60 and performed a three and a half hour concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for an audience filled with fans which included many from the world of entertainment, such as Rosie O’Donnell and her wife, Kelli O’Donnell, Barbra Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Elizabeth Hurley, Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne and Diane Sawyer. If that’s not enough, he was introduced by former President Bill Clinton before entering the stage and kicking off the evening by singing “Sixty Years On.” Just before breaking into the concert, John had said that “the arena was the obvious choice to ring in my birthday,” because it was his record-breaking 60th concert in the famed venue. Elton has described the locale as his favorite place to perform. "I knew I had 59 shows here and I said the only place I wanted to be was in New York City at Madison Square Garden,” before later thanking the crowd for their “loyalty, love and support.”
John also got extremely melancholy when he described what Madison Square Garden and New York City had meant to him over the years, most especially when he sang his 1982 hit song “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)” written for his friend John Lennon shortly after his death in December 1980. He spoke of two memorable performances at the venue his first performance after September 11, 2001 and his performance in November 1974 when John Lennon joined him on stage for what turned out to be his last live concert appearance. Elton still recalls that night as if it were yesterday, saying that “I have never heard a reception for anyone like that in my life,” and continued to say that he still mourned Lennon and would for the rest of his life. “It's too upsetting for me to sing it anywhere else,” he told the crowd before singing the tribute with the lyrics "Oh hey, hey, Johnny can't you come out to play?”
Gone were the extravagant and outrageous costumes and wigs that John used to don in the early part of his career. He entered and performed the evening in a black tuxedo tailcoat and his trademark rose-tinted glasses. When Robin Williams took to the stage towards the end of the evening, he quipped, “This is a man who used to make Liberace look Amish.”
During the concert (which included 35 of his 70-plus charted hits) he was joined onstage in song by the likes of Mary J. Blige, Tony Bennett and his friends and colleagues, Scissor Sisters. Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams also took to the stage to sing “Happy Birthday,” telling the audience “there is nobody I have more respect and love for than him.”
John also had his two partners present, his professional partner and friend of 38 years, lyricist Bernie Taupin, without whom he said “we wouldn’t be here tonight, because the words have always come first,” before John sang his 1973 smash “Daniel,” and his life partner of a dozen years, David Furnish, whom John married in London in December 2005, and dedicated the song “Something About The Way You Look Tonight.”
The evening’s set included a myriad of songs such as “Bennie And The Jets,” “Sad Songs Say So Much,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” “I’m Still Standing,” the masterpiece opus “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and of course, “The Bitch Is Back.” He performed an additional twenty-seven of his compositions, ranging from his first album in 1970, such as the aforementioned opener “Sixty Years On” and “Where To Now St. Peter?” to his latest 2007 single “Tinderbox,” which held the audience captivated.
Elton closed the three hour-plus set most fittingly with his signature 1970 composition that put him on the musical map, “Your Song.” It was a glorious night filled with laughter and tears and an event that ranks as one of the most important and exciting concert events I have ever attended.
See CD Reviews for review of Elton John’s latest release, Rocket Man: Number Ones
This article first appeared in the BottomLine Magazine in Palm Springs, CA.
© 2007 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.