I haven’t been to a concert in a very long time so I got excited when a friend from my college days secured tickets to see Elton John when he comes to Louisville as part of his farewell tour. I am not one to be all gushy or over admiring towards celebrities so as I danced around and smiled from ear to ear I had to ask myself why? What’s the big deal?
My first thought as that I grew up with Elton John songs. A more accurate description is that his songs hold over half of the spots on the playlist of my life. You could say say I grew up and grew old with these songs.
The year was 1972 and I was ten-years-old and I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock. Really. My family was taking square dancing lessons, which I secretly enjoyed, but the teens had a dance to Elton’s hit and it was much more lively and fun. There was also an older boy who didn’t have a partner and he would ask me to dance when Crocodile Rock came on. I don’t recall having a crush on him but being on the floor moving to the music with the older teens made me feel like somebody.
Elton’s first Greatest Hits Album quickly joined my collection and was played over and over, all the way through, both sides. I could sing every word of Rocket Man and Honky Cat. My favorite, even though my sister laughed and said I was a dork, was Border Song. It remains in my personal top-ten Elton songs.
I had heard bits and pieces of grown up conversations about Marilyn Monroe and JFK. I knew my mother was a JFK fan but frowned on Ms. Monroe. Candle in the Wind, gave me pause at age twelve. I decided we are much more than than our mistakes and our desire to belong. Perhaps for the first time in my young life I started trying to see past the surface of people.
Soon Lucy in the Sky and The Bitch is Back were climbing the charts. I have to say they aren’t among my favorites, but at twelve years old, I could belt out the lyrics when my parents were out of earshot. I felt cosmopolitan and naughty in a way only a twelve year old can.
I was also the weird pre-teen that appreciated, Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. It remains, although as a tie, as my all time favorite Elton tune.
Fast forward to 1985, the year I got married. The soloist sang a sweet song by Chicago for the wedding. As my husband and I drove to Florida for our honeymoon it seemed like every radio station kept playing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues. By the time our week was ending he looked at me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think that’s our song.” I admitted I was thinking the very same thing. Despite the title, the song is romantic. It was from the Too Low for Zero album and it too was played so many times I still remember the order of the songs.
Ten years later, as the marriage ended, He told me that he now thought of me, and always would, when he listened to Cold as Christmas. I still love the songs and when I hear them now they remind me of the things that were good rather than the things that went wrong.
The other song that ties for my number one is Blessed that came out in 1995. I was a scared single mother that was determined her child would have everything he would have had without the divorce with the exception of both parents in the same house. Blessed became the mantra in my brain for raising my child.
My best friend in high school, perhaps my best friend ever, was a boy named Johnnie. Graduation night we had an argument over something that seemed important at the time and that I now know was trivial. Two weeks later he left for the Air Force and two months later I left for college. Life took us in different directions. With no Facebook or cell phones the apology never happened and we never saw one another again. I was in my mid-thirties when I learned that Johnnie had died several years prior. As I reflected on our friendship and bond during a conversation with my mom she commented how my dad had always said Johnnie wanted more than friendship. I said, No. It wasn’t like that.” In an effort to strengthen my case I stated, “I could have changed clothes in front of Johnnie.”
The reality crashed down on me. I didn’t know back in high school and perhaps Johnnie didn’t either, but I realized my dear friend was gay. In the days to come I would learn that I was right. It broke my heart when I learned that when he came out his entire family disowned him. My beautiful friend died from complications associated with HIV. No one from his family so much as called him. I was told he died in the arms of his long-term partner. At least he had that.
I grieved for the loss of both a friend and a friendship that ended way too soon. My heart still hurts when I imagine his pain from being cast out by his family. I still regret the support I never got to give to him. Empty Garden was written for John Lennon, but it will always bring back bitter sweet memories of my own dear Johnnie.
Another time I may just make my life’s playlist. Maybe we all should. What song(s) would be essential for your playlist and why?
Photo credit and appreciation to: Mohammd Metri, Julia Jim, Victoria Kure, Matthew Essman and Doug Kelley.