Do you remember where you were the first time you heard “Your Song?” I do. I was sitting on my friend Hope’s bedroom floor when she put the needle to the vinyl. I was like…What was that?
After listening to “Your Song,” (millennials can substitute “Chasing Pavements” which might have triggered a similar music affirming jolt), I couldn’t wait to hear the next song (“I Need You To Turn To“), and the next song (“Take Me To The Pilot”). Every track a layer of a masterpiece.
My husband and I (and 4 of our pals) got tickets to Rocketman days before opening weekend. We were champing at the bit to go down the Yellow Brick Road — the soundtrack to so much of our youth — back when Bernie Taupin’s ‘fantalicious’ lyrics propelled Elton’s melodies into uncharted and expansive territories. Decades later, my ears still salivate at the intro to “Bennie and the Jets.” And yes, I admit the thought often occurs: ‘they don’t write ‘em like they used to.’
In a not so recent New York Times piece aptly titled “Pop in the era of distraction,” Jon Pareles suggests, “In that endless stream (streamed music that is,) the idea that a song is a thought-out, carefully distilled utterance was bound to erode.”
Which begs the question: would Elton John have ‘gone to Hollywood’ had he auditioned for American Idol or, in the age of over-saturation and attention-span deficit, would he have been a blip on a radar screen out-paced by less seismic talents who are savvy at melisma, algorithms, brand management and instagram?
Pareles continues, “Because, really, who has time for music?…Perhaps some single-minded listeners can set all those distractions aside, but they’re a minority.”
Well, I’m in that minority. And so are my pals. And I know loads of peeps in and out of our age group with a desire to have a slow cooked experience. We may be the minority but we’re not dead.
My daughter is an a la carte user. She likes jumping around, curating playlists, sharing with friends. I get it. There’s a lot of tasty talent out there singing songs I wish I wrote. But I wonder what chart-topping 2019 song will have my daughter’s heart beating faster years from now when its blasting in her self-driving vehicle.
My pals and I got our popcorn and Raisinets, filed into our 6 seats and fastened out seatbelts. Let’s go! Big opener. Lots of dancing. Elton in a sequined devil costume at a ‘meeting.’ We were all in. But as the movie unfolded we kinda shrunk in our seats…and when it was over we were a little let down. After all that anticipation! (Judging from my Facebook feed, we’re in the minority again!)
Post-show we gathered ‘round a table at The Galleria Mall’s Starbucks (it was too crowded at the Cheesecake Factory — where they were vaping at the bar! — strange times in California), and had our own private Rotten Tomatoes discussion:
1- The story moved a little quickly and felt over-simplified.
2- The first 2 songs Elton played for label man Dick James (“Border Song” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”) weren’t even written when he met Dick James.
3- They got Bernie’s hair totally wrong.
4- They tried to use many of the songs to tell Elton’s life-story, but the lyrics originated from Bernie so it didn’t make sense in that context.
Personally, I would have liked to hear some lesser known numbers like “Harmony” — (did I say “numbers?” — later I’ll be having an “early-bird special”) — a song that I suspect was inspired by how Bernie must have felt about Elton when they were going through their ups and downs. (Oh and, I always thought the lyric was “Looking for Aladdin in our boat upon the sea”…made sense to me!)
Anyway, in the morning, I read this in Rolling Stone about the film: the timeline is off much of the time and facts are disregarded in favor of creating a compelling narrative and capturing the emotional truth of Elton’s life.
Oh! Well that explains it! I wish I had known before I saw it. I mean I’d have gone anyway but I would have adjusted my expectations. Taken a deeper leap of faith.
On the upside and on the whole I enjoyed the fantasy, the peek behind the curtain and the adventure with my pals. My luke warm feels about the film itself can not snuff out my enthusiasm for the duo’s body of work or my virgin encounter with “Your Song.” I’m grateful to have ‘been there’ when culture was a fertile playground for artists to break barriers, cross boundaries, paint outside the lines...and make albums. It was a marathon not a sprint. There’s a reason why Elton and Bernie are still adored and celebrated Sixty Years On.