The other day, like maybe three days ago, I switched on the radio in my car for just a few minutes and heard Elton John’s “Levon,” which I haven’t been able to get out of my head ever since. It’s a good idea not to think too hard about Elton John’s song lyrics in general (he was born a pauper to a pawn? I don’t really get this but that does not stop me from singing this over and over in my head), which, as Bernie Taupin wrote them, are just strung together because they sounded kind of cool at some point, I imagine.
But this leads me to wonder about the mystery that is Elton John (this, I have just decided, will be an every-so-often feature on this blog; see The mystery that is Neil Diamond if you need some context).
How is it that he has (in my opinion) made some truly terrible songs (I have always thought that “Bennie and the Jets” would be the perfect soundtrack to some awful scene in a movie—perhaps someone getting stabbed while “Bennie Bennie Bennie” in that insane falsetto repeats over and over and over?), but at the same time he made songs that, if you thought about it (and I have), are almost identical to the terrible songs and are, somehow, rather likable. This is the mystery for me. What is it about “Tiny Dancer” that delights me? For some reason, I love the line, “Turning back she just laughs.” Yet is this any better than music’s most ridiculous understatement, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid”? There is really nothing separating “Tiny Dancer” from “Rocket Man,” yet why does one delight me and the other irritate me? I have no idea. Or “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” I should hate that song. My god, I don’t know why I don’t. I should have the same reaction as I do to “Candle in the Wind,” which is, oh please, no. And yet. But there is practically nothing different about those songs. Right? Fly away, high away, bye bye. Seriously, what is wrong with me?
I should also probably hate “Crocodile Rock,” and I do, I do, really, but at the same time I can’t help remembering the “Heavy Hands Workout” class my friend Rachel and I took in college and the steps our teacher choreographed to this song, and then I have to smile. Damn you, Elton John, it’s just that you have been around all my life. Another memory that just popped into my head: it’s the summer of 1979 and I’m on a school bus with a whole bunch of young strangers heading to a sleepaway camp that will turn out to be four weeks of hopeless misery and sports, but at this moment, I am still a little hopeful, and then “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” comes on the radio, which was already an oldie, if you will, but made me briefly smile. For a moment, on that bus, when I was down, he was my clown. Aw!
Did you know the song “Levon” isn’t really about Levon Helm of The Band, but the name does come from him for some reason? Actually, if you ever look up this song, you will find a whole bunch of people obsessing over the name Alvin Tostig, the name of Levon’s father in the song, whose name also has no meaning at all. Then again, he was born a pauper to a pawn. What the fuck?
As I found with Neil Diamond, I realize that I have no real answer to the mystery that is Elton John and why he has been so intolerable and yet also tolerable to me my entire life. I will probably keep pretending to hate him, but then also liking him sometimes, forever. I don’t see anything wrong with this and I don’t think Sir John would either.