Farewell Yellow Brick Road

Spotify playlist: https://spoti.fi/3En9fUa


This was not your father’s stadium show.

Wait a minute, I am that father! At least the age of said fathers, I have no kids.

Stadium shows were a new thing. They were a creation of demand. Just that many people wanted to go to the show, to see an act that not only touched their souls, but impacted the culture. The music was everything, not only for you, but everybody. Everybody knew the show was happening, it was all over the radio, in the news. It was not a victory lap, it was the zeitgeist.

Fifty years later it’s not even the same stadiums. The circles of yore have been torn down, replaced by unique ballparks. Food is very near gourmet. Just going to the park is an experience, irrelevant of the game. And the stadium show you go to might appeal to you, but not necessarily everybody else. There may have been mania over Taylor Swift tickets, but most people have no interest in going. Whereas when the Stones were playing… They were young, they were still dangerous, they were the other, and we considered ourselves the other too. The acts represented more than the music, a viewpoint, a philosophy…

And conventional wisdom was there would be no more stadium shows after the classic acts faded away. This has proven to be untrue. There are now more stadium shows than ever. Amalgamations of old rockers. What is the experience?

Well, one thing is for sure, you’ll have no problem getting a ticket. This is the dirty little secret of the Taylor Swift on-sale. I mean how many people really want to sit in the last row of the upper deck? And even if they’re willing to pay, it’s not much. So the truth is many people who purchased Taylor Swift tickets went for the entire allotment, caught up in the mania, believing they’ll be able to flip them for more than face value. I doubt it. The example here is Miley Cyrus. She went on the road while she was still on “Hannah Montana” and parents went insane, they just could not get tickets, they were up in arms, there had to be an investigation… Which never happened, but to solve the problem, the next time around Miley went paperless. And the gigs didn’t immediately sell out. Yes, everybody had been caught up in the mania. And although the scalpers don’t want paperless, it’s really the audience that is against it, because then they can’t scalp their own tickets. The truth hurts.

As for the truth, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold; weighed in on the kerfuffle:

“Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows Offers Insight On Ticketmaster Pricing Controversy”: https://bit.ly/3GznkR0

It’s refreshing to see an artist speak the truth, as opposed to obfuscating, as opposed to staying silent. And would Taylor Swift have put all these tickets on sale on the same day if she didn’t want to set a record she could publicize? Springsteen taught us you do the on-sales market by market, but then there could be no hype.

But they did hype the fact that “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” was the first album to enter the chart at number one and go gold in its very first week. That’s only 500,000 albums, almost all vinyl, some cassette, and there were no shenanigans. That’s when big acts sold tonnage, they didn’t need to pump up the numbers, the truth itself was just overwhelming.

But as big as “Captain Fantastic” was, it was not head and shoulders above the competition. The summer of ’75 featured the Eagles’ true breakthrough, “One of These Nights,” and the first Fleetwood Mac album with Stevie and Lindsey, and Jefferson Starship’s “Red Octopus,” Marty Balin may be forgotten today, but that summer “Miracles” was ubiquitous in a way no track is today. And there was James Taylor’s comeback “Gorilla.”  And Wings’ “Venus and Mars.” And breakthroughs like Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver.”

It was a different era.

And last night at Dodger Stadium that era was celebrated.


Elton John never left the hit parade. He was one of those artists with AM hits who didn’t sacrifice his credibility. He never released a stiff. And he released more music than just about anybody else. And when he played Dodger Stadium in that baseball uniform back in 1975… It wasn’t so much that he could sell out the building, but a celebration of his place in the culture.

And now he’s part of the firmament.

And soon he will be gone. Not only him, but his contemporaries. Those still able to ply the boards.

And make no mistake, last night was a celebration. It was a completely different show from those in the arenas before Covid. Elton was playing to everybody, including those in the rafters. And the way this was done was via video and first class sound reinforcement, which were absent back in the day, as they say. It was a party.

But that’s not what reached me.

“Bennie and the Jets” was the opener.

Actually, it was that naked piano figure that was the opener. Usually acts hit you in the face right off, to make you stand up and pay attention. But “Bennie” is all about the groove. It doesn’t get your feet moving, it gets your head knocking, your body goes Gumby, “Bennie” goes straight to the heart. You can’t resist. And “Bennie” couldn’t be resisted last night.

The follow-up was “Philadelphia Freedom,” one of my personal favorites. It’s got the chunka-chunka guitar that Elton says is a nod to the Philly sound, but I always heard it as Tom Johnston’s riffs in the Doobie Brothers, but in any event it’s a one listen hit. About a team competing in World Team Tennis. There was a tennis boom, everybody played, now you can walk right on a court, if it hasn’t been converted to pickle ball. Billie Jean King. Jimmy Connors. They were international icons. Quick, name the #1 tennis players today. Of course, tennis aficionados can, but everybody else can’t and doesn’t care. But they cared back in ’75.

And unlike the country acts, everybody playing rock today, there was only one guitarist, Davey Johnstone, laying down riffs with an edge, because Elton was definitely considered a rock act, pop was anathema. You had to be more than a pretty face, who you were was part of the music. And Elton got bit by the tennis bug like the rest of us. Back in the days when participation was more important than watching.

“Philadelphia Freedom” has been appended to the digital version of “Captain Fantastic,” but back in ’75 it was a single, and a single only. Like the Beatles, Elton had so many hits he could afford to leave them off his albums, which people would buy anyway.

But “Border Song” was on the very first Elton album, even though we ultimately learned that “Empty Sky” preceded it. And Elton told a long story about an ailing Aretha Franklin showing up to sing it, a commitment is a commitment, and I liked hearing it, but I would have preferred “Sixty Years On” or “The King Must Die,” but Elton ultimately did play the third track on that initial LP, the one that reached me first, “Take Me to the Pilot,” people don’t even make records with that energy these days.

Then earlier than we expected it (although I did have the set list) came the number that Cameron Crowe made iconic in “Almost Famous,” I’m speaking of none other than “Tiny Dancer.”

“Blue jean lady

L.A. lady

Seamstress for the band”

She was a real person, Maxine Feibelman, Bernie Taupin’s first wife. He was infatuated, he wrote the lyrics from his heart, back when just being part of the touring entourage was enough, you’d sell your soul to be a part of the rock and roll circus, the people on the bus, on the plane, were gods. Nobody was cooking up an app, trying to become a techie, the goal was just to get closer to the music, and this is what Maxine managed to do.

And I think it was during “Tiny Dancer” that our faux Apple Watches came alive. That’s what they looked like, that was their shape. They handed them out at the door and they were triggered by some unknown power and they lit up all by themselves, it was very cool, reminded me of back in the day when you had to trump your contemporaries with your production.

“Tiny Dancer” is an optimistic song, from back when California was still a dream, when the coast was where people were free, the goal was to get there, and everybody in the stadium knew what Elton was singing about.

Next came “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” from “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” which Elton labeled a “throwaway” back in the aforementioned day.

“Don’t Shoot Me” is one of my favorite Elton LPs. The hits are the opening cut “Daniel,” which I liked but never loved, and “Crocodile Rock,” which hearkened back to what had come before, which I first heard on the radio, which I positively adored. But neither of these cuts is why I love “Don’t Shoot Me.” The two tracks I play most, that I play all the time, are “Teacher I Need You” and “Elderberry Wine,” neither of which were hit singles, nor was “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” and I loved that Elton played it. But back when albums were albums you knew every track on an LP and the song about having a crush on a teacher, it just made me smile, and the crushing piano of “Elderberry Wine” would infect anybody, never mind that emphatic Elton vocal.

And then came “Rocket Man.”


Elton was cold, at least that was the perception. You see as iconic as “Tiny Dancer” is today, it was not a hit. “Levon” got a bit more airplay, made it all the way to #24, whereas “Tiny Dancer” peaked at #41, and in truth unless you’re in the top ten, maybe fifteen, it’s almost like your record doesn’t exist. And sure, it was only six months later, but people didn’t expect Elton to come back with a barnbuster, a track that battled Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” for most airplay honors.

I’m speaking, of course, of “Rocket Man.”

Now my favorite track on “Honky Chateau” was and still is “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” And one can argue that “Honky Chateau” was not as consistent as what preceded and followed it, but it had that pocket closure of the gatefold cover and…Elton was at the peak once again.

Now the world has completely changed, it’s no longer about the record, but the live performance, whereas it used to be exactly the opposite. There was only one version, maybe there was an authorized live take later, usually on a double-live album that served as a greatest hits package, a compendium of what once was as opposed to a pushing of the envelope, and we know every lick on those records.

That’s why record companies were godhead, unlike today. You needed one to make and distribute a record, at least if you wanted a chance of breaking through commercially. And there was plenty of money to get it right, because nothing scales like music. Yes, cut a hit record and you can stay at home and get paid, you can be dead and your relatives can still get paid. And artists had wrested all the power from the labels, which frequently had no say at all. The act got a budget, contractually, which they frequently exceeded, and oftentimes the first time the label heard the album was when it was done. And then those albums were advertised with singles on the radio while fans rushed out to buy them the first week unheard and there was a mania unlike anything today.

If you had told me “Rocket Man” was going to be the highlight of last night’s show, I never would have believed you. The lyrics are dated. And it’s great, but still, there are more iconic numbers. Yet, when Elton started to play and sing he lifted us up like a Saturn V rocket.

The show changed, this is when it became cerebral.

Shows are not what they used to be. Today you leave your brain behind as you shoot selfies, hang with your buddies. But it used to be different. You were in your own personal bubble, taken away by the music emanating from the stage, it was a positively personal experience.

I bought the first Elton John album without hearing it first. The rock press hooked me, I had to check it out. I did hear “Your Song” over the radio of my friend’s mother’s Chevy during Thanksgiving weekend, but when I dropped the needle on the album when it finally arrived at school from the Record Club of America…

It was cold. It got dark early. The weather was miserable. November in Vermont, before the snow starts to fall.

And Middlebury College is a grind. And I’d been told all through high school…WAIT UNTIL YOU GET TO COLLEGE! So I took it seriously. Which meant I studied all the time, we all did, and my respite came in the afternoon after classes ended, and then just before dinner, and when the day was done, I cranked up my music. This was before it was portable, a decade before the Walkman, and if you were an aficionado you wore headphones to hear the nuances, and you laid in bed and listened in the dark, not only did the music demand respect, you wanted to go down the rabbit hole, you wanted to be taken away.

“She packed my bags last night pre-flight”

There’s not a boomer alive who does not know this line. We were on the same page, because of the radio, because of the culture, you could not escape “Rocket Man.”

So last night I’m surveying the assembled multitude, trying to get a handle on it, what it all meant. Why did everybody come, what were they expecting, what was going through Elton’s head?

One thing’s for sure, he’s never retiring, he just enjoys it too much. Improvising on the piano, working the audience, you’d think after all these shows he’d be going through the motions, but nothing could be further from the truth.

But Elton is 75. He broke through over 50 years ago. He’s lived a charmed life, but he earned it. And Elton is one of our few stars who is a fan himself. He still buys the records, he befriends the newbies, he tries to save those who’ve gone down the wrong path… Nobody else does this. Elton is not reclusive, he’s our most accessible superstar, even if most never meet him, but he’s part of the scuttlebutt, he’s busy living life, and watching the video screens last night it was hard not to be envious, I mean WHAT A LIFE!

But once Elton was young and hungry. Actually, he was hungry for quite a while. And now… He’s an elder statesman?

No, this is not Sinatra, Elton is not our parents’ star. We didn’t go to the show for nostalgia, Elton meant more to us than that. We lived through all those hits. Which were supplemented by stage flamboyance. This guy who made serious music knew no limits live, with not only his glasses but his boots, his feathers, his outfits…he could do all this and still the music sustained, because it was just that powerful.

And he’s not that guy anymore. None of us are. We’re on a downhill slide, wondering if we should whip out our ice axe to self-arrest or go with the flow. Elton kept hiking up his pants. We’re no longer skinny, we can no longer wear pants sans a belt.

“I miss the Earth so much I miss my wife”

Loneliness. The records were an antidote to that. We listened and felt connected, and most of the time we listened alone. They rode shotgun, they kept us company, they got us through our deepest, darkest moments.

Now on wax, “Rocket Man” has an extended outro, but it’s not that long a number, longer than the usual single, but ultimately only 4:41.

Last night it was much longer.

The previous songs had hewed closely to the records, in length anyway, Elton was keeping himself entertained throwing in a few flourishes. But “Rocket Man”…it went on so long that you let go.

Suddenly I was the only person there. I was jetted back to that dorm room at Middlebury College. I was reminded of how much this music meant to me, how it was everything, how I built my life around it.

And I was surrounded by others who’d chosen the same path, but I still felt unique, we’re all individuals, fully understandable only to ourselves. And when the music sets your mind free, you’re reminded of this, your life flows through your brain, you remember what once was and you make connections, you gain understanding

That’s one of the reasons you go to the show, to be surprised.

And “Rocket Man” surprised me last night, it made the whole concert worth it, I got that zing, which is what it’s all about. In truth it’s all we’re looking for, the rest is disposable, it’s just that it’s hard to find. And when you do…


I could talk about how good the band was. I could deliver more details, but they’d never convey the feeling, really only the music can convey the feeling.

“Who’ll walk me down to church when I’m sixty years of age

When the ragged dog they gave me has been ten years in the grave”

You took to one side first. Yes, albums had two sides, and you got stuck on one and when you knew it by heart, you flipped the vinyl for the other.

The first side of “Elton John” was not only the one with “Take Me to the Pilot,” but “Your Song” too. The second side was more inscrutable. But it’s the second side I play today.

“You’ve hung up your great coat and you’ve laid down your gun

You know the war you fought in wasn’t too much fun”

“Sixty Years On” opened side two. You had to slow down to get it. Which I first did lying on my bed, stoned, listening on headphones as to not disturb my roommate. The combination of Gus Dudgeon’s production and Paul Buckmaster’s strings…”Elton John” sounds like it was cut in a cathedral.

“I’ve no wish to be living sixty years on”

Right now it’s 52, Elton’s got eight years to go. He’ll do it until he can’t. He could die tomorrow, or live to 100. But at some point he’ll be gone, and all that will remain is the records, which will affect others the same way they affected me.

“And Magdalena plays the organ

Plays it just for you

Your choral lamp that burns so low

When you are passing through”

We’re tired. We’re worn out. We’re reflective. We may think seventy is the new fifty, forty, but inside we know we’re old, that we’re never going to win this war of attrition, that we’ll ultimately pass and we’ll fade away and not radiate. It’s hard to believe, hard to accept, but at some point in your sixties you do. You let go of the handlebars, you fly, it’s all personal, where you went to school, what you own, what others think no longer matters, it’s just you, alone, with the music.


“No man’s a jester playing Shakespeare”

Never underestimate’s Elton’s voice. We’re not looking for excellence, we’re not looking for a standard, we’re looking for character, uniqueness, and Elton’s voice was high, yet powerful, he had the music in him, and a great example of this is when you drop the needle on “The King Must Die,” the closing track on the first American album, “Elton John.”

“And sooner or later

Everybody’s kingdom must end”

Nothing is forever, fight it all you want, you’ll lose.

“And I’m so afraid your courtiers

Cannot be called best friends”

If you have one true friend, who you can truly trust, you’re lucky. You can have all the money in the world, be famous, and be unable to trust anybody, everybody wants something from you, your cash, access, and there are so many looking to topple you and take your place, staying atop the throne is hard, very hard.

“Caesar’s had your troubles

Widows had to cry”

It’s inevitable, no one is left unscathed, no one here gets out alive.

“Some men are better staying sailors

Take my word and go”

You can keep your head down, refuse to risk, be safe, but you’ll be shut out of the rewards.

Or you can be like Elton John, push all your chips in, stay the course with no safety net, never taking your eye off the prize.

But the reign ends.

That was what I was reminded of last night. You can’t fight the hands of time. Not only does your body change, so does the audience. We’re all just here for a short while. Not only Elton, but me. Didn’t matter who I knew, I was alone last night. That’s the way it is when the music is really great.

“When the juggler’s act is danced upon

The crown that you once wore”

You’re gonna fall, no one wins forever. We’re seeing this with Elon Musk right now. His minions, his blind followers, don’t want to accept this, because they’re afraid of a new king, where that will leave them, they refuse to have hope in themselves, they want to place the burden on someone else, but underneath the image we’re all human, and fallible.

Michael Jackson called himself “The King of Pop,” he needed the anointment, a phony title which most of us derided, just the word “pop” made us wince, our music was so much more than that, anything but disposable, we were convinced it was forever.

But Elton John had more hits over a longer period of time than Michael Jackson. Not that it’s a competition, but this is just to point out that Elton is a titan. And nothing he did last night impacted that assessment. To tell you the truth, it was just another show, he’d already made his bones, proved his worth. It’s just that we don’t want to believe it’s over. Because if it is…so are we.

So it won’t be long before the king is dead, and no matter how much publicity they get, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I mean Aretha’s dead? How can that BE! She’s not going to blow our minds, unexpectedly, take us way beyond the limits like she did that night at the Kennedy Center Honors?

The music won’t pay your bills, put a roof over your head, get you a significant other. The music is more akin to a coach, teaching us lessons, encouraging us to perform better, as our best selves.

Ultimately, the music detaches from the performer. Journey is a good example. The audience owns those songs, it doesn’t matter who is on stage.

Elton’s seen it. Done it. And so have I, and so have you. If for no other reason than we’re running out of rope, we can see the end of the runway.  We are who we are. Take a good look around, you may not be here ever again.

Elton John will never be in Dodger Stadium again. That’s done.

If you’re waiting for him to come through your town, don’t, he won’t.

And you won’t see the likes of him again. We never did get a new Beatles. These iconic acts are sui generis. They don’t write by committee, and they’re not afraid of failing, because only when you hang it way out there, push the limits, do you have a chance of creating lasting art that embeds itself in the culture, in the universe.

The artists are not your friend.

But the music is.

Doesn’t matter how the performer acts, those records will never change. They’re my king.

Long live the king.

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