If you are a Rocketman be a Rocketman

Something I think about often enough is how powerful it is, how good it is, when you experience people being themselves, even when and maybe especially when they are quite unique. Being at the Elton John concert brought that to my mind again for a couple reasons. One of the obvious reasons would be Elton John’s flamboyant ways. I don’t need to spend words evoking what I mean, the glasses, the feathers, the shoes, the sparkles, the crazy antics at the piano…………greatly subdued as they were in this concert, it was still a force somehow. Anyhow, what a gift to the world that he did not tie himself in knots trying to fit into the box that society would have deemed appopriate for him. Our lives are better because he had the courage to be himself.

The thing that dawned on me through the concert was the delight created by the antics of one of the drummers. He was seated at the highest point of the stage, wearing a bright white shirt. He often played a tambourine and it was really awesome to see how he let the music flow through him, he moved his arms in big and rhythmic ways creating a side show to Elton’s main act. It could be seen from a distance but with the benefit of the camerawork we had closeups of this action and the joy that sourced it. It was great. We all went home talking about that guy. I believe he is one of the band members that has been with Elton since the 70s. I wonder if he let himself be so expressive in the early years. I am not sure what the journey has been for this guy but at this stage he served as another example to me of “be yourself Kathy.”

The drummer at a moment he was featured on the large screen.

There is a bit of a tension within me, you cannot even imagine how much I long to be seen as an appropriate member of society. I am a people pleaser and I want to be seen as normal. There are decisions I have made and actions I have taken that are a little bit on the edge, those were very hard for me. The most obvious one was the decision to not be a career girl based on the education I had acquired and instead to live the rural life. Smaller decisions about being “out there” or sheltering myself happen regularly.

A recent example of this is something I was holding onto as a fun and important conversation with Russell but I wasn’t sure where to put it. Elton and the drummer set the stage for real.

A few months ago I started using Facebook differently. Following more groups and doing less with my newsfeed. One odd thing led to another. Liking a post about pyrex bowls somehow led me, click by click, to be a part of a group that likes mid century modern architecture. I can waste alot of time looking at shared real estate listings for these homes built in the 1950s and 60s, with lots of windows, stone, woodwork and built-in cabinetry. I am very very drawn to the varied ways this style works itself out. I am also drawn to the comments section where people ooh and aahh over the decor of that time, especially pink tiled bathrooms. I don’t share that particular excitement but its fun to read about.

One day I was pondering why I like these posts so much, why I am drawn to this style. It clicked. Growing up we visited my Aunt and Uncle in their home which is mid century modern architecture. I enjoyed these visits. As a young adult I was welcomed by them and later when I brought kids along we were kindly entertained amid the generous amount of light and warm wood accents that were a part of their home. The magic quality of the space of my childhood was still present decades later.

I thought this connection I had made in my brain was kindv’e important. I wondered, “should I put this into a note and send it to my uncle and aunt?” Why shouldn’t I? Well, my aunt and uncle are very classy people, they have spent their lives committed to matters of substance, committed to understanding depths of politics and history, appreciating classical music, art and literature, appreciating beauty. How would some silly anecdote from their niece land in the midst of all that fills their world? I decided to do it. Perhaps because I have lost both my parents I need my aunt and uncle more than I used to. I still need elders. It wasn’t a risk to send the note, not really, but it wasn’t exactly normal either, some note out of the blue saying, “I just realized I have always loved your house.” I sent it. A month later Russ and I were in the city for appointments and we stopped in for coffee. Due to Covid it had been a long time since we had been there. It was wonderful to be in their midst again. As we settled in my uncle pulled out his ipad, he had something to show me. It was an advertisement for the floor plan they had selected for the construction of their home, all those years ago. That in itself was interesting and led to more conversation about their home and homes like it. I received the message, unspoken, “I am glad you sent that note.”

After we left I said to Russ, “That was great! My favorite part was that picture, it was cued up, ready to show me, that note I sent meant something, I’m glad I sent it, as weird as I thought it was.” Russell’s response was immediate, it struck me so much I tapped it into my phone and texted it back to him, he said, “do you wanna be a stranger or do you want to let people know how kooky you are about certain things.” I don’t want to be a stranger, especially to my people, my aunt and uncle are my people and I am thankful for that. I took Russell’s shared wisdom as another anecdote to strengthen the message, “be yourself Kathy, don’t worry about seeming different, let what is within you flow.” I need to make this decision almost every day, to just be myself, even if I appear different.

A long time ago I was going through some tough times, I went to see a priest. His job was to listen to me. He heard what I had to say and delivered this nugget of wisdom that I think about so often, he said, “our hope lies in being who we are.” As every year passes I get what he was saying more and more. The world is especially beautiful, interesting and whole when people are free to be themselves, their quirky selves. I am thankful to Elton, that man on drums and to Russ for giving me more vivid ways to image and embrace this fact.

The Yellow Brick Road to Fargo

When I was about 11 years old our family went on a holiday.  Everyone but my brother Bob was on the trip, he was older and working a summer job so stayed home.  One of the very memorable things about Bob was his great stereo and big album collection, he loved music.  It was not a surprise then that as we walked in the door after being away for a couple weeks there was music blaring from the basement.  I remember hearing it from the front door, noting the lyrics and feeling very amused.  Bob was playing one of his Elton John albums and the song blaring was “The Bitch is Back”.   No one ever referred to my Mom as a bitch, nor can I imagine that any of us ever seemed to think it.  Mom was never mean.  So these lyrics didn’t have any accuracy but to my 11 year old brain the fact that these lyrics were belting as we returned home was hilarious.   These moments are my first crisp memory of Elton John.

The 1974 album that released the song I found so hilarious.

On Saturday night I was 53 years old, 1200 km from that front door that opened onto Bob’s awesome stereo, and one of thousands at the Fargodome in North Dakota. I was in the same room as Elton John, this man whose music has colored so much of my life.   I was thrilled. 

I like the story of how we ended up being there, singing along to Crocodile Rock with a very happy crowd.

Late last November I was scrambling for what Christmas gift to get for Jill.  She just didn’t need or seem to want much stuff.  I began to wonder what experience we could gift her with.  I let my mind wander.  I remembered that when Elton John performed in Saskatoon, (my hometown), almost 3 years ago Jill was very disappointed that we could could just not get there.   At the time we thought that was our last chance to see him and it was a serious disappointment for Jill to reckon with.  I can’t remember why she liked Elton John so much, but she did.   I knew that Covid had changed his schedule so I googled concert options, you can probably imagine my joy to discover that he was scheduled to be in Fargo, about a six hour drive from our home.  Russ and I talked.  He thought everyone would want to go, not just Jill and I.  So, 4 tickets were purchased, one for a Christmas present and 3 for upcoming birthday presents.   

Then Omicron hit.


How was this going to work?

Christmas morning dawned.  I had taped Jill’s ticket to one of my brothers old Elton albums, wrapped it and put it under the tree.   She was happy when she discovered the contents of that gift, but she was not thrilled it seemed.  I wondered if the years that had passed had changed her interests a bit.  We put the date on the calendar and held our breath to see what would happen with Covid.

In January Elton himself got Covid.   However his symptoms were mild, he had to change his Dallas concerts and that was it.   Full steam ahead.

I am happy to report that nothing hindered our plans.  So Saturday night was alright for a concert and at 6:40pm we were part of a long line snaking our way off the interstate, past the airport in Fargo, towards the Fargodome.   It was very fun to be part of a happy caravan.

While the kids waited in line for t-shirts we grabbed a pre-concert selfie.
The view from our seats.

The concert was great.  How long would a 74 year old man sing for?  That question left me with a sense of trepidation every time he got off the piano bench.  Is he done?  No.  No he was far from done.  This is his farewell tour and he treated his fans to the full meal deal.  Over two hours of singing before an encore.  It was almost 2.5 hours before we were among the many waiting to climb the stairs to get to the exit.    His voice was strong, not perfect but when he hit those characteristic mellow sounds it just made you say, “oh yeah!”. 

I stole this and the next image from a review article about the concert.

The stage show part of it was memorable for a few reasons.  There was a huge screen behind the stage that allowed us to see close ups of Elton at work. 

It allowed me a greater appreciation of his musicality than I have ever had before.  I found it hilarious that many times his tongue could be seen slipping out, as if he was concentrating.  Last week I did a video challenge with our extended family, as I concentrated on getting my fingers to move to the pattern of the challenge I was seen sticking my tongue out, I didn’t know I did that.  So when Elton stuck out his tongue while he worked away at the piano I was amused by what we had in common. 

My concentrating moment. Elton’s was not this extreme.

The screen was used to project videos.  Some of them were deeply meaningful backgrounds to his songs.  Border Song was my favorite of these.   The lyric from that song flaming to life so easily in the mind is, “Holy Moses, can we live in peace?”.  It was beautifully done.

There were a few songs where the screen hosted a compilation of images and video clips from his lifework, and from the movie “Rocketman” a recent re-telling of his life.  Elton really did not chat much from the stage, he didn’t let us in like we might have hoped, but these visuals made up for it.    One of our favorites was a quick glimpse of Elton singing on the Muppets, our dvd with those same moments was probably Jill’s first vivid exposure to Elton John. 

When the concert was over we were very emotionally satisfied.  We had been with Elton John.  As we made our way out Jill turned to me and said, “when you gave me my ticket Mom I thought it was really nice, but I thought, ‘it will never happen,’ but it did, thank you so much.”    We are slowly claiming back a bit of normal. 

I tried for a picture but got a short video after the concert. Jill has a great smile here.

In those same moments I was processing how deeply touched I had been by the music and I said to her, “when we get to the parking lot I am going to need a hug.”  That was a super satisfying hug, sealing the emotional impact of the night we had shared. 

Morgan loved the concert and so did Russell.  But it was because of Jill and I that we were there so my storytelling has focused on us.

Elton’s story is full of suffering amid the victories.  He persevered, claimed his own unique way, found sobriety and has kept going to reach his goal of love and family.   Perhaps our recent story has similar elements.  Pandemic realities have been a big deal.   Looking back after two years it feels clear that cancelled plans have taken their toll. Does Jill’s memory of Christmas morning illumine something bigger, that we have become a people that don’t get our hopes up because it hurts too much to have plans dashed?   We suffer when we live without hope.  Being super corny I find myself wanting to add here…… I guess that’s why they call it the blues.

But………Saturday night reflected the fight.  Elton’s fight to be whole and well and our decision to keep fighting the blues and risk getting our hopes up. 

Perhaps our big hug was also a celebration, that after all the emotional realities stirring within each of us in those hours and in these two years…. grief, worry, joy, despair and so much more we could sing along with Elton, “I’m still Standing.”