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.
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.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.”