It’s getting late. Have you seen my mates?
Ma, tell me when the boys get here.
It’s seven o’clock, and I wanna rock.
Wanna get a bellyful of beer.
—Elton John, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
So she showed up early on Saturday for the first showing of ROCKETMAN at the Colonial. She wanted to get a prime seat, just in case there was an outbreak of Elton Mania! It could happen, she thought; even at this late date. VARIETY reported that the recent Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic had done almost a billion dollars in box office globally. And Elton had sold almost twice as many records as Queen.
She could have asked various friends to attend with her, but in the end she decided to go it alone. She wanted to savor Elton’s kaleidoscopic life story in dark, delicious solitude — just like back in her pink-and-purple childhood bedroom in the early to mid-seventies. So, she bought a glass of wine in the concession area and settled in to watch the blank screen and listen to the introductory music. Yes, it was 1973 when she purchased her first Elton John album, his masterpiece maybe, GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD. Her Father drifted by her bedroom as she was listening to “Sweet Painted Ladies”. He asked if this was the record he had loaned her the money for. “Who is it again?”
“Kinda.” He picked up the album cover. “Well, its nice and colorful, I’ll say that. And he has a nice short haircut. That’s refreshing.” He turned it over and read out some song-titles. “ ‘All the Girls Love Alice’? What sort of song is that? That doesn’t sound very nice.” She remembered he was all puffed-up with parental protectiveness — which she secretly loved. “What’s the song about?” he asked.
She stalled for time. Finally, “Oh, its about Alice Cooper. You remember Alice?”
“Yes. But I wish I didn’t.”
“Well, its about him.”
“You mean the guy with the snake and the dripping mascara, who gets his head chopped off by a guillotine onstage? That hardly puts my mind at ease.” Her Father handed back the album, and left the room shaking his head. She laughed now at the memory. At least he tried back then to make contact.
She did also. She had actually asked her granddaughter, Mirana, to accompany her to see ROCKETMAN. She knew the child would be bored, but in the back of her mind she just wanted to lob a cultural grenade into Mirana’s safe, secure, lofty position as Queen of Utter Hipness. She wanted to counter her granddaughter’s machine-gun attack of Dua Lipa, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, Sia, Lil Peep, Post Malone, Lizzo, Tekashi 69, King Princess — with Elton on the CHER SHOW in 1975, with Bette Midler. Yes, the three of them singing a fun pop medley — everything from “Mockingbird” to “Proud Mary” to “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Everyone dressed to the nines in satin and tat. Elton resplendent in white top hat and tails. Glitter and tinsel and white balloons everywhere. Diamonds and rhinestones and multi-colored confetti raining down like Liberace’s bad dream after too much champagne and quiche. (Or something like that. It had been decades since she had seen it. Maybe the movie would recreate it.)
“Mirana, would you like to go see the new Elton John film with me?”
“Who’s Elton John?”
“Really? You’re sixteen, and you’ve never heard of one of the biggest musical stars of all time?”
“Sorry, Grammy. Never heard of him.”
“Well, who are you listening to now?”
“I’m streaming. I’m streaming the new Akira Gonzales EP, ANIME LAWYERS. Its the first real punk rock he’s done in a long time.”
“So you’re streaming it?” Mirana nodded, ready to put her BEATS headphones on. “The only time I ever stream, Mirana, is when the doctor gives me a new prescription for my water pill.” She waited for the reaction.
“Ick, Grammy. Gross.” These were the words she wanted to hear. She smiled. Mirana was drifting into Akira Gonzales land. “Enjoy the movie, Gram.”
She went out and got a second glass of wine and some Junior Mints. Fifteen minutes ’til showtime. She took a large sip, and leaned back and closed her eyes. Her mind started flashing like a defective strobe light in an abandoned disco of the past. It was a mini-movie of Elton playing in her brain. Yes, disco. Remember when Elton did his disco album? Why? So bad. An eight-minute version of “Johnny B. Goode”? I mean he’s Elton Hercules John. Why is he trying to compete with Silver Convention and Andrea True Connection? All those amazing singles, one right after the other. All massive hits. When Elton did his remake of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, she remembered younger kids at school thought it was an original Elton-and-Bernie smash hit composition. She found that hilarious… Elton on THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, and Elton playing pinball twenty feet high in the Who’s film TOMMY. And CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY — a movie without pictures that eventually turned into a pinball machine… What else? Oh yeah, “Philadelphia Freedom”, and his close friendship with Billie Jean King. Suddenly, women’s tennis was fashionable, because EJ was into it. (Yes, she remembered watching Wimbledon that year, becoming familiar with the rules and the players for the first time.)
But then there was the dark side behind all of the frou-frou and feathers and electric finery. What about all those songs about guns and murder and suicide? “I think I’m Gonna Kill Myself” and “Ticking” and “Someone Saved My life Tonight”— the last one about Elton’s first suicide attempt, a semi-comical farce that apparently no one took that seriously. He talked about it openly in an early ROLLING STONE interview. But then the second attempt to take his own life seemed that much more poignant and alarming. It was Elton John Week in late ’75 in LA, and he was playing two sold-out concerts at Dodger Stadium. He should have been on top of the world, but instead he downed 85 Valiums and jumped into his swimming pool in front of his grandmother, screaming that he was going to die. (Paramedics pulled him out and pumped his stomach.)
And then, another ROLLING STONE interview in ’76 where he admitted he was bi-sexual. And just like Gore Vidal had always insisted, Elton said, “I think everybody is, actually.” And even that magazine, a bastion of liberal permissiveness seemed shocked by the revelation. She had wondered why? Didn’t Bowie come out as gay five years earlier? And then Jobriath took it a step further, by pointedly stating with apparent sincerity: “I’m a fairy.” It had meant nothing to her. Her idol’s sex-life was his own. But he did take a big hit for his brazen honesty. Record sales plummeted; his reputation as cozy-funny-colorful Elton began to fray around the edges. Jokes were made. Some fans were put off. Even the Watford Soccer Team — which he owned! — razzed him mercilessly. Elton took it in stride, with good grace and humor. But he started to open up even more about his sex life — or lack thereof. He said when he was a shy, bespectacled, chubby schoolboy, stuck away in Pinnar, England, with no friends, that he was dying to be sexually abused by someone… anyone! Lines like that might have encouraged Rupert Murdoch’s London rag to state that Elton held underage boy-parties in the woods on his property. Elton sued and won, but those were tough times for sexual freedom fighters. (She almost laughed out loud when she recalled a story from her youth. She had a male friend who told her that his female cousins would come over and try to see him naked at any cost. They would pull his towel off when he came out of the shower and so forth. Of course, behavior like that now might land them behind bars, but her friend said OK, let’s play doctor. She guessed everyone explored everybody else, but then decades later, the horny cousins came out and accused her friend of sexual abuse. Apparently, she thought, Elton couldn’t even get anyone to play doctor with. She remembered James Spader in an interview a few years back saying he played doctor with every female relative he could get his hands on. Yes, well, James Spader was a lot prettier than Elton!)
Ok, the music has stopped. Time to get one more glass of the grape before the houselights dim. On her way to concessions, she thought about the Happily Ever After aspect of Elton’s life now. Knighted by the Queen. Sir Elton. A leading force in AIDS charity. Married to his soul mate, David Furnish. Two beautiful children. No longer a pariah for his gayness; instead, held up as a trailblazer and a brave icon. It all worked out beautifully… the lights just went down. She hoped this would be a great film. But actually, it could never compete with the movie she fantasied about for decades. Elton talked about it in the 70s. He and friend and rival Rod Stewart would play jet-setting rock stars, just going from plane to plane and airport to airport, drinking constantly and bickering and bitching and having loads of rock star fun. She thought that was the coolest cinematic idea of the century. The film was to be titled JET LAG.