I can remember vividly, being 4 years old, maybe 5. Sitting under our dining room table (as one does – you know they make fabulous forts!) and covering my ears because of the spooky sounds of organ music and wind howling…I recall telling Dad it scared me, but he just smiled and said to keep listening, as the music moved into a faster tempo, then slowed to a beautiful, but haunting piano arrangement. It slowed enough that it would lull me to sleep.
I can remember a different day that I was taking a nap in my bed and I had the gigantic headphones that were so common then on my head with Elton John and Funeral for a Friend playing its first haunting, then soothing chords as I simultaneously tried to escape from the music and then from my nap….
Elton John and his music was more than an ever-present part of my childhood. It was another member of my family. Growing up in a household where your parents hovered on divorce more often than not and didn’t have the wherewithal to realize that they should not share so many details with their young daughter, Elton John was a surrogate father figure in a home where I desperately needed something that I knew would remain constant.
I can remember spending days looking at the album covers with my Dad and having conversations as I got older about Elton and his writer, Bernie Taupin. Dad explaining to me that coupled with Elton’s wild and crazy outfits, his relationship with Bernie seemed “funny.” Rumors were, he would tell me, that Elton and Bernie might have been “more than friends.” I don’t remember grasping exactly what this meant, but I remember feeling like Elton was part of our family and it was okay if Bernie was his boyfriend.
To say these songs were the soundtrack of my life is not doing them justice. I grew up on Elton John the way many grew up on familiar church hymns. Elton may have played the role of my pastor a time or two.
I remember the joy and elation whenever I’d hear Crocodile Rock…”me and Susie had so much fun.” The need to get up and dance and smile and laugh. And it always seemed that when that song came on and I got up on my feet my mom and dad were filled with joy and delight, too. It could bring me joy, where sometimes I had to really seek out the joy in my small world.
Then there was my short-lived fascination with Marilyn Monroe, after falling in love with Candle in the Wind. Making my mother tell me over and over again who Marilyn was, how she died, what her life was like, her affairs. Keep in mind these were the days that TV only had a handful of channels (that you had to get up and turn yourself) and to research things, Google was still a good 30 years away from being invented. We asked our parents, our grandparents, other adults in our lives when we wanted to know something or we went to the library and got lost in card catalogs that seemed to be a mile long.
My dad died when I was sixteen, but the many days and years of listening to Elton John has served as a touchstone of sorts. An Elton John song comes on and it’s like my Dad has stepped into the room. I can smell the smells of the kitchen in that tiny townhouse, the chlorine smell of the indoor pool that was in his first “bachelor pad” after he divorced my mom, and the faint trace of cigarette smoke. Even though he’s been gone for more than 30 years, almost without fail every time I hear Goodbye Yellow Brick road I get misty-eyed. It’s like a goodbye song that was written for my Dad, disclosing his faults and even his unfulfilled dreams. And Crocodile Rock is still guaranteed to bring me a smile.