Posts Tagged ‘elton john’

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Reg’s Retirement Plan: Elton John In His ’60s

February 12, 2016
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Photo Credit: The Guardian

Author’s Note: I desperately wanted to keep writing and researching this piece, but I’ve never missed a deadline, even if it was self-imposed.  There were a lot of other avenues I could have gone down, but decided to polish it off and send it off into cyberspace on time.  And I would like to blame WordPress’ style difficulty for the lack of italicizing for album titles, etc.  A longer version will most likely end up in my next book Travesty.  I hope you like it! -Tom

Any fanatic will tell you about the law of diminishing returns. Elton John fans are no exception. After hearing the classic songs, the classic albums and the go-to ballads for lazy radio DJs, we get burnt out. I could happily go the rest of my life without hearing either version of ‘Candle In The Wind’, but as a completionist, I own the 40th Anniversary Edition boxed set for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (with the original track, remastered), the quickly rushed post-Diana B-Side ‘Goodbye England’s Rose’ (the A Side was ‘Something About The Way You Look Tonight’ from the Big Picture album), the moving version mere days before throat surgery from Live In Australia, and every live album and DVD wherein Elton has trotted the ballad back out. During a vicious feud with The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Keith told an interviewer that Elton made his career and his fortune from ‘dead blondes’. Hardly true, but it’s another factoid floating around in my head from my years as a faithful fan.

The point is that any fanatic is hungry for new material or a different spin on the greats, whether it’s a new studio release that’s just so-so, a just-because live album or the opening of some metaphorical vault full of master tapes, alternate tracks and raw cuts. I’ve heard ‘Your Song’, ‘Bennie And The Jets’, ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ (the radio has made me hate it) and the dreaded ‘Candle In The Wind’ almost as many times as Elton has performed them, which is why I don’t listen to them that often. So when there’s a new addition to the discography, I greet it with open arms. I run the album into the ground on repeat in my car, scour the internet for videos (since that’s where they premier now) and troll for print interviews from the latest junket. I’ll say this much: for two guys who are a whisper away from 70, Elton and Taupin are still giving 100%. Is it is good as their first wave of success from ’69-’74 when they were churning out two albums a year for their contractual obligations with Dick James? It’s not a fair comparison.

Despite all the coke and the casual hook-ups from the ‘80s and his Never-Ending Shopping Spree, Elton might bury us all. With sobriety, a steady tennis regimen and a quadruple bypass he’s still going strong. Thank God. We’re lucky to have him. It’s incredible to ponder that little Reginald Kenneth Dwight started out playing saloon songs in corner taverns when he was 15 and he’ll still be pounding the ivories this March when he turns 69. He’s had more Top 40 hits than Elvis Presley, he’s been knighted (which used to be reserved for the rare elite and not just every other British musician over 50) He won an Academy Award as well as a Grammy for Album Of The Year for The Lion King. His musical Billy Elliot has been in production for over a decade. He’s outlasted almost all of the artists from his era and shattered so many records that he’s become peerless. He’s been called a living legend and a national treasure, but to most he’s known as the ‘Rocket Man’. Once he broke his habit of staying on the Billboard Charts (or once they stopped being relevant in the wake of the music industry imploding as a result of iTunes), his new releases tapered off to a trickle. He reached a stage as an artist where he took his time to make sure each album was what he wanted before he put it out. Let’s look at the last ten years.

Elton and Vegas were bound to find each other. It just makes sense that Elton would sign a 3 year deal with Ceasar’s Palace in so that nations of adoring fans could find him instead of touring around from ‘the end of the world to your town’ (‘Captain Fantastic’). The first show took place in February, 2004. 3 years came and went and kept on going. In addition to limited-city world tours by himself and a tour with Billy Joel in between, The Red Piano revue in Vegas morphed into The Million Dollar Piano in 2011. It was filmed and re-marketed as a concert film with the usual lineup of popular hits. Surprisingly, a long-playing gem from Caribou (‘Indian Sunset’) was included on the main concert film. A bonus concert covered some songs that were off the beaten path.

Why don’t we call Elton John and Leon Russell’s The Union (2010) what it was: the resurrection of Leon Russell figuratively and literally. It was also Elton’s attempt of ‘having to go back to go forward’. The album got off to a very bumpy start. According to interviews with John and Russell while they were promoting its release, Elton tried to farm the idea out to occasional touring mate Billy Joel. While his boyfriend David was cycling through his iPod on vacation, Elton was moved to tears when he heard Leon Russell, who was an even bigger star than Elton when they met during John’s big U.S. week-long debut at L.A.’s Troubadour back in 1969. Few pop stars share Elton’s enduring popularity, and Russell faded away from the spotlight into obscurity.
Billy Joel wasn’t interested in the project. I remember a plum line from Joel with USA Today where he claimed that Elton told him he should put out more albums, while Joel told him he should put out less. For those who remember, Joel announced his retirement from songwriting on his final studio album River Of Dreams (1993). I get into this argument often, but I have more respect for Elton because he keeps composing, recording, performing and aiming for new heights instead of giving up and cashing in when his coffers get light. That, and I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that Joel’s lyrics and subject matter aimed squarely and deliberately at the heart (and purse) strings and struggles of the blue collar working class whereas the bulk of John & Taupin’s songs are decidedly more cerebral, poetic and classically centered. But I digress.

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The Divine Pop Comedy

February 8, 2016

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Author’s Note: With the release of Wonderful Crazy Night (Elton and Taupin’s 33rd album), this seemed like a good time to revise and post this excerpt about the ‘aught’ albums from ‘Reg Soldiers On’, a 50+ page long-form essay about Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s lives, careers and their discography from my 2009 book Slapstick & Superego.  I’ll be posting a new essay this Friday about the three studio albums that followed once I’ve had a little time to digest the newest release.-Tom

Composer/Performer/Legend Elton John and longtime lyricist and classical poet Bernie Taupin’s trio of studio albums from 2001-2006 were a fruitful, fascinating journey, and I’m sure that there’s more to come. From a fanatic’s standpoint, Songs From The West Coast would have made a perfect swan song for the performer. I don’t regret that he’s lived and recorded since, but the album is so perfect, and so close to the roots of Elton’s glory days in the ’70s that it’s near-impossible to trump a second time in his career.

Elton even claimed in his classic bridge-burning interview style that this would be his final studio album. Listening to the tracks, it’s no surprise that this was the first series of songs in ages where Elton and Taupin composed the album together in person. It brilliantly refers back to the roots of his success while avoiding all references to such. ’Emperor’s New Clothes’ (a Billy Joel homage), ’Dark Diamond’ (with Stevie Wonder on harmonica), the sublimely simple and existential ’Birds’, and the retrospective yet hopeful ’This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore’ stand out as hallmarks to the late musician’s career. Taupin draws from a reserve of inspired lyrics for this album with stunning skill, and drives it home with ’Original Sin’ and ’I Want Love’, a song that shows us the team is still capable of sucker punching us into a state of romantic catharsis: /A man like me is dead in places/Other men feel liberated/I want love on my own terms/After everything I‘ve ever learned/.

Elton’s boyfriend future husband David Furnish was photographed for the album cover as the cowboy. Director of Operations Bob Halley was captured for the shoot as the man being handcuffed to a squad car outside of the diner. This series of videos was nothing short of astonishing, with Robert Downey Jr. lip synching Elton’s vocals to ‘I Want Love’ to Justin Timberlake portraying an uncanny ‘70s Elton in ‘This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore’ to Liz Taylor and Mandy Moore showcasing the video to ‘Original Sin’. With a small handful of duds, it’s a shame that ‘West Coast’ came out a week before September 11th, 2001 in the States. It could and should have fared much better on the charts if it wasn’t for the deep psychic and socioeconomic impact of the terrorist attacks.

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Saturday Update (in lieu of Monday): ‘She Packed My Bags Last Night Pre-Flight’

September 7, 2008

     I’ll be flying out at ten am tomorrow morning to sunny and warm Las Vegas Nevada to stay at the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort Hotel at the expense of my company for our yearly convention, so needless to say, I won’t be around this Monday for my usual update.  I’ll be back in town on Thursday, September 11th to resume business as normal.

     The bad news for next week is that I’ve been scooped at ArtVoice.  After taking a pitch from Geoff Kelly (and doing the grunt work and the leg work), my assignment has been bumped in favor of Reginald Dwight, a freelancer who’s worked with AV over the years.  Geoff at least had the good manners to email me about it, but I’m more than a bit miffed that I put the time in on the piece with no pay only to find that another so-called journalist will be swooping down on the spoils.  Just when I thought I was back in ArtVoice’s good graces, they shelved another completed review of mine and went with one of their boys.  As a freelancer, I’ve heard of Dwight in Buffalo circles before, and I’ll say this: Stay off my turf.  If you’ve heard of me, Dwight, you know damn well that I’ll fix your wagon if you don’t mind your own business.  I won’t forget this any time soon.  ‘Nuff said on that front. 

     As for Night Life business, the second part of ‘The Divine Pop Comedy’ (an excerpt from my 30 page critique on the discography of Elton John) will be running this Monday. 

     On the Think Twice radio front, there have been no new episodes up online since Episode 9.  Richard Wicka was kind enough to loan me his Roland digital recorder for my trip, so you can count on me recording at least two shows while I’m spending five days and six nights in Sin City.  Vegas is bad news for a guy like me, so I’ll make sure to share at least some of the sordid play by play with my listeners. 

     And the proof for Breathing Room Volume I: Free Verse was emailed via attachment to me yesterday morning and it looks phenomenal.  My new layout liason Nick Peterson did a more than perfect job on the manuscript, which was surreptitiously uploaded to the Lulu sight this evening.  The first twenty copies are on their way via UPS overnight mail and I will have them available for sale on Thursday the 11th.  If you want a copy from the first batch, speak now or forever hold your peace.  Volume II will be available (as promised) by the beginning of October and both volumes will be ready for purchase in time for the launch event at the Center For Inquiry on October, 25th. 

That should be everything for now.  Enjoy the cold weather, suckers!  Real writers like me (not Reginald Dwight) will be out slinging down singapore slings in the belly of the beast out in 110 degree Las Vegas until the tail end of next week!  Have fun (because I certainly will be),

Tom Waters   

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‘Fun Home’ review hits Comics Bulletin, CFI aftermath

September 4, 2008

I’ve just had two days off and I could use two more. 

Wednesday is apparently the day that graphic novel reviews go live up on comicsbulletin.com.  Thom Young (my editor over there) and I had a good long discussion yesterday morning and in the midst of it he let me know that my review on Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home had been posted.  On the re-read, I was all over the place, sounding off on homosexuality, political correctness, Elton John, David Foster Wallace, etc.  Read for yourself over at:

http://www.comicsbulletin.com/reviews/

And speaking of Elton John, the Night Life Big Words column this week is an excerpt from my 30 page monstrosity of an exposition on the complete discography (and then some) on Elton John that’s going to be in Slapstick & Superego.  The abridged essay covers only Elton’s last three studio albums, which I feel are as perfect a swan song for such an acclaimed career as any fanatic could ask for.  The essay is titled ‘The Divine Pop Comedy’.  I’m really proud of the excerpted edit as well as the complete piece.  Scoop it up on stands this week.

And finally, I did recording duty last night at the Center For Inquiry for Perry Nicholas’ brilliant Literary Cafe.  JR Finlayson was kind enough to read two of my poems for one of the open reader slots and read one of his own from his chap book Gypsy Stance Blues.  It was a diverse night full of quite a few talented local writers including Loren Keller, Martha Deed, John Marvin, Cory Neil and many others.  Think Twice should have it up on the CFI’s banner by week’s end at the latest.

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Sunday Newsletter Update: Radio Episodes 8.5 & 9 Up!

August 31, 2008

 

Yep,
    I wanted to write sooner.  I wanted to get the last episode up sooner, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Rich (my producer) had to go in for some medical tests and everything came up rosy.  If there’s one thing the two of us have in common, it’s our love for a holistic lifestyle.  Right.
    Life has just been insanely busy lately.  I’ve been wanting to write more comic reviews, but I haven’t had time.  A week and a half ago, I had a Gusto assignment at Hennessey’s Pub out in Alden.  Last Saturday was my bachelor party, which I decided to make a podcast out of.  That turned into episode 8.5 (since I spent more time partying than recording, it was only a half an hour).  On Sunday (amidst a shit storm of aggravation), I wrote three poems.  Then I got lost somewhere on the 279 and ended up sleeping in my car.  This is why I hate large highways. 
    On Monday (after explaining to my wife, her parents and a few other people that the ‘reports of my death were greatly exaggerated’), I met up with ArtVoice Managing Editor Geoff Kelly at Mulligan’s Brick Bar downtown to record on location.  We had a knockout show and for some reason on a Monday afternoon at a bar on Allen there were six people who were unfamiliar with the term ‘inside voices’.  The podcast turned out great regardless. 
    Tuesday was my night at Desi’s.  On Wednesday, I returned to Buff State to chime in and sit in to enjoy Lisa Forrest’s Rooftop Poetry Club get together.  It was therapy that was well needed.  Weds. night I had a quiet night in with the wife.  That was well needed too.
    Thursday I was at work all day for the most part.  Friday was more work and another quiet night in with the wife. 
    Yesterday I had an assignment for ArtVoice that I had to be vague about.  I’ll just say that if you’re a true Elton John fan, you might be familiar with a certain reverse psuedonym that’s going to be popping up soon in their pages. 
    Check out the podcasts, though.  You can find both over at:
 
http://www.thinktwiceradio.com/tom-waters/tom-waters.html
 
Episode 8.5 Tag Line
 
Tom commemorates his bachelor party with the drunkest podcast yet, strange boobs in the face, Mighty Taco, and projectile vomiting.
 
Episode 9 Tag Line:    
    
Tom sits down and pounds out the magic with Buffalo Wonder Boy and ArtVoice’s Managing Editor in Chief Geoff Kelly. Mayhem ensues, stout is purchased on Jamie Moses’ corporate credit card.card.
 
    The two Breathing Room poetry books STILL aren’t done.  I am now a month over my personal deadline for them and the first volume had better be finished come next week or somebody is going to be in hot water.  My layout person is still working on them and I don’t understand how the pdf can be so difficult when I knocked out Clean Up After Me, I’m Irish in a weekend.  I guess we’ll see what next week brings.  Volume I should be ready for order by the second week of September.  I’ll be in Las Vegas that week for work. 
    I think that’s just about everything.  I’m about three weeks away from my wedding and the majority of my immediate families (and friends, for that matter) hate my guts or think I’ve lost my mind altogether or both.  These things will happen.  In September, the Buffalo News will be running an essay I wrote about my new in-laws in their ‘My View’ section.  That makes my second accepted submission for the year and they allow three per person, so I’ll have to whip something else up as soon as ‘Our People’ runs.   
     Things are really starting to come together career-wise.  Word of mouth on something or other (or perhaps ALL of it) is hitting the ground running and I’d like to think that the money should be around the corner.  Geoff Kelly and I were talking about career goals, aspirations and objectives on Monday and I told him my conclusion was that ultimately, I wanted to keep busy.  Writing is a compulsive therapy for me now.  It’s something I’m going to do no matter what.  I’m knocking on wood here, because every time I say something like that, I block up for eight to twelve months.  There’s still too much to be done.  And I don’t give a shit about recognition anymore, inclusion, or critical fanfare.  I want to make money.  I want to provide for my new three unit family.  I want to be able to leave my job in two to five years so that I can do this full time.  I’m ready.  The steps are in place.  All I have to do now is keep at it.
    I’ll drop you a line again when I have a chance.  Take care of yourselves, Big Words readers.  Seeya on the flip side.
 
    Tom Waters
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Monday Update On Weds./Week 92 on stands/Fall Of Rome…

August 27, 2008

Now most of you know what a neurotic obsessive I am with my web site(s).  So the fact that my computer was demolished thanks to some ambitious hacker with a Trojan Worm this previous Friday caused me a great deal of grief.  For the second time this year, I had to have my computer restored to its default settings so that I could get back on track.  I’m very fortunate in that my future brother in law is a computer wunderkind, so he had it back up and running in a day and a half….

     The other good news is that Rich (my producer at Think Twice Radio) scored me a 15 Gig Ipod for 42 dollars.  So now I get to learn how to upload my 600 CDs (mostly Elton and Dylan) onto this thing.  It’s third generation, but what are you gonna do?

     Over the weekend, I recorded 12 and a half minutes of my bachelor party, read my opening intro and recorded a five minute ‘Question’ segment.  Somehow this worked out to be about a half an hour Big Words Radio Show (episode 8.5).  Check that out over at:

www.thinktwiceradio.com

     I’d give you a direct link to my feed on Think Twice, but the net still isn’t cooperating fully.  I’ll re-edit later on…

     I also recorded episode 9 on Monday at Mulligan’s Brick Bar with Geoff Kelly (managing editor at ArtVoice).  It was a great show, but my producer has been tied up with work obligations, so to the best of my knowledge, it’s not up yet.  It should be by week’s end, so I’ll get back to you as soon as it is.

     This weekend was hell and back and back around again.  I’m still coping with the emotional and psychic fallout.  I really wish that anyone who’s ‘concerned’ about my ‘erratic behavior’ and feels that i should ‘slow down’ could walk a mile in my shoes this summer.  A less durable person would have taken their own life by now or a whole bunch of other people’s and then their own by about mid July.  Four of my friends have had complete meltdowns, the world is crashing down around my ears and I’ve written two entire books, launched a radio show and freelanced my ass off on top of a forty hour plus weekly job.  So yeah, I’m going to be a little erratic.  Deal with it. 

     Five years from now, I’ll look back and see the upswing.  I’ll look on this time as the sheer amount of career leapfrogging I’ve been doing as a writer.  So I would do it again a million times.  When I can quit my day job and do the radio thing or the writing thing full time, things will be a lot easier.  I’m not the praying kind, but if you are, say one for me.  I’ve put my time in.  I’ve been writing since I was 13 and I’ve been on the radio for seven years in one form or another, so it would be really nice to make $40,000 to start to do what I love.  I’ll get there, but it would be nice to get there faster.  It infuriates me to think that there are so many talentless clowns who fell ass backwards into union jobs that I’ve worked my ass off to get to.  It’ll happen, but it really needs to happen sooner rather than later before I snap completely or lose everyone and everything I care about. 

     But I digress.  Week 92 of Night Life is on stands with a Big Words ‘uncut’ column of ‘Love Letter To Lancaster’.  I wanted to run it in August, but I didn’t get around to it.  Later today, I’ll be dropping in on Lisa Forrest’s Rooftop Poetry Club at Buffalo State, my old haunting ground.  Rooftop and the Center For Inquiry remain my two favorite poetry reading venues.  I’m going to try and record the reading for Think Twice, but we’ll see what happens. 

     ArtVoice has also decided to run my graphic novel reviews.  And they’ve given me the green light to do three Pro-Buffalo PD interviews.  At least one writer in this goddamned town should be an ultra conservative, so if it’s gotta be me, so be it.  It’s early in the morning, so I’ll leave you with that.  Four days without the web or a computer has left me behind the eight ball, so I’ve got other things to do. 

     Listen to the radio show.  Grab a copy of Night Life.  We can branch out from there.  Peace out,

Tom Waters

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