Saturday Night With Elton John
Is it time to realize we all carry some emotional baggage? How can we reduce any excess baggage? Sir Elton John inspired some new thoughts for me about how to reduce our load by better handling what I have dubbed the ‘A.B.C.s’ of life: Authenticity, Boundaries, and Caring.
I couldn’t sleep last night after going to Elton John’s Saturday Night concert. Seeing him for the fifth time brought up a lot of old memories and got me thinking about …everything. First of all, I was thinking about what a privilege it has been for me to be able to see this amazing man perform in person over the past 40 years. I am grateful to live in a place and a time where these opportunities have been made possible for me.
And then I started thinking about the concept of Authenticity. I am sad to say that authenticity was largely missing in last night’s performance. Elton John played piano and sang with great passion and vibrancy. But his connection basically was with his piano, and not his audience. He left us out. The only personal story about himself that he shared with us was a brief reference to his early years on tour when he stayed time and time again at Holiday Inns. His repeated Holiday Inn experiences prompted him to write a song about Holidays Inn, which he then performed for us.
In any case, I missed hearing from him, this 67-year-old father, partner, musician and fellow human being. I felt somehow disappointed, that even though we had seats in just off the stage in Row 5, that somehow he seemed quite distanced from us, and certainly much more so than I have ever experienced in any of his performances over the years.
I arrived at the show last night, bursting with all the anticipation and excitement that live concerts with my music idols can conjure up. But I left wishing that Sir John had decided to perform for we his audience, rather than to just to play his music. It felt like we were listening to a technically perfect performance by this great artist, but one that lacked the meaning that comes with a personal and more intimate narrative of how and why he had written those songs, and how he hoped that we would like this particular version of that song that he had in store for us. Sir John had decided to keep the soul of these songs to himself.
As a performer, he gets to choose when and what he shares. We paid to hear his music and he brought that on in spades. But we left thinking that our connection with Sir John was somehow lacking.
Still, what about the man behind the performance? Who is Elton John today really? With his newly released album “Going Home”, I anticipated he might share more of his life passages unscripted.
Saturday night has really got me thinking about love and how much we can dare ourselves to let our guard down. What if Elton John had said something he would later wish he hadn’t? How many times have I ruminated about things I’ve said and wish I hadn’t? Why is it we need to be so careful about what we say these days?
I often wish we had the ability to communicate without words… and maybe Saturday night communicated more than Elton John could have ever shared in stories. We may have become so individualistic and so insular as a human species that we can’t say what is in our hearts for fear words may be twisted and used against us. His song “Saturday Night” is actually about coping with this tussle about making human connections. It references our need to keep to ourselves, to numb out, rather than to opt for making having more and deeper connections and to feel the emotional freedom to show up fully. Are we at war with each other? Is that a choice? And to what gain?
Has our culture become so fiercely fearful of being judged that we prefer to live our lives at a safer emotional distance? Could we be more Caring with each other and therefore live more connected and meaningful lives? Can we live our lives under the presumption that I am just like you, and you are just like me?
One of my favorite moments this weekend was playfully riding the 256 Bus from the North Shore to the downtown venue of the Elton John concert. Our group of 6 chose to regale the busload by singing Sir John’s classic hit, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. Who knew that would be one of the encore songs of Sir Elton’s concert. I smile to recall my friends and I spreading the ‘Happy’ wave as we rolled downtown in that packed bus singing, badly, and warming up the now ever more famous EJ lyrics in our own Saturday Night.
If you were on that bus, you know that was one of the best bus rides ever! We definitely let our guards down. We spread some positivity resonance for sure (Love 2.0). And then, as I lay sleepless later that night I worried… Was that a bit over the top silly? What about those people who didn’t join in? How obnoxious were we really? Here’s where caring for the self comes in, and our personal chatter needs to come down. It was a really fun night travelling with some friends on the bus. ‘Love That Thought Best’. That is what I mean by caring for the self.
Arriving at Rogers Arena, no surprise, the stadium was full. In a 3-hour concert, we journeyed through 40 years of life while Sir Elton belted out years of iconic genius, and his most recent album “The Diving Board”.
But who is Elton at this stage of his life? Where is he at in his own “Yellow Brick Road”? It didn’t feel like he was really going to let us in this time.
I kept glancing up to the live screen close-ups where I could see his hands looked aged and a little arthritic. Yet clearly this doesn’t stop him from pounding out the keyboard for three full hours. Every song tells a story. Maybe that is enough.
Elton John has always had a powerful stage presence. He is the ultimate showman. But this time there seemed to be something kinda superficial about him. We had seats that physically should have put us ‘up front and personal’. And yet he seemed more at a distance than ever before, hardly personal.
AS you can tell from what I mentioned before, it is obvious that one of my favorite reasons for going to concerts is to hear the stories musicians share. It is through those 3-minute interludes between songs, when the artist talks to us, makes connection with us who are right there with him/her. This is the space through which we, as the audience, are permitted to connect with the person behind that celebrity persona.
Sadly it seemed Elton John may have become his own “Tiny Dancer”. His performance was full of fist pumps, hip thrusts and brief intense looks to the audience. But there were no intimate stories coming for Sir John through which he shared where his heart truly is these days.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore his music and this concert at Rogers Arena was my fifth time seeing him perform. Joe and I even saw him perform in Rome at a free live concert held in front of the Coliseum in 2005. Now that was a night to remember for sure. Maybe that’s where Sir John got those passionate arm gestures!
If there is an arc in the concert last night, for me it was when Elton John played his newly released “Going Home”. At 67, maybe he is now just looking for simplicity, peace and freedom. Is the time to connect with his live audience in the old visceral way that I just loved, now just a memory, a thing of the past?
Elton John is “trying to get back home again”. And aren’t we all? Why is that so hard to do? We all have those full brief cases. When will we all be enough and realize that we can practice our ABCs be authentic, be clear in our boundaries and practice more caring?
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
When have you felt most ‘at home’ with yourself?
What does it take for you to be ‘at home’?
When do you notice yourself putting your guard up?
What does your guard consist of: sarcasm, closed body language, lack of eye contact?
What is the impact of those actions to you? To others?
Maybe as Elton John’s lyrics in “Coming Home” suggest, there is “too much war, too little love”.
The stage backdrop of this song Saturday night was of a man carrying a large brief case home. We all have our own metaphorical baggage of pain. You know, the ‘luggage’ that makes us hide behind our public personas, our quipping sarcasms, our gossip.
Maybe that is why Elton John never showed up with his stories Saturday night.
It was a great concert though. I sang all the songs in my sleep.
But if there’s a fight to be fought, it should be for love! Tell us more Elton…
“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”
It’s getting late have you seen my mates
Ma tell me when the boys get here
It’s seven o’clock and I want to rock
Want to get a belly full of beer
My old man’s drunker than a barrel full of monkeys
And my old lady she don’t care
My sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A handful of grease in her hair
Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
`Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright, alright, alright.
Well they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight
I’m looking for a dolly who’ll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
I may sink a little drink and shout out “She’s with me!”
A couple of the sound that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I’m a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass