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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 12, 2000. All rights reserved.

Elton: Candle in the Wind & More

One key to Britisher Elton John’s decades-long popularity

as an entertainer with American audiences is his ability to keep the

child within himself alive. He’s always smiling and cracking jokes

at his concerts. Since he’s having such a good time, the audience

usually does, too.

Though John never takes himself too seriously, he knows when to take

his audience seriously. Thus the pop star — known for his wacky,

kitschy taste ($40,000 worth of stage eye glasses); a penchant for

cross-dressing (he once showed up at a Rod Stewart show looking like

Stewart’s new bride, Rachel Hunter); as well as the usual rock star

bouts with substance abuse — could touch a world in mourning with

his "Candle in the Wind" at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana.

Trenton’s new Sovereign Bank Arena will surely take on a bit of extra

shine when Elton John performs here Wednesday, April 19. Tickets for

this, the biggest show to date, sold out in 90 minutes to 8,638 eager

souls.

Although he’s best remembered by 40-somethings for the crazy stage

props and outlandish costumes he wore in concert at the peak of his

popularity in the mid-1970s, John continues to keep his childlike

sense of wonder alive. His current project is a collaboration with

Tim Rice on the Broadway musical "Aida," which has been likened

to a Disney cartoon. Two songs that John co-wrote with Rice, "Circle

of Life" and "Hakuna Matata," ended up on the top-selling

soundtrack to "The Lion King." the children’s animated film.

His latest album is a collection of songs written with Rice for "Road

To El Dorado," another animated film. John believes that the songs

should stand on their own, independent of the movie. And no doubt

they will.

Sir John, as he is now called, was born March 25, 1947, as Reginald

Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex, England, the son of a Royal Air Force

Band trumpeter. John began playing piano at age 4 and by age 11, he

had won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

He joined his first band, Bluesology, in 1961, while he was still

in high school. But he quit Pinner Grammar School three weeks before

his exams, when he learned of a job at London’s Mills Music Publishers.

The job hardly paid a living wage, but the ambitious young pianist

and songwriter saw he would be able to gain access to important people

in the business. Bluesology secured a professional booking agent,

and for the next 18 months the band backed American soul and classic

R&B acts when they toured England, including Major Lance and the Inkspots.

By the summer of 1965, John tackled his first big project as a songwriter,

writing all the songs for Bluesology’s debut release, "Come Back

Baby."

Just two years later, John became disillusioned with the music he

was playing. By the fall of 1967, he changed his name — borrowing

the names of bandmates Elton Dean and John Baldry. Elton John auditioned

for Liberty Records and was handed lyrics by a songwriter from Lincolnshire,

Bernie Taupin. Something clicked, and the first of the songwriting

team’s many singles was released in 1967, "Lord You Made The Night

Too Long."

John’s first solo album, a collection of songs co-written with Taupin,

"Empty Sky," was released in 1969. He made his U.S. debut

in 1970 at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles, dazzling his audience

of critics and record business insiders with his solid musicianship

and flashy stage manner, at one point kicking over his piano bench

and doing handstands on the keyboard.

The years 1972 through 1977 were lucrative ones for the songwriting

team of John and Taupin: among their Top 10 hits during these years

were "Rocket Man," "Crocodile Rock," "Daniel,"

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Bennie and the Jets,"

"Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me," "The Bitch Is Back,"

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and "Philadelphia Freedom."

Such a string of successes in such a short span made

John a larger-than-life legend, known as much for his eccentricities

and off-stage problems as for his talent. By the late 1970s, the hits

had stopped coming and Taupin and John stopped working together for

several years. The team reunited in 1980 and John returned to widespread

radio airplay in 1983 with "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The

Blues," a track that showcased Stevie Wonder on harmonica.

In 1984 John married Renate Blauel, a studio engineer. The marriage

lasted four years, somewhat surprising considering John had gone public

much earlier about his bisexual orientation.

After moving to a more or less permanent home in Atlanta in 1990,

John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. Later that year,

he released his album "The One." John and lyricist Taupin

also signed a 12-year music publishing deal with Warner/Chappell

Music — the largest songwriter advance in history — worth

an estimated $39 million.

Over three decades, whatever ups and downs John has had, his performance

at the Diana funeral at Westminster Abbey in London made him an entertainer

known to people of all ages and nationalities. The live recording

of John’s performance of "Candle In The Wind" in the Abbey

was subsequently released on a CD single. Despite the accusations

that he was capitalizing on the royal superstar’s untimely demise,

John directed that all royalties from the single go to Princess Diana’s

own charity foundation.

Of his current album, "The Road To El Dorado," John has been

quoted as saying that "instead of just having the usual five songs

on a soundtrack album and the rest of it being the score, I said,

`Let’s make an album out of this and include songs we wrote that didn’t

make the movie.’" You can bet he will perform more than a few

of these songs at Sovereign Bank Arena.

Elton John, Sovereign Bank Arena, Trenton, 609-520-8383.

Wednesday, April 19, 8 p.m.


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