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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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, April 19, 8 p.m.
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