Elton’s Tour – Rolling Stone Magazine – January 2, 1975
Rolling Stone Magazine
January 2, 1975
Elton’s Tour Ends : Tears, Lennon, and Whatever Gets You Through the Night
BY ED McCORMACK
NEW YORK-Elton John’s opening words to the audience at Madison Square Garden were. “Hello, New York! Happy Thanksgiving!”
His exit line, hurled at a local disc jockey and his wife many hours later at a post-concert party, was: “Do me a favor … drop fucking dead!”
In between, there was another triumphant Elton John concert, five shows before the end of a ten-week, 44-show stand; there was a surprise visit by John Lennon, and there was the party for 500 at the Hotel Pierre. Elton stayed most of the night at a table with Lennon and Neil Sedaka (who’s on Eiton’s label, Rocket).
“It’s been a great tour man,” he told a reporter early in the party. “I couldn’t really supply you with facts and figures, but it was fantastically successful on every level.”
His manager, John Reid, and his publicist, Peter Simone, had tried to keep ROLLING STONE out of the party and away from Elton, in protest of an earlier story (ROLLING STONE, November 21 st, 1974). They had said that Elton was furious over the article and Simone had taken to referring to the writer – who is Chinese – as “that four- eyed Jap.”
“No,” said John, “I wasn’t upset about the coverage. Maybe Peter Simone, but not I. But tonight, man, tonight, what with John Lennon sitting in and all” – and here he paused, the eyes behind the big rose-tinted insect orbs rolling down little window shades of weariness to signal that the chat was drawing to a close – “tonight was . . . very emotional . . .”
Those words would later be echoed by other members of the Elton camp as they tried to explain the eruption that would take place in the dark hours of the morning at the Pierre’s grand ballroom.
The strain on the star, they would say, was increased by the presence of his parents at the show. They had flown over from England the day before, and while Elton was in the middle of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” he thought of mum and dad and something very emotional took hold of him. And, they would say, it stayed with him and wouldn’t let go, and he was weeping afterwards backstage and quiet in the limousine that took him to the Hotel Pierre.
The day before Thanksgiving, Elton John visited WXLO-FM as “EJ the DJ,” playing his own selection of favorite records and taking calls. Looking like a balding Mousketeer in his headset, he sat behind the glass assuring yet another in an endless succession of statutory shriekers that she wasn’t dreaming, she was really talking with Elton John – she better believe it.
Outside the studio, Jim Morris was talking. “I’m a bit stronger than the average person,” he said. Morris is a bearded, black body builder who holds the title of “Mr. America”; he is Elton’s bodyguard, and he was guarding the door against the rabid teeny hordes. “But I swear,” he said, “it took all the force I could muster to get him by those kids down in the lobby in one piece!”
The next night, at the Garden, even as Kiki Dee, the brave opening act, was stalling through her one forced encore, the rumor that John Lennon would sit in was circulating through the orchestra seats and climbing up like a dizzy frisbee to the farthest balconies of the faithful … the adrenalin was rising, rising … Kiki went off to halfhearted applause, but the crowd gave Elton’s red-jumpsuited road crew a thundering ovation when they started rolling his tons of equipment onto the stage. Off on a hydraulic lift went Kiki’s band’s piano, and up in its place was Elton’s sequined Steinway. Off went the huge Kiki Dee circular backdrop, and up went the first-name neon signs to identify the band members, guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson, bassist Dee Murray, percussionist Ray Cooper, the Muscle Shoals Horn Section, and, of course, ELTON.
While the stage was still being set, the houselights went down and above the stage came a cute cartoon done by a college student in Los Angeles, with a Betty Boopish Elton springing from the womb of a rhythmically pulsing gramophone to the tune of “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol.”
When the stage lights were turned on – Holy shit! Deafening roar! There he was! – banging away at the piano in some kind of cockamarnie papal purple robe with magician smoke (from a dry ice pump) hissing up around him and a four-foot ostrich plume slanting and swaying up from his glittering top hat at a wild angle. With the ponderous instrumental overture of “Funeral for a Friend,” he looked for all the gawking world in that first instant like the bastard offspring of some unthinkable tryst between Lcon Russell and Liberace. After circling the stage, giving the crowd that upthrust thumb salute that looks like some sort of Anglo obscenity (but is apparently a gesture of greeting), he bounced back to the piano stool. On the first familiar chords of “Candle in the Wind” – lyricist Bernie Taupin’s update of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – a galaxy of match-stick torches erupted in schlock-symbolic tribute, glowing from the very apron of the stage to the remotest Siberias of the Puerto Rican wrestling-night bleachers to godspeed Elton over the quavery inspirational soars.
Boogieing through their repertoire of old and new hits, from “Take Me to the Pilot” to “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton and band built toward the arrival of the Mystery Guest.
Every time Elton jumped up from the piano, he threw his stool off the stage, and one got a chance to observe what a dog’s life is the rock roadie’s, as the red-jumpsuited figures on stool duty down below scattered like roaches to escape being brained. Then, like Bean- a-Clown carnival geeks loping lethal baseballs back to their tormentors, they had to pick the bench up and put it back onstage. At the spastic climax of the apocalyptic classic, “Burn Down the Mission,” Elton sent the stool sailing and the roadies scurrying one more time, gave the piano a last good hump, and strode to the front of the stage. The Huns spotted their hero’s broad smile, knew in a flash what it meant and stomped the introduction under their hair-raising howls ….. Just as there are some who claim to have witnessed under this dome the resurrection of a man named Dylan who died in a bike accident, doubtless in years to come there will be those who will say they saw the excitement of Beatlemania reborn in the instant that John Lennon sprinted out into the roar of their adulation.
Lennon looked terrific. Gone were the self-conscious whiskers of premature sagehood, the strain lines of humorless activism. It seemed that up out of the muck of plastic Onoism, Beatic John had been reborn. Cloaked in the frock coat of British foppery (instead of pseudoprole political overalls), chestnut hair aflop, chewing gum going like crazy, guitar neck jerking like a pecker pulsing to pop, Lennon launched right into “Whatever Gets You thru the Night (It’s All Right, It’s All Right) – the rollicking reassurance of the lyrics seeming to confirm to the crowd that the transformation was more than merely visual.
After Lennon sang on the chorus of Elton’s revamp of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” he introduced his last number, “an old Beatles song we never did onstage”: “I Saw Her Standing There.”
History – even just pop history – is a hard act to follow, but no one can accuse Elton John of not trying. Five songs later, he rode out for an encore astride Mr. America’s shoulders. With the impish superstar wearing what appeared to be a vinyl bathing cap clustered with multicotored ping-pong balls and his muscle-bound bodyguard rippling and hulking up out of glitter- sparkling loincloth, the pair added up to just about the weirdest goddarnned Mardi Gras float anyone had ever seen.
The night ended in the early morning, and not with a whimper, nor with a bang – but with John Reid, Elton’s short-fused manager, rising up to his full five-foot height – among the wilting candle-lit canapes in the grand ballroom of the Hotel Pierre and shrieking, “This is my party and I am ordering you and your slag wife to get the fuck out right now!!!”
“That was how the perennial shit hit the proverbial fan. The disc jockey’s blonde wife said that she had merely approached Elton as a fan and that he had told her to get lost and called her a “slag” (which means a really scuzzy groupie in the slang of British rock musicians), but singer/songwriter Bobby Neuwirth claims the blonde started it first by calling Elton a “fag” (which means a cigarette in the same argot). Being hep to the Yankee jive as well, however, Elton knows that in the slang of U.S. DJs’ wives, it means something like a “poof” (which is what one woman at a party in New Zealand last spring had the poor manners to call John Reid just before he slapped her) and so that would definitely classify as a fighting word. But all linguistics aside, who could litigate the case for certain without giving all material witnesses and both victim/perpetrators a lie-detector test?
And, when you come right down to it, who really gives a fuck, after all is shouted and done?
… But one witness, who became obsessed by the sudden violence as fie slid back and forth from pinch to numb on flaming wheels of amphetamine and alcohol, would later theorize that it could possibly have been triggered by negative forces inadvertently brought to bear on the grand ballroom by the Israeli psychic Uri Geller, who was bending keys telepathically and making silverware do weird things of its own accord over at Lennon’s table. Paranoia veering another way, he would then wonder if somehow it wasn’t all being goosed along by Larry Elgart and his orchestra, as they stood up there like prohibition wax-museum arsonists spilling the syrupy gasoline of their schmaltz all over a deserted dance floor . . . And he wondered: Could that damnable businessman’s bounce be dirging basically decent people down to the very depths of human depravity?
Others claimed they could sense the bile rising when Andy Warhol, whom some consider a social thermometer, turned right around and left in a huff when they wouldn’t allow him to parade his whole fabled entourage in. What, offend Andy’s people? Unheard of in the neodecadent New York social satyricon!
Anton Perich – the avant- garde video king,- for chrissake, a veritable fixture at each and every debacle that calls itself an event! – couldn’t get in either, just because he forgot to bring his invitation. Watching the hassles at the door begin to verge on ugliness, some of those who held the coveted invites were asking each other who would get in here, anyway.
So . . . not with a whimper nor a bang but with high-class people calling each other fags and slags did the evening end; with the blonde’s disc-jockey husband ready to stand his ground beside her until he suddenly notices the bow-tied body builder who has come quietly up behind John Reid, like the menacing spade bite behind the shrill white bark; with the DJ taking his adamant wife by the arm and pulling her across the room, her high heels raking the plushy pile; with the woman stopping in front of Neil Sedaka and demanding, “Neil, am I right? Aren’t I right, Neil?”, with Sedaka looking at her like “Excuse my lapse of memory, lady, but do I know you from somewhere ?’@-and turning away, shaking his head – with compassion for this confused young woman; with her husband dragging her all the way to the cloak room, John Reid trotting along behind to make damned sure they really were leaving; with people spifling out into the corridor behind them, hoping to witness whatever bloodshed might goose an otherwise anticlimactic party; with Elton John suddenly appearing on the fringe of the crowd, waving a finger like Truman Capote playing the Godfather; with Peter Simone racing back and forth between several reporters, telling them the scene unfolding was not worth noticing; with Elton waving the finger at the disc jockey, who is helping his wife put her coat on, Elton’s tired, drained face picking up some red again as he sputters: “I never want to see you again – you or yer fucking slag! You’re both lucky to be getting out of here without a scratch on ya”; with the woman turning to somebody next to her and asking, “Can you imagine? Do I deserve to listen to that? I mean, I’m a fan of his, can you imagine . . .”; and with her husband snorting, “And I have to play his goddamned records!”
And with Elton John, flanked by Mr. America and several other employees, turning to split from the party, the woman calling after him, “Elton, You just don’t know what American fun is!” And with the people in the corridor looking at each other, wondering what she could possibly have meant by that. And with Eiton John stopping and saying, “Do me a favor’! – with the punch- line of the sentence falling off the back of him as he started down the stairs to the hotel lobby-“Drop fucking dead!”
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