Bearing Bittersweet Witness to a Living Legend

Some people, upon passing, will break the hearts of half the world.

Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am. That’s exactly what I was thinking on Monday, October 17th of this year, when I got to experience the best concert I’ve ever been to in my life, bar none. The entertainer in question was none other than Sir Elton John.

As was so often the case, my older sister first introduced me to his music around 1974, right about the time my mother uprooted my entire life and moved us to Florida. I was 10 years old, and had lived a pretty sheltered life up to that point. Elton was quite a bit for me to take in.

Elton is a living legend who has more than earned that title. I don’t think I fully understood that until seeing him live for the first, and most likely the last time. I’ve loved his music since the 70’s, and I have enjoyed reading about his controversies and shenanigans over the years.

I always looked forward to seeing what he would wear next. Aside from Liberace, I had never seen a man dressed so flamboyantly. And I’m fairly certain that Elton’s Rolling Stone interview in 1976 regarding his bisexuality was my introduction to the fact that not everyone is heterosexual. I don’t think I was thinking about sexuality in any form or fashion up to that point.

Elton’s philanthropy has always impressed me as much as his music and showmanship has. AIDS came along right when I hit college. I had long anticipated getting there and going hog wild. No such luck. For many years AIDS was simply not spoken about, but it was everyone’s underlying fear. That led to a lot of misinformation that could and should have been avoided. Instead, as with the misinformation about COVID, many lives have been lost due to the ignorant silence. When Elton started his AIDS Foundation in 1992, he was the first person I remember openly talking about it without any reservations. I was in awe of his courage and dedication.

Despite him being a very integral part of both my youth and my cultural awakening, somehow I’ve never really focused in on Elton like a diehard fan would do. I’m not sure why. He deserved better from me.

I do have one theory about that, though. Until writing this blog post, I could swear I once saw Elton wearing those iconic platform shoes with goldfish in the heels at some point. I was certain that was Elton. I mean, he was known for some crazy footwear over the years, and there was a brief period in the 1970’s when goldfish were tortured in this fashion.

I remember seeing those shoes on our dusty, bulbous, old-school TV screen, on the feet of some musician standing in front of a piano. I was shocked and upset. It would be quite like me to hold a grudge against the wearer of said shoes. I can imagine my skinny preteen self, arms crossed and foot stomped, as I shouted at the TV, “You are dead to me, goldfish torturer!”

Because I was hard core like that. (I still am, if I’m honest.) My sense of integrity was quite rigid. But then preteen me would have gotten distracted by other things, even as my inner self was staging this fishy little boycott.

But my lazy internet search tonight has yielded no images of Elton in those shoes, and no talk of him wearing them. So perhaps I got that wrong. It would be a shame if my distance from him was due to a childhood misunderstanding that was firmly held in some puritanical section of my brain.

In retrospect, Elton seems to be entirely too kind to harm goldfish. But maybe that’s why I kept Elton at arm’s length all these years. I honestly have no idea. The goldfish memory only surfaced as I was walking into the concert venue. Regardless, I always loved Elton’s music.

Fast forward to 2022, and I’m sitting in the Tacoma Dome with Dear Husband and about 20,000 other people, thinking the same thing I always think at concerts: “I’m breathing the same air as someone famous.”

But there were more layers to my thought onion on this night. This was to be Elton’s last concert ever in the state of Washington. The man is 75 years old, and he wants to spend the rest of his life with his husband and his two sons, ages 9 and 11. He has certainly earned that.

And I kept circling back around to my good fortune. If this concert had come just a decade earlier, I wouldn’t have had the financial means to afford the ticket, and I wouldn’t have had anyone to go with. And yet here I was, about to witness history. I don’t know if I’ve earned that, but I certainly wasn’t going to pass on this opportunity.

Elton has been doing his final tour, entitled “Farewell Yellow Brick Road”, since 2018, and it is expected to end in 2023. It has been sporadic, thanks to COVID and other factors, such as a bout with pneumonia, and later, catching COVID himself.

Dear Husband and I had been anxiously awaiting the start of the concert, and then suddenly the spotlight shined on his piano, and there he was, in all his unmistakable glory, as if by magic. But even more magical was his ability to make all 20,000 of us feel as though he were drawing us into a warm embrace that would last the duration of the concert. He even took the extra effort to acknowledge those who were seated behind him on numerous occasions. That’s class. That’s consideration.

And believe me when I say that we were embracing Elton right back. People came to the concert dressed in his costumes. The air was thick with feathers molting from brightly colored boas. And his band, every member as advanced in years as he is, could still rock, and clearly loved performing with him for one last tour.

Elton’s showmanship is as great as it ever was, even though it was quite obvious that he was well beyond doing handstands on his piano bench like he was known to do in his youth. He had hip surgery about a year ago, so when he would walk off stage for a costume change and a break, he was obviously far from being spry, and his crew flanked him protectively. It was sad to see, but it is also a natural progression for all of us.

Hearing so many of the songs that I have known and loved throughout my life filled me with joy. And unlike Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys, his voice is just as rich and strong as it was in his youth. Some people should know when to quit. (Sorry.) But Elton, on the other hand, is choosing to move on, even though selfishly we would love to enjoy his performances until the day he would be taken off stage feet first. But he has given us more than we have a right to expect over the years. He deserves, instead, to live out his life surrounded by the love of family.

And the thought of that, as he serenaded us all, had me on the brink of a huge, ugly cry. I had to fight that urge to publicly humiliate myself the whole time. I knew I was seeing the final chapter of an amazing career, as well as the tail end of an amazing life. Because Elton, of course, is as mortal as every one of us is. It’s just that some people, upon passing, will break the hearts of half the world.

So I sat there in the Tacoma Dome, gazing at this icon, basking in the warmth generated by this gracious talent, and I said a bittersweet thank you to the universe. I have been lucky enough to see many legends come and go. The going, which I’m bound to bear witness to with greater frequency as I age, is what makes the gratitude so bittersweet.

If you’d like to check out some of the actual videos we took at the concert, check out the Elton John Farewell Tour Tacoma Dome October 2022 Playlist on my YouTube channel. Clearly we’re not cinematographers, but they will really give you a sense of what the actual concert was like.

If you’re more interested in professional grade official music videos of the songs he sang, Dear Husband introduced me to a cool website that gives you set lists from concerts, and includes links to music videos. It’s like concert meets MTV. Check it out here.

I’ll leave you now with some of the photos we took at the concert. I know I’ll be looking at these souvenirs of a very happy memory for years to come. That will have to do, because, as financially stable as I have become, I am still not willing to spend 50 dollars on a t-shirt.

Sorry, Elton, but some things will always make me put my foot down.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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