On Friday at 11:00AM, Elton John super fans Mike Faber, Kornflake, Rob Levy, and Kyle McGraw—with moderator Caro Mccully —joined Dragon Con virtually to reflect on the music and pop culture defying career of Sir Elton John, who turned 75 on March 25 of this year amidst his farewell tour, 52 years after his first hit, “Your Song.”
They discussed his childhood as a musical savant, to his collaborations with Bernie Taupin and how he used every decade in music to build upon the last, continually shaping himself John into the icon and philanthropist we know today. When asked about the timeless appeal of his songs, the panelists cited his approach to storytelling in lyrics, universal themes of love and hope, willingness to branch into different genres and mediums, and ability to reinvent himself while staying true to his core quirkiness.
Faber talked about John’s childhood ability to hear and playback any song along, with his photographic memory, while Levy reminded everyone that his classical training put him in a different stratosphere from his early contemporaries and that he has been “an artist always quick to point out his own relevance.”
In looking at John’s music is the 1970s and ’80s, Faber mentioned “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and his turn in the movie version of the musical The Who’s Tommy, saying, “[John’s] charisma through that era was just amazing.”
Kornflake remembered John’s collaboration on “That’s What Friends Are For” and his musical turn in her favorite song, “I Guess that’s Why They Call It the Blues,” citing the 1970s and ’80s John as an influence on artists like Hall and Oates and Ben Folds, who pounds on the piano in similar fashion. McGraw mentioned Folds’ rendition of John’s classic “Tiny Dancer” while also talking about the connection songs like that one and “Levon” have to John’s own personal life.
Levy reminded everyone that while the 70s saw John reach amazing career highs, at the tail end he broke briefly from longtime lyricist and musical partner Taupin, which—along with cocaine addiction and struggles with his sexuality—led to a career nose-dive that saw John revaluate “who he was as a musician” and position himself for the MTV era as a bona fide popstar and a one-man corporation. In the 80s, John started to do commercial jobs—such as actual commercials for American Express—and take on causes via his work with LiveAid and friendships with Ryan White and Princess Diana, both of whom championed AIDS-related charities. In fact, all this led John to get sober and mellow and mature into the 1990s.
In the 1990s, Kornflake said she could not escape Disney’s The Lion King, noting how easily John blended in with the changing musical landscape of the era and that it was a relief he survived when grunge was king. Levy noted how John embraced being an AIDS spokesperson, which was “such a risky move.” Yet, John balanced his serious endeavors with his silly side, duetting with, for example, RuPaul.
In the early 2000s, John stopped touring and took a residency in Las Vegas while he and his husband, David Furnish, started a family, something he never thought would happen. McGraw called the 2000s John’s quiet time until his relationship with Lady Gaga put him back on the map, this time as the “Godfather of Pop Culture.”
Now doing his farewell tour, John may not really be done performing; Kornflake pointed out he has said he may consider another residency close to home—which could be in the UK or the US, including Atlanta, where he owns a penthouse. Levy said he’d like to see John do a Broadway residency a la Bruce Springsteen, bringing Rocket Man the film to the stage, and to see him win an Emmy.
When asked about John’s legacy, McGraw put it best: “Elton John’s music is just, it’s alive.”
Happy 75th, Sir Elton. Long may you reign in minds, hearts, and the charts.