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LISTENING IN: Ultimate Elton for the ages

The first time I saw Elton John it was in a crappy venue (the old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto) with crappy sound and out-of-synch speakers reverberating up the stands. Elton wordlessly entered, sat down, and launched into the haunting intro to “Tonight.” And in spite of the environmental limitations, you could hear a pin drop; goosebumps rising. In that moment I realized that there were performers, and then there were Eltons – a rare few who could silence a football stadium crowd with the plink of a pinky.

Years later I saw Reg (his real name) again in Las Vegas, deeper voice (throat surgery), hair transplant, giant inflatable penis flopping back and forth on stage, which was an over-the-top adornment even for the Rocket Man.

Indeed, the ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t kind to him in many ways, including musically, though that doesn’t detract from the generational talent of one of rock’s greatest singer-songwriters. Indeed, even now at age 75 he is still topping the charts (with Dua Lipa), even as he continues a farewell-to-performing tour that recently rolled through Vancouver.

But it’s the Elton of the early to mid ‘70s I will always strive to remember – an artist at the peak of his powers, and a man – “short, balding, myopic” – who Long John Baldry (the one who saved Elton John’s life in the song) once told me in an interview was the most unlikely rock star ever.

I consider “Captain Fantastic” a formative album of my youth, not least for the dramatic “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” This performance of the song, at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1976, says everything about Elton – more than I ever could. It’s a little longer than our usual offering, nearly seven minutes, but every note is worth it. Over 45 years later, it’s goosebumps all over again.

Lyrics by Bernie Taupin

When I think of those East End lights
Muggy nights
The curtains drawn in the little room downstairs
Prima Donna, Lord, you really should have been there
Sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair
And it’s one more beer
And I don’t hear you anymore
We’ve all gone crazy lately
My friend’s out there
Rolling ’round the basement floor

Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear
You almost had your hooks in me
Didn’t you dear
You almost had me roped and tied
Altar-bound, hypnotized
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye

I never realized the passing hours
Of evening showers
A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams
I’m strangled by your haunted social scene
Just a pawn outplayed by a dominating queen
Oh it’s four o’clock in the morning
Damn it
Listen to me good
I’m sleeping with myself tonight
Saved in time, thank God my music is still alive

Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear
You almost had your hooks in me
Didn’t you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied
Altar-bound, hypnotized
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye

And I could have walked head on
Into the deep end of the river
Clinging to your stocks and bonds
Paying your H.P. demands forever
They’re coming in the morning
With a truck to take me home

Someone saved my life tonight
(Someone saved my life tonight)
Someone saved my life tonight
(Someone saved my life tonight)
Someone saved my life tonight

So, save your strength
And run the field you play alone
Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear
You almost had your hooks in me
Didn’t you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied
Altar-bound, hypnotized
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye

Someone saved, someone saved, someone saved my life tonight
(Someone saved my life tonight)
Someone saved, someone saved, someone saved my life tonight
(Someone saved my life tonight)

First published at Travel Industry Today

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