Elton John: Gangsta Fantastic (link to playlist)
In anticipation of his 2015 Music Midtown performance we acknowledged that Elton John might be the original gangsta.
Catapulting onto the scene in the early 70s, Elton produced nothing but gold; every musician wanted to work with him, every celebrity wanted to party with him. Elton got whatever he wanted and his extravagance, spending and drug use were matched by none. Do you really wanna know bout some gangsta shit? Hop in the sequined-Cadillac and let’s ride to the sweet spot of storytime: the mid-70s.
Digging deeper into the aforementioned ‘Lost Weekend’ dumpster, John Lennon appeared on Elton John’s version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” as Dr. Winston O’Boogie. Elton – who was unstoppable in the 70s – took the cover to number one.
Elton might not have been an official Hollywood Vampire but his writing partner, Bernie Taupin, was best friends with Vampires’ “president,” Alice Cooper. And Elton was still connected, he was/is Sean Lennon’s godfather. (I know, that’s more gangster. But you get the point.)
Being a godfather and repaying his debts, Elton sang on Lennon’s 1974 “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” Elton also bet that if the song went to number one they had to play it live. Now, given his current state of mind, and musical prowess, Lennon wasn’t performing live…but thinking it would never happen, agreed.
In what would be Lennon’s last ever live performance, he surprised Elton at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving of ’74 to perform his current hit single, and only number one song as a solo artist.
To be the last person to play live with a former Beatle, that’s gangsta.
And if you haven’t been paying attention, ‘what got them through the night’ was…
When Elton finally went to rehab in 1990 his Dear John to his drug of choice read,
“I sent planes for you, trains, cars, you are my whore
I love you so much I can never see you again.
If I see you in a room I’ll leave.”
That first line could easily fit in any rap song. Ever.
Elton is gangsta, even in rehab.
Speaking of planes…remember the airplane scene in Almost Famous?
When a similar situation happened Led Zeppelin’s management didn’t rent a bus, they tricked out a Boeing 720 which became the symbol of 1970s rock ‘n roll decadence. Starship was ready for takeoff.
With state-of-the-art audio equipment (cassette tapes), a full bar, faux-fireplace, rotating furniture and back bedroom, this flying fuck-tube transported some of the most perverted, drug-fueled moments of rock.
Starship was the ultimate groupie in the 70s, used by everyone from The Stones to Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton, The Allman Brothers and of course, Elton John.
During his 1973 tour it was Elton’s time to take Starship for a ride, and why not include a built-in piano? He was the original piano man after all.
And when you’re looking for a place to have your 26th birthday party your personalized flying limo is a natural choice.
But while in the backroom pouting – after all, it was his party – Elton didn’t realize his friends had “smuggled” aboard a surprise present.
It wasn’t until they finally coaxed him out of his room to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ that Elton realized the piano player was Stevie Wonder.
Do you remember your 26th birthday?
Did Stevie Wonder sing you “Happy Birthday” on your private gravity-defying drug machine?
I didn’t think so. The gangsta they call Elton did.
A few years later when The Who was putting their rock opera about a blind, deaf and mute pinball prodigy on film there was only one person they asked to challenge their Pinball Wizard…
(Actually rock ‘n roll legend says Stevie Wonder asked to play the part, but Pete Townshend said it didn’t make sense for the antagonist to the deaf, dumb & blind kid to…also…be…blind…)
Apparently Elton talked Rod Stewart out of the role and had the director promise him the custom Doc Martens after shooting.
Around the same time, while at the height of their careers, Elton & Bernie were ready to musically express their humble roots and rise to stardom through a concept album called Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy. (Elton was humbly-titled Captain Fantastic and ironically Bernie was the Dirt Cowboy.)
Like most concept albums, Captain Fantastic isn’t that good…but that didn’t stop it from becoming the first record in history to debut at number one.
And staying true to his humble roots he so eloquently sang about in Captain Fantastic, Elton marketed his new album in the only logical way.
But after 30 years as a gangsta, it was time to make some changes.
Whether it was because his home had become a “warehouse” after 20 years of extravagant spending – gangsta.
Maybe he was balancing his checkbook after recently buying a “football” team – gangsta.
Saving for his impending divorce to a woman – kinda gangsta.
Or financing his crippling cocaine addiction – totally gangsta, Elton had some shit to sell.
In September of ’88, Sotheby’s auction house had more than 2,000 of Elton’s items to sling. The collection was so large it had to be divided into four parts over four days:
Maybe day three wasn’t so gangsta, but Sotheby’s estimated the total collection at $5MM.
In the end Elton walked away with over $8MM, selling items like the Doc Martens from Tommy for more than $20K. The Hard Rock Café “wisely” spent almost $17K for these…
…and don’t forget all those outfits…
So even though he basically became a Disney caricature of himself…
…Elton John is the godfather for all pop culture excess that’s so casually flaunted today.
Elton John’s not just a rockstar…
He’s a gangsta.
This has been Rock ‘n’ Roll Storytime.