Rocket Man: Elton John's Long Farewell Only Cements His Legend Further

Huw Baines 06 June 2019

You know the scene: the Sweetwater tour bus towards the end of Almost Famous; Penny Lane telling Patrick Fugit’s Cameron Crowe proxy that he’s home while the broken ensemble sings Elton John’s Tiny Dancer.

It’s one of the great musical moments in film—an emotionally complex unravelling dressed up as a feel-good capper. It's a tangled web of life, love, obsession, friendship, camaraderie, all that stuff, but also the tacit understanding that this is it, because nothing lasts forever.

Which brings us to Elton John’s own long goodbye. When the iconic singer-songwriter walks on stage at Hove’s County Ground on June 9 to begin the UK and Ireland leg of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road run, he will be nine months or so into a personal tour bus reckoning. He has always been at home up there under the lights, but nothing lasts forever.

The great beauty of an arrangement such as this one is the sort of communal omertà between performer and audience about discussing the future—everything essentially boils down to that night. You might as well sing along to each and every song once the house lights fade, as it’s the last time you’ll get to do it like this.

But, still, farewell tours are a tricky business. We’ve been lied to before as everyone from Kiss to Tina Turner and Nine Inch Nails have hit the road again after swearing they were done, with even the embers left behind by the Band’s iconic Last Waltz refusing to die out entirely. Elton, too, has apparently jacked it in multiple times before, most famously on stage at Wembley's Empire Pool (soon renamed Wembley Arena) in 1977.

That didn’t last long, and neither did the rest of them, but this one really should be it. The tour will take in over 300 dates and isn’t set to end until 2021, leaving us with plenty of time to properly understand what we’re waving goodbye to. And we really should make the effort to do so.

Perhaps it’s the fact that he emerged in the wake of the Beatles and the Stones, perhaps it’s the fact that his music has always tended towards outright pop, perhaps its camp scratches at deeply ingrained societal homophobia, perhaps their continued presence has allowed us to take them for granted, but Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songbook sometimes doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Make no mistake, it’s an all-timer. We won’t see one like it from an era-spanning artist again.

Back in ‘73, shortly after Elton had released the resolutely pop-oriented ‘Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player’, he sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone, offering some interesting, and winningly prickly, insights into critical pop snobbery and the conveyor belt attitude towards hits. “I always think of it as Elton John’s disposable album,” he said.

Taupin’s take approached from a different vantage point: “Well, as you’ve said before, a lot of times it’s good to write disposable songs anyway. You can write one or two ‘classics’ that will last and be covered again in a few years’ time, but I think a majority of good pop songs nowadays are disposable. They’re songs for the time they’re in the charts and three months later they’re just completely forgotten and nobody bothers with them again. I think that’s healthy in a way. You should always have fresh material coming along.”

If there was a tongue-in-cheek element to this discussion—the throwaways on the album included classics like Daniel and Crocodile Rock—then it doesn’t detract from the fact that John and Taupin have always found a way to keep things ticking over. Taking into account their mis-steps, their great triumph has been moving on without succumbing to all that many zeitgeist-grabbing howlers, and keeping substance at the heart of their work.

If you think about it, their music has been the soundtrack to so many aspects of our lives despite always moving, evolving and attempting to keep pace with the times. The recent biopic, Rocketman, illustrated that nicely, with its flights of fancy knitting together a tapestry of the way their songs have cut into the reality of our day to day.

Take John’s potted singles discography from 1970 to 1974: Your Song, Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Step into Christmas, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. That’s only a tiny segment of his catalogue, but go ahead and choose a song from it to fit how you feel right now—seriously, you’ll find one that works nicely. That emotional versatility is remarkable.

John has also toured regularly throughout his later career. He remains a fabulous showman and hasn’t, in the mould of someone like Bob Dylan, retreated into awkward, introspective non-spectacles that seem to obfuscate what made him great in the first place. We want to see Elton John hammering a tune out of a piano, and directing his band through the hits, and that’s pretty much what we’ve always been given. No need to shoot this particular piano player for his setlist sins.

While he will continue to be a force in popular culture, this tour is a chance to say adios to a performer who has defied logic time after time. Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s discography is a canonical work that will live forever, but these shows represent one more time and out for most of us when it comes to seeing live.

It’s worth remembering that in this instance goodbye doesn’t have to be the hardest word—it can be the start of a celebration.

Elton John Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun June 09 2019 - HOVE 1st Central County Ground
Wed June 12 2019 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Thu June 13 2019 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Sat June 15 2019 - CARDIFF Cardiff City Stadium
Wed November 04 2020 - LONDON O2
Fri November 06 2020 - LONDON O2
Sat November 07 2020 - LONDON O2
Mon November 09 2020 - BIRMINGHAM Arena Birmingham
Wed November 11 2020 - BIRMINGHAM Resorts World Arena
Fri November 13 2020 - LIVERPOOL M&S Bank Arena Liverpool
Sat November 14 2020 - LIVERPOOL M&S Bank Arena Liverpool
Tue November 17 2020 - MANCHESTER Arena
Fri November 20 2020 - ABERDEEN P&J Live, Aberdeen
Sat November 21 2020 - ABERDEEN P&J Live, Aberdeen
Tue November 24 2020 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Wed November 25 2020 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Sat November 28 2020 - MANCHESTER Arena
Mon November 30 2020 - BELFAST SSE Arena Belfast
Fri December 04 2020 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Mon December 07 2020 - LEEDS first direct Arena
Wed December 09 2020 - LONDON O2
Fri December 11 2020 - LIVERPOOL M&S Bank Arena Liverpool
Wed December 16 2020 - LONDON O2

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