Monday, June 7, 2010

My Gift Is My Blog, and This One's for You

I reviewed Elton John’s (American) debut album in Rolling Stone. I actually loathed most of it — the pompous orchestrations, the cringe-inducingly awful lyrics, the vocal affectations. I liked the way he sang the beginnings of the verses of "Your Song" enough, though, to be moved to uncharacteristic generosity, and gave it a middling-tending-toward-positive review.

If only I’d stopped him in his tracks, as I’d earlier stopped Led Zeppelin. The Tumbleweed Connection album, on which he and his ludicrous lyricist Bernie Taupin sought to evoke an American West they’d seen from 35,000 feet or in horse operas, struck me as pretentious crapola of the most egregious sort. Nor was I much happier when he lightened up and got popular, with the excruciating "Crocodile Rock," which celebrated the legacy of Neil fucking Sedaka. Well, Neil fucking Sedaka’s Brill Building pop had stained my early adolescence, and I was goddamned if had the slightest patience with his legacy being celebrated. (And then, a few years later, those other great faves of mine, The Captain & Tennille, whose only contribution to Western culture is having inspired Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” ended one of their own hits by chirping, “Sedaka’s back!” For me, they might as well have chirped, “Polio’s not cured after all!”)

My girlfriend worked for the publicist who, at Elton’s famous LA debut, at the Troubadour, had scurried from writer to writer shrieking, “Fan-fucking-TAS-tic!” after Elton stopped boring everybody half to death with his Sensitive Ballads and did his little Jerry Lee Lewis homage at the end. She reported that Elton was actually a reasonably nice person, self-effacing and humble. Bernie paid me the compliment of being visibly intimidated when we were introduced, and their art director, a Brit called David Larkin, was nice to both me and my girlfriend. I continued to find Elton’s music noxious, but when he performed at Dodger Stadium dressed as Donald Duck, I was prepared to let bygones be bygones.

Shortly after the release of the Guns N’ Roses album on which the purportedly Elton-admiring Axl Rose railed against “niggers” and “faggots,” Elton, who’d bravely (no sarcasm!) revealed his homosexuality well before, publicly embraced Rose, and I wasn’t so sure I didn’t admire his having done so, as I believe that no person can hope for genuine enlightenment without confronting the things that he fears and hates most. For this reason, I habitually seek out eloquent expressions of viewpoints opposite my own. I hoped Elton might be doing something similar, though I’d have found that much easier to believe if he’d persuaded his new bud to tell millions of GNR fans that he’d come to recognize both racism and homophobia as repugnant.

Not long thereafter, Elton embraced the comparably homophobic Eminem. Once again, the friendship produced no mea culpa, and I got the unpleasant feeling that Elton was doing a grownup version of what small or timid grade school boys do with bullies — cozy up to them in hopes of being admitted to their entourages; better a little self-loathing then the relentless persecution! Maybe they hate faggots, Elton’s behavior seemed to say, but they like me!

Now we learn that he entertained at the recent wedding of the racist, homophobic, misogynistic (or maybe not) right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh, reportedly for a million dollars. As you’ve read here before, I’m not entirely sure that Limbaugh, like Glen Beck, isn’t a master satirist in the Sascha Baron Cohen mode, and that his stentorian loathsomeness isn’t intended to make his audience recognize its own stupidity. I am pretty sure his work causes widespread suffering, but the "Throw the Jew Down the Well" scene in Borat might have heartened a few antisemites. If we’re going to grant Baron Cohen satirical license, as a society that prizes freedom of expression must, how can we withhold it from Limbaugh?

In the end, one of two things is true. Elton John is either in on a joke that you and I aren’t quite sharp enough to savor, or a vile little whore who sold out one of the Great Causes of our time for a million dollars.

I wouldn’t have considered it for less than $10 million, and the opportunity to debate Limbaugh live on the air.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley, Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

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