| ELTON JOHN NEWS ARCHIVE: December 2001
|"Live By Request" (An A&E Cable Network Special Presentation)
Sunday, December 23 2001
Written by Reggie Zippo.
At precisely 5:00 PM PST on December 3, 2001, Elton and his band mates Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson, Guy Babylon, Bob Birch, and John Mahon took charge of the CBS Television City concert studio in Hollywood, California to begin an evening of musical surprises for themselves and the viewing audience. Hosted by Mark McEwen, A and E Cable Network's "Live By Request" concert series was successful in acquiring the talents of Elton for this two hour TV and Internet special that relied heavily on song requests from the fans to construct the set list for that evening's performance.
Although it was announced that the program was live from Los Angeles, it was in fact live from Hollywood. In addition to the television medium, the concert was also simulcast over the Internet and there was further indication that the Jones Radio Network was responsible for the radio broadcast of this concert, but there have been no confirmed reports that it was ever carried by any radio stations within the USA. Nevertheless, diehard Elton fans had been breathlessly waiting for this monumental event to finally unfold with the promise that a select few would be given the opportunity to briefly talk with Elton on the phone or via email to request ANY song of their choosing. There were no apparent parameters. Any song request would be given equal consideration. A special telephone number was created for those fans who were willing enough to repeatedly redial that number a thousand times over with the hope of making the coveted connection. For the less eager, an email address was available on A and E's LiveByRequest.com web site to also submit song suggestions. This was truly going to be a cherished moment for the fortunate few who were successful in reaching Elton on stage that evening!
Minutes before the magic hour was to begin, millions of personal VCR machines around the country were queued and ready to record this special event, but then the network experienced severe audio problems just after the show's introduction. Elton entered the stage wearing a black suit and sunglasses and got the ball rolling with two selections of his own, "I'm Still Standing" and "I Want Love". Panic among the TV viewers quickly set in when an audio deficiency made for poor listening. The vocals and instruments were barely audible and what little could be heard was interrupted with pops of static and clicks. No doubt the studio technicians were trying in vain to quickly remedy the situation. Unaffected or unaware of any irregularities, Elton beamed as he rocked and crooned through both songs. The TV network went straight to a commercial break after "I Want Love" and, by the time the program resumed, the audio portion was restored to its intended volume and clarity. At first, some viewers thought that this problem was localized to just certain areas, but there were reports ranging from Ohio to Florida that the audio portion before the commercial break was all substandard. Fortunately, all subsequent repeats of this program contained no audio difficulties whatsoever.
With two songs under his belt, Elton finally took the first telephone request. Nani from Santa Monica, California, was so overwhelmed to hear Elton's voice that she could barely contain herself. He asked her how she was doing to which she replied "Very Delightful now!" When asked which song Elton could perform for her, Nani said "You've already done so much for me!" Eventually, she chose "Crocodile Rock". In true form, he bounced through this classic with ease and enthusiasm, but during each chorus Elton and the band members coaxed the studio audience to sing all of the "na na na" parts. Afterward, Elton explained that the song is usually placed at the end of his concerts and by then he needs a little help from the fans to get through the chorus lines. He really did not need any help for this event, but it did add an element of camaraderie with the audience. The next caller was Mark from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He asked Elton to play Daniel, but not before asking him to explain the meaning of the song. As all Reg Heads know, the song is about Daniel, a blind Vietnam War veteran as sung by Daniel's sibling (the song never suggests that the sibling is male). Elton further explained that in their early days of writing songs together, Bernie would submit lyrics that were composed as a bunch of words on a page with no regard to lyrical form (verse and chorus). At times, these "lyrics" tended to go beyond a reasonable length. So, Elton would editorialize to reduce the song to a standard timing (for radio play no doubt). Such was the fate of Daniel. The original third verse explained the meaning of the song, but Elton felt that a 6 minute version was too much to bare, so he deleted it ("I'll just take this bit out.") Thus, the meaning was lost forever to the general public. On this fine evening, however, Elton breathed new life into "Daniel" to the point that the missing third verse really didn't matter that much anymore because it would not be "Daniel" if it had been presented any other way.
Robi from New York, New York became the third person to request a song from Elton. He became very excited when Robi said that she was from New York, but then he became visibly solemn when she announced that her husband, Peter, had lost his life in the World Trade Center tragedy. She asked if Elton would dedicate "Rocket Man" to Peter and all who perished in that massacre, to which he humbly devoted a full nine and a half minutes for a very memorable rendition of the song. This was indeed the highlight of the whole concert. After a failed attempt to speak to a fourth caller, Billy from Long Island, New York, Elton made the following comment when asked by the host to express his thoughts about the healing power of music:
"I think in times of joy and times of sorrow, in times of solitude, in times when you're having a party, there's nothing like music. And, in times like we've experienced, or you've experienced in this country (USA) the last two or three months, music is the great healer, whether it's any sort of music. You can find solace in anything and it's our job as musicians to go out and play, to keep doing that. And, it's no good saying we're going to cancel our tour there or I'm going to cancel it. Musicians should be out there playing for the people and that's what we do! That's what the musicians did in World War 2 and throughout the Vietnam War. They went and entertained right on the battle lines. Right on the front line! And, I get really upset when I hear about people canceling their tours because they're too afraid. You know? You're a musician. Your job is to go out and heal and that's what you should do!"
Since they were not able to connect with Billy from Long Island (not to worry, he resurfaces after the next song), Elton was invited by host Mark McEwen to play another number from his new album. "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" was Elton's choice as he explained that it will be the next single to be released. Elton further commented that the analog recording process for the entire album was largely inspired and influenced by singer Ryan Adams, who had recently released an album of his own, which was recorded with the same analog technique. Analog recording is the process of using reel to reel tape to record the different parts instead of the standard digital method that is in practice by most recording artists these days. Elton matched the album version of "This Train...." note for note for a tremendous performance. Finally, Billy from Long Island was on the telephone. As soon as Elton heard Billy's voice, he asked, "Shouldn't you be in bed by now?"
Billy indicated that he was in fact in bed. This prompted Elton to ask who he was sharing his bed with, or as Elton put it "Who's your latest floozy?" Billy said that he is without a girlfriend right now, but Elton quickly offered to help him find one during the next Face To Face tour at the beginning of 2002. "A man like you should be cuddled every night", Elton demanded. Billy Joel was a complete surprise caller for Elton. His request was to hear "The Bitch Is Back", which they perform together during their dueling piano tours. Elton gladly complied and even mimicked Billy by jumping up on top of the piano toward the end of the song. Also, during the bits when Elton sang "I'm better than you!", he pointed his finger at the camera. Perhaps he was sending a personal message to Billy? We all know it's true without question.
Mark from Manalapan, New Jersey, asked Elton to play "Philadelphia Freedom" for the next song. Elton performed the classic version flawlessly, although the 80's version with the extended intro would have been a nice surprise. It has been many years since he has performed that version, but one can only hope that Elton will reinstate it for future set lists. Anna from Brazil, by far the winner of long distance callers that evening, wanted to chat with Elton more than to request a song. Elton politely ended the conversation after she blurted out her request because he probably sensed that if he allowed her to continue talking she would want to be on the phone with him forever. Don't we all? "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" was served as brilliant as ever and Elton wasted no time injecting his brand of emotions and color into this heartfelt song.
The next caller on the telephone was another celebrity surprise. Sting called from the set of the TV talk show "Live With Larry King". At first, Sting said he had always wanted to hear Elton sing "Roxanne", one of Sting's earlier hits. It looked as if Elton was about to comply before Sting asked him to sing "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" instead. It was quite obvious throughout their conversation that these two entertainers are very close friends because nearly every other word out of their mouths sounded intimate. "Darling" and "Sweetheart" were passed back and forth several times. Elton also asked "You sexy sod, how are you?" and "What can I do for you, you fool?". Sting's song choice was eventually served by Elton, but since a guitarist would not be needed for this particular number, Elton's long time guitarist, Davey Johnstone, left the stage to wait in the shadows. The song was, as always, a very moving piece.
For the next request, the host was given an email that had been sent to Elton via A and E's web site. It came from Patricia in Hewitt, New Jersey. "Songs From The West Coast is awesome! I especially love "Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes". I think I've just about worn out this CD." Even though a lot of emails were received, this was to be the only one used for the show. All other requests that evening came via telephone. Ever since Elton publicly announced the meaning of "....Red Shoes", it seems that all TV hosts are quick to ask Elton to retell the meaning of this particular ballad. And this was no exception. Elton said that it is all about a man who is dying of AIDS. Elton further explained that the plight to find a cure or offer assistance was totally ignored by the Reagan Presidential Administration of the early 80's. "I know because I was there!", Elton exclaimed. The true showman that he is, Elton gave another stunning performance of this song. He is sure to play this bittersweet melody for many years to come. The next call in request came from Mark in Phoenix, Arizona. He told Elton about his wedding day 14 years ago when Mark and his future bride played "Your Song" during that special event. Mark wanted to hear Elton play it live just for the happy couple. And perform it he did. Elton seemed rather touched that the song was used in such a happy setting. For this number, all of the band members resigned themselves to the shadows behind the drum kits, speakers, and other stage props to allow the spotlight to shine on Elton alone as he performed this song solo. Some of the band mates stood, while others sat in chairs, but quickly returned to their original positions during the applause at the end of the song.
The final caller of the evening was John from Richmond, California. He asked Elton to play "Take Me To The Pilot". It started out in the usual slow form, which escalated to a rocking finish, but the length was whittled down for a shorter version as time was running out on this two hour special presentation. Elton really put all efforts into the performance, though, and was seen beating his chest like some deranged gorilla at the very end. No, he was not having problems with his pacemaker. He was just enjoying the excitement of the moment. Even though John was the last caller, the host offered to let Elton pick the final song to round out the evening. With that in mind, Elton said "Alright, let's rock out, boys!" Then the familiar sounds of "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" began to set everyone off into a dancing frenzy. To add further excitement to the mix, Elton was forced to extend the song a bit longer than expected. As the credits for the program scrolled across TV screens in America and over the Internet, the song was nearing it's triumphant end. Elton must have noticed that he still had more time to fill. So, they ended the song with the shout of "Saturday Night's Alright!", then they all jumped right in again to repeat the ending chorus without missing a beat. The second time around proved to be just enough time before the network switched to a commercial advertisement. Sadly, for those fans who only watched the repeat telecasts of this concert, a voice over announcement of an upcoming unrelated A and E TV series was inserted during this extended portion of the song. Thankfully, though, the original telecast did not include any such announcements. Thus ended Elton's debut on "Live By Request". Many fans no doubt were thoroughly disappointed by not being successful in reaching their beloved star by telephone or email, but Elton was only given two hours. If everyone had been given the opportunity to speak with Elton, he would probably still be on that stage for an eternity!
One final note. By the middle of the program, it seemed painfully clear that the requests were all going to be "hit" type songs and nothing from obscurity. As a viewer, it would have been quite exciting to see if Elton and the band could pull off a rendition of "Hercules", or perhaps "Cold As Christmas". Personally, I tried to get through on the telephone to request something a bit more festive like "White Christmas" and/or "Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer". Both of which have been performed by Elton in the past. I suppose I will just have to settle for my CD copies of those earlier performances. Nevertheless, this concert was indeed a thriller to witness.
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|Elton Returns To The Tonight Show
Wednesday, December 12 2001
Written by Reggie Zippo.
December 10, 2001, marked the return of Elton John to The Tonight Show on the NBC TV network with a performance of "I Want Love" and a candid interview with host Jay Leno. Elton's voice wavered slightly at the beginning of the song, and the band was basically in synch, but it appeared that all members were a bit tired and road worn. Even so, Elton smiled and grinned through the whole number.
After the song and a commercial break, Elton talked with Mr. Leno about nude photos, the flap about quitting the recording business, and his recent sale of 20 cars. Previously in the show, Jay had interviewed actor Tom Cruise and brought up the fact that Tom had recently posed seminude for a magazine cover and a matching article for his new movie "Vanilla Sky". Cruise was visibly embarrassed and kept trying to change the subject to cars. When Leno began to interview Elton, Jay asked if he had ever posed nude in the 70s. Elton said "No", because celebrities didn't really do those type of photos during that time period. Besides, he never had the body for it.
Elton did reveal that there is a nude photo of him floating around with a pumpkin covering his "What's it". Jay queried if it was a big or small pumpkin, but Elton didn't answer. Elton further commented that he has more hair under his armpit than anywhere else on his body. Did we really need to know that? Concerning his announcement then retraction of quitting the recording industry,
Elton explained that it was just another one of his tantrums because he was upset ("pissed off") at something, but he didn't really go into details. He further explained that he was getting to the point in age that promoting albums is taking an exacting toll on his health and spirit. But, that doesn't mean he will stop recording anytime soon. He just doesn't want to promote albums anymore. The subject of cars came up when Leno asked Elton why he sold most of them at auction (he kept 8 out of 28).
Elton conferred with his partner, David, and decided that cars were meant to be driven and not squirreled away. The money raised through auction was applied toward the purchase of an apartment in Venice. Actually, Elton raised more money for the cars than what the book value lists, which he says upset a great many used car dealerships. Several more topics were lightly discussed then a quick impression of Queen Elizabeth was served before Elton ended his stay on The Tonight Show. A very warm and humorous interview to witness, but it should have been longer.
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