20 years ago on my birthday, I saw him for the first time.
I won a radio contest, and found myself standing in line with 59 other lucky winners on a cold February morning to take a bus from Odessa to Lubbock, Texas.
We played games and sang songs on the trip up. We were all clearly huge Elton John fans. The feeling was electric.
Our seats were just above the nosebleed section, but we didn’t care. From the moment he came out on stage we were on our feet. These were the days before cell phones. There would be no pictures, videos or live-streaming. Instead, I had tucked a tiny notebook and pencil in my pocket and scribbled (as best I could in the dark) every song he sang, along with notes regarding the video screen behind him and audience reactions. I still have those pages in a scrapbin somewhere.
What I remember most about that show was that there was no opening act. No musicians or back-up dancers. No laser light show, fireworks or confetti. Just Elton John and his piano, with a video screen behind him. With each song, he would discuss the origins. It was the most intimate concert I have ever attended (with 8000 of my closest friends).
I stood, danced, sang and cried through the entire show.
Last night, I had the opportunity to see him in his farewell performance at Madison Square Garden. This marked his 70th lifetime show at the venue, which he mentioned was his favorite.
This time there was a band, made up of musicians who (many) spanned the length of his career. The video screen behind him was bigger. The effects were more modern. And the stage was a bit more elaborate. But it was still Elton. At his piano. Singing the songs that he loved to the fans who loved them.
These were the songs that saw us through tough times, reminded us of lovers, and brought us to our feet to dance and forget our troubles.
He spoke again of the origins of the songs, becoming emotional at times. He was very aware that this was goodbye, and he made sure we knew how much he loved us. And in return, we (all 20,000 of us) showed him the same love.
After an amazing 3-hour set, he left and came back for the final two songs.
As he sat at his piano and sang, “My gift is my song and this one’s for you,” our hearts broke into a million tiny sequin-encrusted, glitter covered, feather boa-wrapped pieces.
As we were scooping them off the floor, he finished with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, then climbed into a basket and floated away, waving goodbye to all of us until we could no longer see him.
For a moment it felt like a death. The crowd was applauding, but there was a somberness about it. But as if to cheer us up as we exited the building, the lights came up and “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” began to play.
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words,
How wonderful life has been with you in our world.