Saturday, November 18, 2006

Candle in the Wind

If you don't already do it, I highly recommend that you go to YouTube and do searches of favorite songs and favorite artists and enjoy the videos. One night I gave myself a Paul Simon concert. Tonight, it's been Elton John, and next I'm going to see what performances I can find of Neil Diamond.

A while back, I confessed that Elton John was one of my guilty pleasures. I suppose had Elton John not entered into his glam rock, ostrich-feathered, name-in-neon-on-his-glasses, on stage as Mozart, fish swimming in shoe heels stage, that he wouldn't be a guilty pleasure. I suppose if he'd never sung "The Bitch is Back" or "Philadelphia Freedom" (I love them both), he wouldn't be a guilty pleasure. But he did all of that. His overwhelming success lay, in part, in his going campy, in becoming a personna named Elton John or Captain Fantastic. Elton John, of course, was not born Elton John. He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight. I wonder if it is here that he felt such deep affinity with Marilyn Monroe, that is, Norma Jean Baker and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Isn't "Candle in the Wind" a song about the way Elton John can see through the facade of the Hollywood-created Marilyn Monroe to the lonely soul of Norma Jeane Baker? And when Bernie Taupin rewrote the lyrics in 1997 to honor Princess Diana, wasn't it a song intended to look beneath the public figure, into the soul of the private person, Diana Spencer, a lonely, pained woman? And isn't the link that holds Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana together the way in which they were each "like a candle in the wind", "never knowing who to cling to/When the rain set in?" Because each of them were at least double persons, then how can either of them know, in times of suffering, whether those around them see them as the authentic person suffering, or only regard them as the personna created for public consumption. Who could they cling to?

As I watch this mid-80's video-taped performance of Elton John at Wembley Stadium, it's clear that this song touches him. What you see in his eyes and in the rest of his face is an understanding that a person really has all she or he can do to carry the weight of a single identity, let alone two or more of them. Elton John, in this perfomance, has not come out publicly that he is gay. In fact, he's a relative newlywed here, having married Renate Blauel. Yes, he has told Rolling Stone magazine that he is bisexual, but the real truth of his identity is hidden. He doesn't know who to cling to.

The singer we see is this video is drenching his secret identity in alcohol, powdering it with snort up his nose, and suffocating it with overeating and then vomiting it out of his system as a bulimic.

Isn't, then, "Candle in the Wind" a song about Elton John? As he sings this song isn't he singing about his own clinging to unworthy things? Isn't he singing about having clung to unworthy people? Isn't he, like Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, a flame that is being blown horizontal by the wind, but is not extinguished?

This song has poignancy to me right now for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, I think it's a song about anyone who went through what former Spokane mayor, the late Jim West went through in keeping his identity secret. He needed an outlet, someway to express who he was. He could have tried to liquidate it with alcohol, or do like Pastor Haggard and escape it with meth and the pleasures of a buff prostitute. West escaped to a chat room and to dates in the dark, not knowing who to cling to.

My students at Lane Community College have been reading Caroline Knapp's book, Drinking: A Love Story". In her memoir, Knapp tells of living a double life. On the one hand, she is a successful writer for the Boston Phoenix, but she's also an alcoholic. Her work serves as her protection. She does her work superbly. In her alcoholic life, she, much like Marilyn Monroe, Princess Dianna, and Elton John, doesn't know who to cling to. It's a huge part of this book. Caroline Knapp's alcoholic life is filled with random men and random sex and a fitful, bellicose long-term relationship. None of it is real. She never knows the acceptance or intimacy she longs for because she's not a whole person. Her identity is fragmented. Her loneliness is tough. It's the toughest story she's ever written.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, it doesn't get much better than that.

Anonymous said...

Funny! I just spent about 2 hours last night watching Clay Aitken and past seasons of American Idol on YouTube. I wasn't interested when it was originally on. I love Clay Aitken when he sings Elton John songs.

Anonymous said...

okay, this could be serious. I just spent the last two hours watching and listening to Elton John and now I just found a bunch of Guns 'N' Roses videos. I'm up for the long haul now...