I was mortified when my mother asked Glynn, a high school senior, to give me a ride home. Glynn had two sisters — Lynn, a freshman, and Flynn, a seventh grader like me. I never had spoken to any of the three, because they were attractive and I loved baseball cards. Imagine Kourtney, Khloe and Kim giving Bobby Brady a ride. My plan was to speak only if asked a direct question.
Glynn put Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road into the 8-track and started singing. The sisters sang loud enough that although I did not know the songs, I tried to fake it.
We started with Bennie and the Jets, which I never had heard. I sang with so much gusto that Lynn stopped the music and asked, “What did you just sing?” I answered, “B-b-b-b Bennie and his guests.” This was the funniest thing the trio had ever heard, so I guessed again, “B-b-b-b Bennie in a dress.” “B-b-b-b Bennie I detest”?
This makes it sound like I have a hearing problem, but I blame Elton, who has no interest in articulating the words. My lack of comprehension became the entertainment.
In Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) Elton sings, “Don’t give us none of your aggravation. We had it with your discipline.” I heard, “Don’t give us none of your aggravation. I hate it when you disappear,” which was better than my next guess, “Don’t give us none of your aggravation. We had it with your dental plan.” Who hasn’t been frustrated by their dental plan?
Elton sang, “I may sink a little drink and shout out, she’s with me!” I shouted out, “Chickadee!” “Symphony!” “Japanese!”
I was on a roll, not even trying to understand by the time we got to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I since have learned that Elton was singing, “Back to the howling old owl in the woods,” but I went with “Back to the hobbit hole out in the woods.”
I heard “You can’t plant me in your penthouse” as “You can’t find me a new pen pal.” In retrospect, I should have realized it would be easy for Elton John to find a new pen pal.
“My lack of comprehension made me the hit of the party. I was hilarious.”
My lack of comprehension made me the hit of the party. I was hilarious. Elton and I were a team.
I thought about that ride as I looked at the crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The concert was part of 74-year-old Elton’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Every concert I attend is a retirement party. We could have started at 4:00 and gotten home a lot earlier. Security would have had an easy night if they had not had to help fans with their walkers. Some of the AARP members were in junior high when they first sang I’m Still Standing, which is now their favorite Elton song.
Grown children did not understand their parents’ outfits — sequined grandmothers, bedazzled grandfathers, blue boa-ed senior citizens. We wore rhinestones, feathers, epaulets, white fedoras and glitter — Liberace, candelabra, chandelier levels of silver.
At first, I felt uneasy being there. March 1 was a bad day in Ukraine. Should we be going to concerts when the world is falling apart?
Then Elton played the first notes of Bennie and the Jets and 15,000 of us broke into pretty-eyed pirate smiles. We had such a party singing along, pretending we knew the words.
We sang something close to a spiritual: “Holy Moses, let us live in peace. Let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease. There’s a man over there, what’s his color? I don’t care. He’s my brother, let us live in peace.”
We sang about Jesus — although “Jesus, he wants to go to Venus” isn’t particularly spiritual.
“We were there for some of the same reasons people go to church — to sing together, remember and let go of our troubles.”
Not every song was happy. We sang Sad Songs (Say So Much) and I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues. We sang about grace, Have Mercy on the Criminal. We sang with abandon when the grandchildren joined us on the chorus of Crocodile Rock: “Laa, la-la-la-la-laa, La-la-la-la-laa, La-la-la-la-laa.”
We were there for some of the same reasons people go to church — to sing together, remember and let go of our troubles. Elton is not a fan of Christianity, so he might not care for the suggestion that his concerts are like church. He once recommended we “ban religion completely.” But Elton also said, “Jesus was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together and that is what the church should be about.”
The troubles of the world can make us feel like candles in the wind. I think it’s going to be a long, long time before we feel normal again. It’s a little bit funny, but we need to sing, now more than ever, “Goodbye, yellow-filled roll.”
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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