I can't help but remember the wonderful Irish comedian Dave Allen once talking of seeking directions in Ireland & being told;
"Well if I were you, I wouldn't start from here."
So we won't either, we're going to start from over 'there' instead.
I was all set to wrap up the like sky-blue air series. I'd mentioned my line of investigation to my mate Michael from Hidden Agendas & I'd mentioned Elton John to him as a little aside line to that. His interestingly worded response about said minstrel combined with the strange (to me) affair of that said minstrel's one night stand in Auckland last year sent me a-sleuthing.
I have been neither a fan nor a detractor of Elton John. For me he has simply been a strange little man who wore big glasses & sang some songs on the radio during my formative years.
Actually quite a lot of songs.
"In his four-decade career, John has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most successful artists of all time. He has more than 50 Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 U.S. albums, 56 Top 40 singles, 16 Top 10, four No. 2 hits, and nine No. 1 hits. He has won five Grammy awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Tony Award. His success has had a profound impact on popular music and has contributed to the continued popularity of the piano in rock and roll. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him #49 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time."
However it was his funereal friendship with some of the unluckiest star studded names of the last (& this) century, that is the main reason we are gathered here today. Before we dig them up (not literally of course), let us travel briefly down that hallowed brick road from which I began pulling up paving stones last year in an effort to see what lay beneath.
A brief aside: You may, like me, have previously filed Elton in the slightly weirdo famous person basket & forgotten all about him. Therefore, if you have gotten thus far in this article, your hand may be sneaking towards your mouse with the Great Escape in mind.
So to cut a long explanation short we are going to take a look at Elton John, with some intuitively coloured glasses & see how he looks in an alternative light.
We are going to see if instead of an outrageous, weird or laughable performer, we have been wooed & crooned to over four decades by one who wears the title of chief priest.
Mercury is the Roman flavour of the Greek god Hermes - both have a penchant for the feel of the wind against their skin & who can blame them.
Hopefully you either remembered or skimmed through the links I left under the Retelling heading & will know why I have retained a twinning of Elton & the god Mercury to this day.
Just in case you are a little hazy on Merc, let's do a little run down, not of him obviously (well he's fleet of foot & would probably outrun us).
But there's a lot more to them than mere showboys. Ands there's a lot more connectivity, in my eyes, to them & the priest Elton Hercules John.
"Hermes is the messenger of Zeus and the herald of the gods" "Most importantly, he is the “messenger” (Gr. angelos - Angel) of the Gods."
"He was also associated with the Egyptian god of knowledge and magic, called Thoth" (wiki). Hermes & Thoth get all conjugated up together in the (too tricky for me) system of Hermeticism.
"Hermes was considered the inventor of the religious sacrifices to the other gods, and hence he not only acts the part of a herald at sacrifices... but is also the protector of sacrificial animals" ...errr doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose?
"...he was a patron of poetry and music, inventing the lyre, the pan pipe, and the flute." in other words has a musical bent.
" Later in life Hermes would give Apollo a flute in exchange for the Caduceus. The Caduceus was a winged staff with two entwined snakes which Hermes used to cast spells."
"Hermes was said to have invented fire (though it was Prometheus who gave fire to men)."
If alchemy has a patron deity it's Hermes, god of riddles, tricks and secrets; or as the Romans called him, Mercury; tutelary wheeler-dealer deity of trade, thieves and market places? The arch illusionist, the ultimate Tricky-Dickie, the fluid that is really a metal but behaves like a liquid..."
"Being the herald (messenger of the gods), it was his duty to guide the souls of the dead down to the underworld."
Ok boys thanks for your time. Please give a big hand to the fastest lads in the West as they make their way off stage (you might just want to keep a strong hold on your wallets as they pass, mind you I guess they don't have anywhere to hide them, so you should be ok).
Last week I bought a book I really didn't want to (but research overruled me).
It was a second hand book on Elton John, it had lots of pictures & my intuitive eyes were seeking understanding.
When I'd done I showed it to a friend of mine, who hails from West Africa. From my point of view, he is blessed with ears that can hear the kind of questions I like to ask. In this instance I was interested in his knowledge of African Traditional Religion. I asked him what impressions he got from viewing the costumes Elton has worn over the years.
He knew the direction my research had taken, but he is a very up front kind of guy & has never agreed with me just to keep me happy.
You have already read his answer, for it was he who gave us the title 'chief priest'.
I was reminded Credo Mutwa, a man who is what he appears to be, a Zulu shaman.
Does he have an outrageous sense of costume or does he dress for the rituals he oversees?
"Feathers from the Eagle or other birds (as swan, owl, raven) symbolize the ability of the shaman to travel the spirits world with his soul... The headdress is an instrument for inducing trance-states, also. By wearing the headdress only during shamanizing the shaman is actually programming himself (subconsciously) for the shamanic trance."
"It's lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight
And I think it's gonna be a long long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home..."
"The symbols on the shaman's costume and drum can refer to animals (as helping spirits), or the rank of the shaman. There were also examples of “mutually opposing symbols”, distinguishing “white” shaman practicing at day contacting sky spirits, and “black” shaman practicing at night contacting evil spirits for bad aims." That the piano is such an integral part of this man's performance leads me to wonder...
...about the power of the ivories or 88 keys - that's a lot of potential locking or unlocking n'est-ce pas?
"Perhaps the most important aspect of the shaman costume was its function as a storehouse of power. Forms and objects were sewn or attached to the costume, some merely symbols, but others actual power objects. Spirits would give power to the shaman through these objects, allowing the shaman wearing the costume to directly profit from these powers during his ceremonies"
"the shaman made an important statement by wearing his costume, one which in many ways contradicted traditional societal rules, as their costumes were primarily androgynous... To become a shaman, one had to be both man and woman,...
...because a person should be the sum total of all human experiences. This idea was taken very seriously in many Siberian - and some Native American - tribes...Homosexuality and traditional - Siberian - shamanism have always been connected...Many traditional shamanic cultures offered their homosexual members the possibility of living with a partner: a gay or lesbian could become a shaman and change sex, afterwards being able to marry a person of the same biological sex. Usually such transformed shamans would be looked upon with awe, fear or suspicion. They were considered to have very strong and special magical powers."
Elton John 'married' his partner, David Furnish in 2005. As one would expect of a chief priest, this occurred on a highly significant date - 21st December, Winter Solstice - their 7th wedding anniversary may just take their breath away.
The different symbols found on most Siberian costumes can be divided into seven groups:
feathers and wings,
bones and skeletons,
antlers and horns,
human and animal figures,
bells and other small hangers,
chains and ropes.
Lets have a creative look then. Feathers & wings anyone?
"Pop king Elton John is set to swap his sequinned jacket for a feather cloak (korowai) at his concert in New Zealand next month... John reportedly met a New Zealander overseas wearing one and liked it."
Just a funny costume or invoking the 'magic' of Disney? "Among his many honours, John was named a Disney Legend for his numerous outstanding contributions to Disney's films and theatrical works on 9 October 2006, by The Walt Disney Company. It is the company's highest honour." John was instrumental in creating the songs that accompany another animal magic ritual, The Lion King.
Bones & skeletons anyone?
Antlers & horns? ... or perhaps antennae?
Human & animal figures or just cuddly costumes?
"ELTON JOHN once terrified a doped-up IGGY POP when he stumbled on stage during a THE STOOGES show wearing a gorilla suit. The punk icon admits he still remembers how the sight of Elton as a gorilla over 30 years ago had him trembling"
"But that wasn't all. Five different-colored pianos were opened up and released real doves, Elton came down in an outrageous silver get-up, and during "Crocodile Rock," a real crocodile was walked around stage on a leash."
Bells & other small hangers? - will jewelry do?
Chains & ropes?
"Aug. 11, 2009 NEW YORK - Alice in Chains thought it would take a miracle to get Elton John to play on the band's tribute record to their late lead singer, Layne Staley. But it only took a listen to the song to get the rock legend on board"
"It's easier to lose a rope around a fool
Easier sometimes to throw a rope around a fool
A ring of your indifference thrown anywhere you choose
Easier sometimes to throw a rope around a fool" (Rope around a Fool - Elton John)
"I got a ball and chain hanging around my heart" - (Elton John - "Ball & Chain").
Ok the fashion show is over - I actually had a hard time finding the pics in my book that I wanted. This simply gives another way of looking at someone whose persona has thus far been cemented into our memories simply as a strange little man who composes & sings & plays the piano & likes dressing up & well, he's gay so it's not surprising.
I know there has been talk of backwards lyrics & hidden messages & all sorts of nasties, but we do tend to excuse the music we like from such exploration. I asked my African friend about music in his childhood world & he told me that it was important in ritual, it was used either to invoke or appease the gods. From what I have found in my research I would have to agree, that the endless, blood-soaked centuies of sacrifice are to do with invoking or appeasing.
Let's look at the words of others, & as we do keep in mind the energy that is invoked by music, all music, both in your life & the that which is created & magnified at a rock concert;
I found that when we dimmed the lights and processed with candles and incense around the circle to powerful music, the ritual participants were put in a different state of mind, separate from the mundane world and open to the energies of the elements, deities and magick that we would be working that night... Most of us were already in the habit of using song to raise energy... singing up the energy and then walking backward with it to draw it out over the larger circle.
"There is something deeply spiritual about music. Our Celtic ancestors understood this, and they gave poets and musicians a place of honor they deserve..
I imagine that rituals were very musical and that most of their prayers and words of praise were sung. The legends and stories of the Gods and heroes speak of the magical power of their music.
The deeper truth here is that music is magic. Music is prayer. “Music,” says Beethoven, “is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.” It is no less than the universal language of the Gods."
"The discovery of song and the creation of musical instruments both owed their origin to a human impulse which lies much deeper than conscious intention: the need for rhythm in life… the need is a deep one, transcending thought, and disregarded at our peril. ~Richard Baker"
"...the period of Samuel, David, and Solomon was the golden age of Hebrew music... Music was now for the first time systematically cultivated. It was an essential part of training in the schools of the prophets (1 Sam. 10:5; 19:19-24; 2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chr. 25:6). There now arose also a class of professional singers (2 Sam. 19:35; Eccl. 2:8). Solomon's Temple, however, was the great school of music."
Ok, finally we come to the suggestion that Michael from Hidden Agendas made, that got my attention, some weeks back. That of Elton John being 'a herald.'
In NZ, the Herald is our big newspaper. In the dictionary it's quite big too - "To introduce, or give tidings of, as by a herald; to proclaim; to announce; to foretell; to usher in" - it's the latter meanings that we're toying with here.
"Psychopomps"... literally meaning the "guide of souls") are creatures, spirits, angels or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage." (wiki)
For surely there's no other superstar (deity?) that has anything like Elton's record for guest appearances at funerals for friends.
So where to begin...
Let's not start from here, let's go over there to the man-made-god who 'was' Mercury.
"Freddy Mercury voted Top Rock God" - the god who was Queen died on 24 November, 1991. His death sentence was heralded to the world just a day earlier. It was during that most auspicious of times for a man-made-god to die. perhaps we could call them the Kennedy days.
Just a very, very few were granted audience to the Zorastrian finale that was Freddie's leave-taking, among these of course, was Elton John.
In all these, perhaps preposterous, presumptions, I cannot say if I believe Elton consciously fulfills his roles or if it is done uncosnciously. These 'great ones' who live among us are not like us. They seem capable of holding & generating a power that most of us cannot even imagine. Could you, would you, walk out on a stage in front of say twenty thousand people & bewitch them to such a degree that they become a single emotional entity? Really??
Let's back up a bit & turn the clock back to 1974.
"28th November 1974 was Thanksgiving Day as well as the date that an Elton John concert at New York's Madison Square Gardens turned into a very special event. Towards the end of the evening Elton was joined onstage by close friend and fellow musician John Lennon. Together they performed three numbers -'Whatever Gets You Through The Night','Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' and Ï Saw Her Standing There'. Lennon's performance of the last number surprised many as he has never been known to sing a Mccartney song before. This was the last concert appearance by John Lennon."
It was Elton who heralded (announced) that Lennon's new album would get to number one. And he made a bet to the effect that Lennon would have to get up on stage with him next time he performed. That performance was Lennon living up to his part of the bet.
Ok fast forward 6 years.
Elton & friends gather to say farewell in the cathedral of Milan. It is time for Versace's trek to the underworld.
Six weeks later Diana is dead. Elton turns in the performance of all our lifetimes. ...Uh Ok I'm getting the inner tug that says to stop here - a rush to the finish line will leave too much unsaid,
for this performance is the culmination of a chief priest's life's work...
Lest we forget, Elton John serenades the newly deceased Pharaoh Hermenthotip in the Futurama's "A Pharaoh to Remember. " He sings the pharaoh to his rest with a revised version of Crocodile Rock. Elton is then tipped into the tomb, presumably so he can fulfil his role as pychopomp.
More to follow...
Well I didn't think I'd be back so quickly
I finally remembered something that Freddie Mercury's statue has been trying to remind me of every time I pass this way.
"In the middle of Don Preston's synthesizer solo on "King Kong", the place suddenly caught fire."
Camping out just down the road were Deep Purple;
On the lake geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didnt have much time
Frank zappa and the mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky"
22 years later on 4th December, (the date of the fire), Frank Zappa dies.
4th December is the Roman festival of Bona Dea, "the perpetually virginal goddess, associated with virginity and fertility in women". "In the Roman mythology, Vulcan (god of fire) shared his realm with Bona Dea". "Bona Dea ('the Good Goddess') is a Roman fertility goddess, especially worshipped by the Roman matrons." - Frank Zappa's & the Mothers, were playing the night Montreaux Casino on the shores of Lake Geneva was set alight...hmmm
Just to give an inkling of how famous "Smoke on the Water" (or "Fire over Lake Geneva") is - when I type it into Google it comes in with 12,800.000 results (that's just a fraction more than this blog gets).