Elton John, Lonely at the Top: Rolling Stone's 1976 Cover Story
'My life in the last six years has been a Disney film and now I have to have a person in my life,' John told RS
Elton John walked shyly into the corner room of his sprawling suite on the tenth floor of the Sherry-Nether-land Hotel in New York, delivered a bone-crushing handshake and assumed the middle of a white sofa. He rarely does interviews and when his eyes, behind blue-tinted glasses, look away, they reveal his discomfort. His show in Madison Square Garden the night before (August 17th), with its dancing bananas and flying trousers, was the big finish to a sellout 16-day swing through the East and, by report, marked his farewell to the road for a long time, maybe even for good.
"It was a pretty weird night, a very sad occasion, I must say. It came to the point where I sang 'Yellow Brick Road' and I thought, 'I don't have to sing this anymore,' and it made me quite happy inside." He sighed and ran a finger along the coffee table edge. "Yeah, it could be the last gig forever. I'm definitely not retiring but I want to put my energies elsewhere for a while. Y'know, I feel really strange at this particular point in time. I always do things by instinct and I just know it's time to cool it; I mean, who wants to be a 45-year-old entertainer in Las Vegas like Elvis?"
Five days earlier, Elton had taken over the DJ's chair at a radio station here to blast critics for reviews that quibbled with his popularity and lack of musical significance. He attacked John Rockwell of the New York Times with special relish, on-air calling him an "asshole." And what had set him off that day?
"One glass of Dom Perignon. I was drunk and feeling goosey. I just thought, 'Oh Christ, what an outrage.'" He shot an unsure glance my way, then returned his eyes to the coffee table. "Really took over, didn't I? Don't remember half the things I said. I doubt if John Rockwell was even at the concert. It was the most piss elegant review I've ever seen: 'Performers come and go but we rock critics who have to deal with them... .' I thought, 'Who the fuck is John Rockwell!'"
Everyone said how shy Elton would be. But, always the consummate recording expert, he played to my tape machine on the table so that later the playback was warm, lively, fun. No hint on it that Elton barely stirred from his spot on the sofa, or rarely looked this way. It is some flip side of his personality that gets him to boogieing atop white pianos in spangles and feathers.
But by the time two Perrier waters were delivered to us, the talk had loosened up — considerably. We ranged freely over sensitive matters, loss of privacy, his sex life, love frustrations and the paradoxical kind of isolation felt by very popular entertainers.
What do you do hiding here in a hotel suite all these weeks?
"Dusting, Hoovering, polishing ... ha ha. [Elton has a ready chuckle.] Naw. I go to bed after a show. I'm not one to go clubbing. I used to but I'm too tired now and usually just play records or watch TV. I went dancing one night at 12 West [a downtown members-only gay disco] and that was great fun. Everyone left me alone. They were so into their disco records and passing their poppers. If the Queen of England had been standing in the middle of the floor with a tiara on her head, nobody would have paid any attention."
Is the band breaking up?
"The split is completely amicable. [Sigh, finger along the table again] It's silly keeping them under contract for a year, because, ah, I might never work again. On the other hand I might, but I don't want them hanging on, or any restrictions around my neck. I can foresee when I come back, we'll get together again. But now they'll all be going off doing their own thing, forming their ... I don't know what they'll be doing. But I'm sure they won't be inactive."