#TBT: Elton John and Being a Rock Star

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Elton John and Being a Rock Star.

“Rock star” is one of those terms that has experienced a lot of inflation over the last few years. A rock star used to be someone who sold millions of records and had legions of fans and was, in a way, a living god. Someone with fame, wealth and popularity almost beyond imagining for us mere mortals.

And then it became a term that meant someone with really special talent in any field, and then it became a term that meant “you did a good job doing your ordinary job in an acceptable way,” and then it became an energy drink, a reality show and by that time, it became nothing.

But I saw [in 2012] one of the dying breed of actual rock stars on stage last weekend: Elton John at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, in his new show The Million Dollar Piano.

(I came up with what I thought was a hilarious joke about the title of the show, which I said was made up of the two things Elton said he would need in order to do another show in Vegas. Maybe it’s just me.)

Anyway, the show was great. Yes, he had to back off a lot of the high notes in many of the songs, and I don’t doubt for a second that 10 years ago, this would have been a better performance. But I’ll tell you this: His personal charisma and the amount of amazing material he has covered over his career made it a really incredible time.

He was, in the true sense of the word, a rock star on stage. Anybody would have seen it. Charisma and great songs are part of it, but there’s also this confidence in doing things his own way that comes through. Elton is kind of a freak of nature, and that’s part of what has made him remarkable. He took a few moments during his show to give the audience little glimpses inside what life was like for him at different moments in his career. The one that stuck with me most was when he said that when Bernie Taupin handed him the lyrics to “Your Song,” he knew they had reached a new level in their careers, that this piece of work was a breakthrough, before he even wrote the music for it.

But here’s the other thing I took away from being in the presence of a true rock star: I suspect they’re a dying breed. Not great musicians, obviously. There are and always will be great musicians. And certainly not great personalities or people making incredible contributions to the world. I mean actual rock stars who command this kind of adoration for decades and decades. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong on this, but my reasoning is that the baby boomer generation was statistically abnormal in its tendency to produce rock stars because it was: a) abnormally large as a population cohort, and b) totally obsessed with music. Yes, Gen Y is as large as the baby boomer generation, but they are not as focused on music as the boomers. They love music, of course (they’ve all got two ears and a heart, as Jack Donaghy would say), but their interests are more dispersed over a broader range of things. The result of this is that at the margin, where greatness is truly found, we’re not likely to find as many of those great ones now or in the future.

Which means we’re living through the tail end of a golden age of rock stars, which of course explains the concert boom of the last decade and the concert bust of the last few years. Will Skrillex be playing Caesars (or the equivalent) in 2052? It’s possible, I suppose. I wouldn’t exactly bet against it, but I doubt it somehow. I wouldn’t be unhappy if I turned out to be wrong about that (or, heck, just around to find out).

But I do know that if you want to see the generation of true rock stars from the boomer era, you’re running out of chances. You might want to get to Vegas and see Captain Fantastic while you still can.

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