Things weren’t great growing up. Dad took a leave of absence from his responsibilities for a time, and mom… well, mom was overwhelmed. Depression runs rampant in my bloodline, so for the better part of two years, we basically lived in my Grandmother’s apartment on 40th Street, upstairs from my aunt and uncle, and their six children…
Six women between the ages of 8 and 18…
I was 9.
It was an education to say the least.
You can learn a lot from six teenage women.
A lot of stuff you don’t want to learn too, but still.
There were boyfriends, and breakups, and hissy fits.
There was love and laughter.
There was food, and birthdays, and endless chores.
There were stolen blouses and borrowed earnings.
There were tons of other girls too. All shapes, sizes and colors, parading in and out of the house on what seemed like a continual basis.
I had a front row seat for it all.
Other than Mary Ingalls and Mary-Ellen Walton, my first boyhood crushes were cast towards some of those cackling teenaged girls who had no time for a 10-year-old cousin, but who nevertheless made sure they lingered on the ladder as they entered the pool during the summer months.
Trust me, they knew I was watching.
Above all, there was music. Lots of music. A constant stream of sounds coming from stereos and car radios, and transistors perched aside the barbecue.
It was those girls who first introduced me to Elton.
It seemed like the entire soundtrack of my early years was provided by Elton John. Don’t Shoot Me was the first record that I ever owned, soon to be followed by Yellow Brick Road. I knew every song and every lyric by the time I was ready for Junior High School.
By 1975, Kiss and Aerosmith had entered my world, along with all of the other hard rock bands that have shaped my life over the past 40 years.
But before Vedder, before Tyler, before even Morrison,
There was Elton.
My first Rock and Roll hero.
I can distinctly remember Thanksgiving night of 1974, when my cousin Doreen and her girlfriends were piling into the car that would take them to a magical place called Madison Square Garden. I can remember the pangs of jealousy as the car was pulling away. And I remember the sheer excitement in her voice as she recounted the evening’s events the next day when she told my disinterested mother all about the show.
“Aunt Babe, you know who showed up? John Lennon!”
“Who?” she responded.
“John Lennon! The Beatle!”
Little did any of us know that that would be one of the last performances of John’s life. I texted her today to remind her.
I’m still jealous.
Much like I knew I could never be Mickey Mantle, I knew I could never be Elton John. The voice, the talent; there are but a mere few that have the combination of skills that he has.
But I could be Bernie.
Bernie Taupin was the other half of the equation.
The wordsmith that put the words and phrases on the tongue of the flamboyant superstar from Middlesex.
Words and music.
There are only four faces on the Mount Rushmore of Rock and Roll poets.
I began my writing sojourns when a miserable English teacher by the name of Mrs. Bogash forced me to write in a journal everyday in order to pass her class.
I wish she was here so I could thank her.
But being the obstinate teenager that I was, I refused to comply to her wishes of writing a full page every day, so I wrote verses instead. Teenaged poems and depressing song lyrics that would one day blossom into songs and short stories, and eventually, a novel.
And so began my quest to find someone that would allow me to take the things I had written and convert them to songs that would change the world from a dark desolate place back to the Eden it was at the beginning.
I found him in the form of a skinny kid from the wrong side of 3rd avenue. I’m not sure if we met outside the girls gym at Fort Hamilton High School, or in the apartment of our mutual friend Chris Hickey, but we formed a bond over music despite the fact that he was all Tie-Dye and Grateful Dead, and I was black leather and Black Sabbath. We formed a 30 year musical partnership that has produced the greatest songs that no one has ever heard…
I’m sure he won’t be too thrilled that I compared him to a 71-year-old British queen who made his mark in sequined gowns, but he knows…
Words and Music.
I met her when I was 45, and had long since given up the idea of love and family, but that changed in time. She was 10 feet of beauty and sex appeal stuffed into 4 feet 11 inches of toughness. I was enamored from the start.
We shared a love of all things.
She loved Batman as much as I did.
She loved Vedder.
She loved Morrison.
And above all, she loved Elton.
Our First concert was Pearl Jam at Barclays. We went to every Batman movie they ever made. We traveled to Venice Beach and went to every one of Morrison’s old haunts, but we never got to see Elton.
In 2015, I threw caution to the wind and decided that we needed to be married. During the preparations for the wedding, I told her that I picked out the music and I was gonna surprise her.
“What if I don’t like the song you picked?”
“Then I picked the wrong girl.”
When I got to the courthouse, she handed me the boutonniere, only it wasn’t a real flower, it was the sheet music to Harmony, formed into the shape of a flower.
Needless to say, it was already the first song on playlist of the DJ at our reception.
“Looking for an island, in a boat upon the sea”
That was me. A boat lost at sea, looking for a safe place to land.
I found my rock, my muse, and nothing has ever been the same.
Back in 2016, when I was trying to rekindle my rock and roll dreams with Robbie Emery and Tommy Hoban, I came home from rehearsal feeling useless and depressed. I spent the evening marveling at how easily those two could deconstruct a song, learn the parts, and then recreate it in a different form. The talk of suspended 4ths and augmented 9ths made my head spin. I went home and shared my lament over a lack of talent and dedication.
As always, she was there.
“You do have talent and dedication, only yours is with a pen, not a piano.”
My muse. My Rock.
I sat down and wrote every day for two months and finished my first novel, Pretentious that spring.
Today is her birthday. I knew what she wanted. And she knew that I have an aversion to spending exorbitant amounts of money when there are bills to pay and cats to feed, so we didn’t speak of it.
And then I bit the bullet and hit the purchase button on Stub Hub.
I left the tickets in the card for her to find when she got up for work this AM. The excitement on her face was worth the price tag. It reminded me of a group of teenaged girls heading to the Garden back in ‘74.
Only this one is different. We’re not going to the Garden to see Elton.
He’s coming to Brooklyn to see us.
I’ll let you know how it turns out. Until then, follow the Yellow Brick Road.