I was on the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open at Moby Disc Records in Van Nuys, California, on November 5, 1971. Had to have the first copy of Elton John’s LP, Madman Across the Water.
Why? Because I had spent the previous year wearing the grooves off Tumbleweed Connection. My teenage ears and heart were evolving rapidly. The breakup of the Beatles hit me harder than a Liverpool winter. Elton and The Who saved me from a prolonged pathetic pimpled depression—but mostly Sir E. because I’m the son of a piano player.
When I sliced open the denim blue sleeve and inhaled that unique almost-glue aroma signifying magical new music was seconds away, I went crazy.
Madman meet mad kid.
The record opened with “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon,” back-to-back six-minute orchestrated rock opuses proclaiming with clarion verve, “Elton’s returned and he ain’t fucking around.” And it just got better. “Razor Face,” “Holiday Inn,” “Rotten Peaches,” “Indian Sunset,” the aching title track—Madman endures. To this archetype fan, it remains Elton’s watermark effort.
Four decades later, the album and the artist remain vital. The ivory avatar is stronger, funnier, faster, tighter and more confident than ever. He’s risen from being little Reggie Dwight of Middlesex, England, to Sir Elton of the palace of Caesar. He’s a seven-figure Las Vegas rock star with a Colosseum residency, The Million Dollar Piano. And both are coming to the big screen.
The film version of the spectacular Million Dollar Piano concert will screen in cinemas on March 18 and 26. It will play in an expected 500 American theaters and in more than 40 countries. But is it gracing our own neon village, where the spectacle was born? The answer to that, oddly enough, is an 88-key twinkling no. Reason enough to catch the Rocket Man in the flesh.
I’ve seen Elton live dozens of times and have enjoyed his Las Vegas shows since Red Piano landed in The Colosseum at Caesars Palace 10 years ago. I wasn’t that into Red Piano’s David LaChappelle influence—too much bombast and boob.
Then Million Dollar Piano arrived in 2008. This one got it right. Nearly four years in the making, the state-of-the-art piano displays imagery complementing Elton’s iconic songs. The cataclysmic keyboard weighs nearly 3,200 pounds. And you thought only metal was heavy.
Thanks to my friend, DC Parmet, Elton’s tour accountant/tour manager and a loyal fan of my long-deceased rock magazine, RIP, my access has been solid gold. Last residency, I made an overnighter from L.A. with high school pal and legendary guitarist, Steve “Luke” Lukather. Luke played on three Elton discs in the early ’80s, but he hadn’t seen Bennie or his Jets in 20 years. During their loving post-show reunion, I noshed in the elegant private dressing room holding area, chatting with Michael Bublé.
“My manager told me to see Elton for inspiration,” the Canadian superstar said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
So was I.
Million Dollar Piano’s set list features rapturous, extended, free-form renditions of Madman’s “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon,” as well as a meditative, almost psychedelic, “Indian Sunset.” From hearing “Tiny Dancer” for the first time on brand-new vinyl to watching Elton perform the now-classic on a major stage, my Almost Famous journalistic trek had come full circle.
Remember the wartime ballad from the 1970 Elton John LP, “Sixty Years On?” Bernie Taupin penned the ephemeral verse, And the future you’re giving me holds nothing for a gun/I’ve no wish to be living 60 years on. Well, Sir E. turns 67 on March 25, and he has every reason to be living. Part of the birthday celebration includes the super tricked-up re-release of 1973’s seminal Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Since you can’t see the film, get to Caesars and witness a master at the top of his game. Tell them a madman sent you.