Friday, September 14, 2012

Elton John Is My Madeleine

I never considered myself an Elton John fan.  That was my sister Jenny's thing.  Before she became born-again and turned to Christian music, Elton John was one of her favorites.  I remember rifling through her LPs when I was a little kid, sitting Indian-style as we called it then, starring at the booklet that came with Tumbleweed Connection.

Recently I've developed a new obsession: Early Elton John.  I was never much of a fan of his over-the-top fancified pop of the Eighties and beyond, and after Jenny moved out and took her albums, I kinda forgot how much I used to love his songs when I was a kid.

You know how people buy sports cars and get face lifts when they turn forty?  I think I'm experiencing my own kind of second childhood.  Elton John is my madeleine:

Image source: Wikipedia

"No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea."  --Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Music is the source of my involuntary memories.  I close my eyes and listen to Tumbleweed Connection and I'm back on Bucher Drive in St. Joseph, Missouri in the early Seventies.

Enjoy it with now me, won't you?

I get it now, listening to this gospel-chorded rocker, why my Christian sister liked Elton John before she became born again.  But as a young adult, labeling myself as a lesbian, when I'd hear an old Elton John song on the radio, I'd flash back to my early childhood sitting in our bedroom with my sister Jenny, listening to her Elton John albums, and I thought it was pretty ironic that Jenny was the one who turned me on to Elton John, one of the earliest pioneers of the LGBT-rights movement.  During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, John outed himself as bisexual.

I heard about the controversy through the grapevine in my own living room as I sat watching TV with Jenny and our brother Pat.  I was about five, Jenny about thirteen, Pat about fifteen.  Elton John was performing on some TV show.  In my memory it was "The Captain and Tennille Show" but after some quick and dirty research, I have no proof that Elton John was ever a guest.  Facts don't matter much in my stories, so I'm sticking with my memory.  I was paying less attention to the TV show itself and more attention to my siblings' conversation.

"I can't believe you like him, Jenny.  He's a fag, you know."  Pat smacked his gum and rolled his eyes at Jenny.

"I don't care.  I loooooooove him!"  Jenny squealed.

"What's a fag?"  I asked.

Pat and Jenny looked at each other and burst into laughter.

"What's so funny?"  I whined.  I hated to be left out of the joke.

"Nothing!  Nevermind!"  Jenny covered her face with a throw pillow to stifle her giggles.

"No!  I wanna know!"  I whined louder.

"It means he likes to kiss boys instead of girls."  Jenny explained.

I don't remember what happened after that.  I think we all just sat silently and watched the rest of the show together.  Maybe they talked some more and I ignored them, focused on the idea that a boy would want to kiss another boy.

But then again, I kinda wanted to kiss my friend Courtney.  I had met her after storytime at the library.  I remember her distinctly because she was the only girl I'd ever met that had a very short hair cut.  In fact, when we met, the first words out of my mouth were, "Are you a boy or a girl."  When she said, "A girl," I said, "Ok.  You wanna play with me?"

I never got to kiss Courtney.  We've long since lost contact.  I don't even remember her last name.  But you know what's funny?  Now that I think about it, you know who Courtney reminds me of?  Rachel Maddow.  No wonder I like The Rachel Maddow Show.  It has nothing to do with my interest in progressive politics.  I just still have a crush on Courtney after all these years.