It was Friday and I was anxious for the final school bell to ring. We were going to visit Aunt Patti for the weekend who had just bought Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, so nothing else mattered.
When we got to her house, my sister and I played it so many times on Aunt Patti's record player, that we wore grooves into that vinyl double-album set. We stayed up late that night having long conversations over the lyrics, the album art and the dreams that this work gave us permission to have. We were two young Black girls living in the bosom of the Englewood community of Chicago with our mother, in a one-bedroom apartment filled with hopes that our lives would someday reach far beyond the complications of west 74th Street.
After the "Farewell, Yellow Brick Road" tour was announced, I revisited that album. It was then I realized that "All the Girls Love Alice" was really about a young lesbian. Upon reflection, this made me laugh at my youthful naivete of not knowing back then what the word lesbian meant. I just wondered, "Why did all the girls love Alice?" Maybe that is why I would stare at the picture next to the lyrics so quizzically.
On Feb. 15, 2019 at the Allstate Arena, John graced this stage for the last time, completing many full-circle moments for himself and his audience. Although he played an earlier leg of the tour at the United Center in October 2018, he was not only bidding farewell to fans but also to past venues that still held memories. Coming to the Allstate Arena mattered. He sentimentally shared between songs that part of the "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" video, featuring George Michael, was shot here ( when the spot was called the Rosemont Horizon ). He further noted that Chicago was also special to him because this is where he got sober, restarting his life.
The stage looked like the set of a Broadway show. Some of the gold bricks that framed it had worded etchings like Soul Train and Gucci on them. The back wall behind the band was the main screen, with smaller screens on each side of the stage. Every image was a part of the story of his life. The multimedia presentation of videos, lights and photos added new twists and imagination to the work of John and his lifelong collaborator, Bernie Taupin.
"Bennie and the Jets" unpacked memories for many in the audience, turning them back into the teenagers and young adults they were when they first heard those introductory notes. This song crossed over to Black audiences, landing him as one of the few white entertainers on the Saturday television show Soul Train in the 1970s. Although that moment was nowaalong with many of his other firstsin the rearview mirror of tonight's tuxedoed balladeer, you could not tell it from the precision and passion of his delivery. He played this song and every other one like an unknown singer working to win over a new audience.
John played a slew of hits ( "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "Rocket Man," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and "Candle in the Wind," among them ). Although he has not been a radio darling in years, that has not mattered. He has remained relevant inside and outside of the music world. He proudly talked about his work in raising money and awareness for AIDS, along with his concern for those affected by the disease. The video tribute to this cause stated that the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised, to date, more than $400 million.
As the concert was moving into the final stretch, John said, "I've had enough applause to last a million life times and I want to say 'thank you.'" The audience erupted into even more applause, bringing him to speechless tears. He gave himself a moment then charged into even more music, ending with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The audience sung, cheered, clapped and criedincluding me.