SOMETIMES, young people are kind enough to give up their time to sing a few songs at the over-60s club. And, sometimes, the over-60s return the favour, and sing for the younger ones, while being paid a large amount of money for their trouble.
It was good to be old at the end of June. Bob Dylan, who is 70, performed to 20,000 in Finsbury Park, London. A few counties away, 69-year-old Paul Simon — of Simon and Garfunkel fame — was taking the applause in Glastonbury. On the south coast, the young whippersnapper Elton John, a mere 64, was hammering his piano with his band of long-haired pensioners at Hove cricket ground, in front of 17,000 souls, of which I was one.
Sir Elton has been writing and performing his songs (with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) for more than 40 years. He found fame in 1970 when “Your Song” emerged fully formed into the world to serenade a generation’s heartstrings.
Since then, he has been living the creative dream — although it has included a good number of emotional nightmares. Still, as he told us at the end of the show, after thanking us for our “love and support”, he is happier now than he has ever been, so he won’t mind a few thoughts on the gig.
I hesitate to use the word “gig”. The word has a bouncy, energetic feel, and Sir Elton – né Reginald Dwight — is both slightly overweight, and, as I say, well into his 60s. As he looked out across the crowd, he saw many who had grown older with him, whose era could be defined by his songs.
“‘Crocodile Rock?’ Great days. I was a student then.” “‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’? Oh, yes, that was when I was going through my first divorce.” It wasn’t as if there were no young people in the crowd. I sat next to a girl aged 20, who spent most of the time on her feet swaying and dancing with delight. But if you were a bald man with a paunch, you would not have felt alone.
Everyone got their money’s-worth. Sir Elton performed a two-and-a-half-hour set, ending, of course, with “Your Song”. If there were “Zimmer” moments, they occurred when his voice was exposed. Once vulnerable and light, it now has a gruff and assertive tone, which cannot scale the heights. Tunes written for the former voice now suffer; but new songs emerge from an older, wiser soul.
You lose and you gain with the passing years; and discerning the nature of this exchange in oneself is a precious insight. Like the live performances by Dylan and Simon, Sir Elton’s voice has lost some charm. But, to compensate, he has gained a wonderful body of work to draw from, which, surrounded by good people and a decent sound-system, he can reinterpret for the now. The performance is dead! Long live the performance!
Your song; it changes.