I remember vividly the day Elton John came to my little town. It was like a breath of life from another planet. For, let's face it, in Market Rasen, it was akin to a hundred big events in one, but with unprecedented glitter. Indeed, in the 19th century, Charles Dickens said that you could fire a cannon down the main street at 10 pm on a Saturday evening and you wouldn't hit anyone. Not much has changed, even now. Sadly Elton didn't stop to say hello to the little kid I was. He still left an impact though, just as his songs were an integral part of the soundtrack of my youth. For Elton was in Rasen for a wedding of Bernie Taupin, his close friend and lyricist. Bernie was, in part, 'one of us' - born a Lincolnshire 'yella belly', spending part of his own upbringing locally, and attending Market Rasen Secondary Modern School. Some of Bernie's lyrics reflect this, including the song 'Saturday NIght's Alright for Fighting' (partly an anthem to the experience of the Aston Arms and other places of Market Rasen 'entertainment'). Linking up with Elton was Bernie's way out, and maybe, somewhere in my consciousness, their story was a promise of an alternative pathway for myself and my childhood friends. Was stepping on 'the Yellow Brick Road' possible for us too? The concluding tour of Elton's career, and the release of the film Rocketman brings this back. There's much I owe to this influence - particularly in learning, so slowly and painfully, to sing 'Your Song' as my own song...
Your Song and relationships
'Your Song' is my favourite 'Elton John classic', though there are many more which would be found on a favourite music playlist, Partly this is because of its haunting, and naive, reminder of youthful affections. Indeed, as it happens, the Bernie Taupin-Elton John link-up is slightly mirrored in my own relationship with one of my own closest friends. For just as I followed a few years behind Bernie in my own schooldays, my friend followed behind Reg Dwight (Elton John's original persona) at school in Pinner. We too have not always stayed together, and our collaborations are much less impressive (!), yet there is a bond between us which is forged by a truly genuine mutual appreciation, deep friendship, and connection through thick and thin. Perhaps one of us is also more adventurous - and, yes, of course 'queer' - but we connect. I so love my friend for who he is and how he has traveled with me over the years. Both of us certainly share admiration for the achievements of our famous school predecessors. 'Your Song' is part of that, but much more...
'Sweet freedom' speaking to the 'queer' in me
The lyrics of 'Your Song' still speak closely to my adolescence. Literally, "I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss', as I frequently daydreamed at home, pondering love and 'being', with my gangling legs and awkward seeming body dangling out my bedroom window. It is a song of the awkward in love and identity, yearning for the other yet struggling for words. I would sing it, or have it sing in me. Sometimes I would attach it to my first real girlfriend, and my bumbling efforts to relate. Yet there was always more. When asked, Bernie Taupin has always affirmed 'Your Song' as one of his favourites, but refused to identify to whom it was originally written. For myself, I believe there may be an element in the song of a very particular love for Elton John himself: just as I can hear and sing that song and think, in different ways, of my friend, as well as my first girlfriend, and, of course, also my extraordinary soul friend and wife. However, for myself, I have come to see that 'Your Song' was ultimately actually about me, as I struggled to love the person I was and might become. For, as the film Rocketman highlights, it can be so hard to love yourself, not least if you are 'queer' . Literally, as well as metaphorically, we sometimes need others to tell us, and, sometimes, to carry us. The song 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight', for example, is thus not simply Elton John's story, but many others. 'Roped and tied... hypnotised', so many of us also need 'sweet freedom' to whisper in our ear:
You're a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away bye bye
- and Elton himself has been such a magnificent butterfly as an example!
Loving ourselves, becoming Rocketmen - and Rocketwomen
Your Song' was thus my song. As a 'queer' (transgender) person who couldn't see what I was, its words have admittedly taken so long to own. How many times did I look into the mirror and feel it impossible to say 'yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen', even though I've known, in theory, that I was one of God's own 'special creations' and my eyes, like everyone else's, were truly precious? It is so hard for many of us to do, but we truly taste that 'sweet freedom' when we get to a place when we can own it for ourselves, and can tell ourselves, as well as 'tell everybody':
...this is your song
It may be quite simple but
Now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
That was/is part of the gift of Elton John, and Bernie Taupin, to so many of my generation: the message that we too can, in our own ways, step out onto our Yellow Brick Road; the owning of the reality that, indeed, 'I'm not like the man they think I am at home'; and the inspiration to fly, not just like a butterfly but like a Rocketman - or, still better, a Rocketwoman - even with a touch of Elton's fabulous show and glitter..
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.