Monday, February 27, 2017

Elton John: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)

I've always been amazed at how certain pieces of music or records can bring back vivid, sometimes even poignant, memories from the distant past. This record, especially, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, is one of records. (On some days, I might argue that Someone Saved My Life Tonight is Elton's finest composition, even though there are some other songs I like better). I feel nostalgia when I hear it. I feel a sense of lost time when I hear it. I feel a sadness that I can never experience those evenings where we were so wrapped up in music, we thought of little else. These were the days when we hung out in my friend's living room, while our parents smoked and/or drank, and played cards in the next room. We played record after record until my parents decided that it was time to go home or until I fell asleep on the couch or the floor.

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me when was the last time I listened to an album. And, he meant active listening, like we used to do. Sure, we have busy lives now. We have kids that take up our time and we have Netflix. There is cooking and cleaning and all of the other obligations of parenthood and adulthood, but there is also a feeling that we are a step removed from the act of really listening to music.

So, he meant, why do we no longer listen to music? This means giving all of your attention to the  music and the record cover, to the images, the lyric sheet (if there was one). It meant absorbing the music. The record cover was a huge part of the experience and this record's jacket was one that I couldn't stop looking at. To me, listening to a cassette recording a friend's record was nowhere near the same experience and it was often disappointing. Something was missing. The music needed the record cover. CD cases and tiny booklets have never had the same impact. And now we have disembodied MP3 files, which are like orphans in a digital world.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is not the best Elton John record, but the memories are so strong that I give it a special place. When I hear the opening piano riff from Someone Saved My Life Tonight, I feel almost like I am back in that dark living room, listening to Elton on terrible speakers in one of those stereo cabinets and hoping that the card game could keep going in the next room, so we could get to side two. Of course, I didn't really know what the song was about, but that didn't really matter.

Sadly, this may be the last really good Elton John record, though there are some highlights on later records.

"My friends out there rolling round the basement floor"

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