I went in the room when I heard “I Will Follow,” and joined in the critique of Bono’s mullet (for the record—I fell in love with U2 at the age of ten after my babysitter played “War” for me, so I can live with the hair. I couldn’t really live with Zoo TV). Countless other acts followed, Bonnie Rait, REM, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits (with an unlined face—I always think of him as an ancient man), and then Elton John. Oh oh.
Elton John spelled trouble. The reason’s a bit complicated.
As much as I hate the whole “Candle in the Wind” crap, that isn’t the reason why Elton John makes me cringe. The man made some beautiful music in the 70s. He’s phenomenally talented. I used to really love listening to him when I was a kid. Until this one evening when I was ten, I thought he was amazing. After that evening, I didn’t listen to him again for nearly twenty years. Now I can listen to him, but I usually have to tell people my Elton John story. So here’s my Elton John story.
When I was a kid, my parents and their friends used to celebrate each other’s birthdays with rowdy dinner parties. The kind with lots of booze and inappropriate humor. We kids would always wind up stuck upstairs (we’d sneak down, but we’d usually be caught and sent back upstairs to bed).
Well, I’d just turned ten when the party was again at my parents’ house. I’d done my sneaking around and had been sent to bed. I must have fallen asleep, because it was really dark when I woke up. Something was wrong, though, because Elton John was being played rather loudly on the stereo. I couldn’t get back to sleep because of the music, so I decided to go downstairs to ask if they could be quiet, or barring that, if I could have some cake.
I padded down the stairs, and discovered that the house was dark. Perhaps the party moved to the porch, I thought. I wandered over to the porch door, and it was dark there too. No one seemed to be here anymore. Huh.
In my family, we didn’t do things like shut doors and such. Things were pretty open, so I didn’t think anything at all about heading to my parents’ room to tell them to turn the music off. I walked toward my parents’ room, and yep, you guessed it.
My parents were having sex.
Now I was ten. I knew what sex was. My parents had given me the basic rundown as to how my sister and I came into the world, and I had watched enough HBO at my friends’ houses to know the other details. What I didn’t get was why in the hell anyone would want to do such a thing. It was so, so… Ick.
Not one to keep things to myself, I decided to make myself heard. I shouted out, “I know what you’re doing, and I think it’s DISGUSTING!!!!”
I’ve never seen my parents move so fast in all my days. My dad was out of that room in about two seconds flat. The music was off a second later.
My mom, realizing that she was going to have to deal with this, gathered up some blankets and tried to soothe her distressed child.
“Come here,” she said, and patted the bed.
“It’s OK,” she said. “I think we need to have a little talk. Please sit down.”
I sat down. “What did you think we were doing, honey?” my mother asked me.
I stared down at the covers, shame flooding through me. I couldn’t say it at first, but I managed to mumble it, still staring at the pattern of my parents’ quilt, “Humping. You and dad were humping.”
“Well, honey, that isn’t what I call it…” and she went on to explain that when two married people love each other, blah dee blah dee blah… After she finished her explanation, I felt better about things, but I still needed to make something clear. “If I get a little brother or sister out of this, I’m going to be really mad. One’s enough.”
My mother replied, “Well, we’re not trying to have a baby, honey, so don’t worry.”
“Then why were you doing it?” I demanded. This unfortunately led to more conversation about loving people and sex and nonsense like that. I was sorry I’d brought it up. I went back upstairs and tried to sleep. I couldn’t get Elton John music out of my head.
The next month or so was awkward as ass around my parents, especially my dad (there was no eye contact for a good bit), but eventually things returned to normal. And about a year or two later, I had an inkling as to what the fuss was all about.
But I still couldn’t listen to Elton John without wincing. Elton John equaled catching my parents in the sack. Elton John was yucky. People would occasionally play Elton John music, and I’d tell them to turn that shit off. If they wouldn’t turn it off, I’d tell them my story. Problem was, they’d usually laugh, and I’d have to tell it again when other people were around.In the retelling, I’ve realized just what an appalling little shit I was, sounding off like that. My poor, poor parents.
It seems that time has also gone a long way toward mending that moment, because as I watched Elton John perform “Tiny Dancer,” on the TV last night, I once again thought that he was pretty great.
But I still had to tell my Elton John story after the song was over.