The question seemed strange. It came from a young girl I had a crush on (who we will just call Betty) while sitting on her couch watching Mtv--circa mid 1983. The video on the screen was called something like “I guess that’s why they call them the blues”. I’m not going to go back and look up the video to verify the details, but I seem to recall that Elton was sashaying along a boardwalk somewhere, making strange gestures with his eyebrows and lip-synching lyrics like “…rolling like thunder, under the covers…” while dressed in a purple top hat and a cane, and I think there were feathers involved in there somehow also.
I was 14 years old at that time and, as strange as it may seem, I didn’t fully know what being a homosexual entailed. All I knew was that calling someone a “faggot” was the worst insult possible—maybe even worse than being called a “nigger”. At 14 years old, those were the only two insults that automatically provoked a fight. And actually, in the case of “nigger”, it only applied if you were black; and since I grew up in a very rural Midwestern small town where there was only one black family in the entire population (plus one kid who was of mixed race), that meant that “faggot” was really the sole trigger call for automatic fisticuffs. Dickhead was acceptable, Stupid Asshole was fine, even Dirty Motherfucker wouldn’t necessitate a fight. But Faggot? That was it: the shit was on.
Needless to say my idea of what a homosexual was at that time was somewhat undeveloped, so when Betty asked me that question and it first dawned on me that Elton was a stick-eater, I kinda panicked. The timing of this possibility couldn't have been worse. I mean what the fuck was happening to the Rock Gods of my youth? John Lennon had been gunned down on the streets of New York. Bob Dylan had become a bible-thumping Jesus freak. Neil Young was making electronic music and being sued for it. And now Elton John was a homosexual? Seriously, what was next? A god-damned family TV show starring Ozzy Osbourne? This just could NOT be happening. There must be some kind of mistake. After all, I had grown up listening to, singing to, and *gasp* even dancing to Elton John songs. How could he be gay?
Maybe it was just some kind of mistake, I thought. Maybe I was falsely accusing Elton simply because his video seemed to be in line with the New Romantics (a fancy British term that meant “music for really, really gay people”) that was so in vogue at the time. That must be it, some kind of mistake. So that afternoon when I returned home I decided to do some research. I gathered all of the Elton John records that had been in heavy rotation on my parents' turntables during the mid-to late 1970's and put them into a stack next to the stereo. Certainly the lyrics from those records would provide the answer, for there was one thing I knew about Elton John: he had a huge Beatles fixation. For example, Elton copied the idea of his fictional rock band “Bennie and the Jets” from the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", going as far as even editing canned audience applause into “Bennie and the Jets”, just like the Beatles had done on Sgt. Pepper’s. Therefore if Elton was really gay then he would have put hidden messages in his songs—just as the Beatles had been known to do (and don’t dispute this—just ask Charlie Manson if you dont believe it).
So I began thumbing through my parent’s record collection, pulling out every Elton John album and single and given it a good hard look. The very first one that I randomly plopped the needle onto and began listening to was "Rocketman":
"I’m not the man they think I am at all…" (Roh-roh Shaggy).
"Oh no, no, no, I’m a “rocket man". ....
Rocketman? What the hell was a Rocketman? That’s when it dawned on me. A rocket, of course, is a classic phallic symbol. Elton is telling us that he's a rocket man. In other words, he's a penis man. Just like some guys consider themselves to be a leg man or a titty man or an ass man, Elton is a Penis man. He prefers penis. And where is it that Rockets go? To the moon, of course. And the moon is an obvious reference to the butt. So the entire song is one big homoerotic musical fantasy, detailing how Elton wants his butt to be probed by a space-penis-rocket-ship. This realization made me a bit sick to my stomach and then I started thinking of "Benny and the Jets" again, for a jet was just as phallic shaped as a rocket. The jets, in other words were penises.
I decided to lift the needle again, and my next random selection landed on a nice slow love ballad about..."Daniel"...a dude! The lyrics were revealing:
"I can see Daniel arriving tonight on a plane..."
(Oh Christ, wasn't there a single song of Elton's that didnt conjure up airbound phallic-shaped projectiles?!?)
"Lord, it looks like Daniel, must be a cloud in my eye... " (A penis-shaped cloud I bet).
Next I scooped up several of the Elton John 45s my parents had and began dropping the neddle on them. The first lyric I heard was:
"Don't let the sun go down on me!"
No, I quickly replaced that and heard:
"Philadephia freedom took me knee-high to a man!"
Knee-high to a man. This was too obvious. It was too much...Dazed and confused, I noticed a 45 that my mother bought in the early 80s, a tribute Elton had done to John Lennon called "Empty Garden". Certainly this couldn't have any secret homosexual-coded messages in it, could it? But halfway through the song I realized that Elton's obsession with John Lennon had huge homoerotic undertones. The garden, after all, is a common metaphor for the vagina; but Elton, of course, doesn't have a vagina. He has an "empty garden"-- in other words...a mangina...in other words, his ASSHOLE!!! So basically, Elton is singing to a dead John Lennon, "Won't you come out and play in my butthole, Johnny..."
Oh God, I felt as if I was going to be sick. Yet I still forced myself to find just one shred of proof that this was all just in my imagination. So I pulled out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in which the title track once again referenced the phallic-shapped projectile motif:
What do you think you'll do then, I bet that'll shoot down your plane.
But then there was also this:
Back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad...
My curiousity for an explanation led me to the liner notes. My first clue was that the actual song lyrics were not written by Elton, but by some guy named Bernie Taupin. That meant there were two of them! Suddenly this was all something more sinister. It was a full on homosexual conspiracy. The panic was starting to set in and an urgent need to go take a shower and cleanse myself of all the homo-ness that I had just been exposed to built inside of me. And the scariest part of this conspiracy was that I had been a victim of it. I mean, if I was listening to, and singing to these songs throughout my youth, then what did that say about me? I had even danced to these songs—and as every 14 year old will tell you, dancing is the closest thing you can do to sex, without actually having sex. So did this mean that I might be gay, too? Had these subliminal homoerotic/phallic symbols from Elton and Bernie's perverted imaginations brainwashed me into being a homo? Did I now have hidden homo-urges bubbling down in the deepest recess of my adolescent psyche?
I vowed there and then to never listen to another Elton John song as long as I lived. This vow became severely tested however when a few years later Princess Diana was killed and it became virtually impossible to turn on a TV or radio without hearing Elton's “Candle in the Wind” every five minutes. And every time this song came on, instead of thinking of Princess Di, all I could see was Elton John’s little candle (penis) dangling in the wind as he sashayed a boardwalk somewhere on that purple-pink landscape from the “I guess that’s why the call them the blues” video. So to further distance myself from all of the Elton John homo-ness I decided I would only listen to the most masculine, non-homo Rock I could find. That ofcourse meant large doeses of heavy metal ala Freddy Mercury's Queen and Rob Halford' Judas Priest. Certainly that would rid me of all the homo-ness. And thus began my Summer of 1983 Hair Metal phase... *
*Ironically, not long after my short-lived Summer of '83 Hair Metal phase Elton (perhaps realizing that the Betty's of America were catching on to his gayness) went out and got married to a female. The marrage didn't last of course and by the late 80s anyone who didn't realize that Elton was in fairy land had to be deaf and blind and Republican.
For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: ED WAGEMANN