It’s a cold, cold wind…

My daughter requested that I blog about this song – it is her favorite Elton John song.  I’m quite fond of it, too.

American Triangle is about the death of Matthew Shephard, a gay college student from Wyoming who was brutally murdered in 1998.  I remember hearing about this when it happened – I was shocked and disturbed.  Actually, horrified would be more accurate.

Matthew Shepard

Only 22, Matthew was brutalized and tortured by two men (and I use that term very loosely), tied to a fence and left to die.  He was discovered 18 hours later, mistaken for a scarecrow.  He died 3 days later.

Shameful.

The song was originally titled “American Tragedy.”   To say the least.

‘Western skies’ don’t make it right
‘Home of the brave’ don’t make no sense
I’ve seen a scarecrow wrapped in wire
Left to die on a high ridge fence
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold, cold wind
It’s a cold wind blowing, Wyoming

It’s painful to hear those words, knowing this happened in America.

The song came out in 2001, three years after Matthew’s death.  I remember reading a review of “Songs from the West Coast,” and the reviewer was describing this song as preachy.  Oh come on.  Elton has said that Matthew’s death truly disturbed him and he wanted to do a song in tribute, so he asked Bernie to write the words.

I find the lyrics quite moving (even though they are painfully, brutally specific) and the melody appropriately haunting.  The sadness and anger is palpable in Elton’s vocals.  And the background harmonies by Rufus Wainwright are a perfect match to Elton’s voice.

See two coyotes run down a deer
Hate what we don’t understand

That last line says it all, doesn’t it?  If we could just stop hating, even – and especially – when we don’t understand.  Please.

American Triangle

American Triangle (Songs from the West Coast – 2001)

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You linger on my lips like confession

Oh, what an amazing line!  Classic Taupin, that’s for sure.  Bernie, you never cease to amaze me.

Surprise, surprise – I really like this song! But for a change, it was the arrangement/musicality (AKA Davey’s guitar!!!) that caught my ear when I first heard it.  Blue Avenue is one of those songs that I don’t listen to very often, but when I do, I have to play it over and over (and over) again.

And it’s no use each way we lose
You and me at the crossroads of Blue Avenue
Hit and run hearts collide here
True love passes through
Looks like we’ve got a wreck babe
Up on Blue Avenue
Up on Blue Avenue
Blue Avenue

A song about love at a crossroads – an interesting metaphor (although there are a few in this song).  Could be an illicit romance, could be a love past its prime…Elton’s vocals (especially the “ave-e-nue-oo-oo-oo”) help paint a mysterious picture as to whether they will make it through those crossroads.

Two hearts get entangled
Dirty minds they go to town
Everyone’s got an angle
Little lies get spread around

As I alluded to earlier, Davey Johnstone is magnificent when he comes in with his guitar in for the second verse.   Just like I have a thing for British accents, I have a thing for acoustic guitar.  Oh my.

Blue Avenue

And you can even hear a live version

Blue Avenue (Sleeping with the Past – 1989)

The Top Ten (as if…)

My Top Ten favorite EJ songs (as if I can really limit it to 10 – puhleeeze!):

  1. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (despite the fact that it is about NYC, the lyrics are  pure poetry, Elton’s voice is perfection and the orchestration/musicality is magnificent)
  2. Amoreena (“I can see her, sittin’ eatin’, apples in the evening, the fruit juice, flowing slowly slowly slowly down the bronze of her body”)
  3. The Greatest Discovery (once again, poetry – and it always makes my cry! Ask my sister Cindy about the time I tried to read the words to her)
  4. Original Sin (The voice!  And, of course, the lyrics: “Up in the balcony, all the Romeo’s are bleeding for your hand, blowing theater kisses, reciting lines they don’t understand”)
  5. Where to Now St. Peter (“Dazzling, dancing, half enchanted in my merlin sleep” and of course the floaty melody)
  6. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (A classic)
  7. Mandalay Again (A recent add – “I was younger then and foolish, come back, I’d like to find the time”)
  8. Carla/Etude/Fanfare/Chloe (Beautiful orchestration and of course my daughter’s namesake song)
  9. Tiny Dancer (How could it not be on the list?)
  10. Planes (A recently discovered favorite, it’s actually an outtake, believe it or not)

And there you go…at least, that’s today’s version of the list.  I reserve the right to change my mind at any time!

I love your gypsy hair and dark brown eyes

Ok, so there’s a funny story behind this song (at least I think it’s funny).  I was in college when I first heard Elton’s Song, and I must admit that I thought (or more accurately, hoped) that he could very well be singing about me:

I love your gypsy hair
And dark brown eyes
Always unprepared
For your pointed replies

And then I read a review of the album (The Fox), and the reviewer described the song as a Elton’s “homoerotic lament.”  HEAVY.SIGH.

So that’s my funny story.  Today I can LOL, but back then, I could only be disappointed.

It’s hard to grin and bear
When you’re standing there
My lips are dry
I catch your eye and look away

Haven’t we all felt that way about someone, sometime?  Truly, it’s irrelevant your gender or sexual orientation.

I do find this song quite poignant, regardless of the “true” meaning.  Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, let me submit that meaning is in the ears and heart of the listener.  So to me, it is still my song just the same.  (I know, silly girl).

Elton takes a mournful approach to the music, quite appropriate for the lyrics, because the protagonist is ashamed of his feelings.  And the music is also quite stark, which is reminiscent of how alone he feels.

Now seeing the video (it was banned in 1981 because it was quite controversial), I realize I was way off in my aspirations for this song, but it is still a beautiful piece, one that I can’t help but hold close to my heart even to this day.

His Song

Oh yes, the lyrics to this song were not written by Bernie, but by Tom Robinson.

Elton’s Song (The Fox – 1981)

This song has a title, no words, just a tune…

Ok, so I’ve butchered the lyrics, Bernie – my sincerest apologies!  But as I was listening to Blue Moves recently, I was drawn to recall Elton John instrumentals (there are 3 on that album alone) and how perhaps that’s a side of Elton’s music that many people don’t know about.  I mean, when you have that voice, why wouldn’t you use it?

Probably the most famous of all his instrumentals is Funeral for a Friend…and well it should be!  What an amazing piece of music.  Supposedly Elton wrote it trying to imagine the music he’d like at his funeral.  Morbid as it might sound, this better be played at my funeral (hint, hint).

Trivia tibdit: Funeral for a Friend and Love Lies Bleeding weren’t intended to be recorded together, but Funeral for a Friend ends in the key of A and Love Lies Bleeding begins in A…and voila!  A masterpiece.

Here are some others…I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but it’ll give you a taste of Elton’s talents as a composer:

  • Hay Chewed (Empty Sky, 1969) – Note: Hay Chewed actually starts about 3:09 into this clip…I really like this one – it’s a very jazzy, upbeat number.  And perhaps the title is a play on “Hey Jude?”
  • Funeral for a Friend (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)
  • Your Starter For… (Blue Moves, 1976) – Actually written by Caleb Quaye, Elton plays the piano on this piece.
  • Out of the Blue (Blue Moves, 1976)
  • Theme from a Non-Existent TV Series (Blue Moves, 1976)
  • Reverie (A Single Man, 1978)
  • Song for Guy (A Single Man, 1978) – I especially like this one – it is a melancholy piece, which in and of itself is enough to make me like it – but I can also play it on the  piano!  And, in his own words…“As I was writing this song one Sunday, I imagined myself floating into space and looking down at my own body. I was imagining myself dying. Morbidly obsessed with these thoughts, I wrote this song about death. The next day I was told that Guy (Burchett), our 17 year-old messenger boy, had been tragically killed on his motorcycle the day before. Guy died on the day I wrote this song.”  
  • Carla/Etude/Fanfare (The Fox, 1981)
  • The Muse Soundtrack (1999) – The film score is composed and performed by EJ himself.  There is one song with lyrics on the soundtrack (called The Muse, of course).  I haven’t actually listened to the full score, but have watched the movie a couple of times.

So there you have some examples of EJ as a composer and not as “the voice.”  Hope you enjoy – I know I do!