Mar 17, 2013

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

At our church's summer camp, only the devil’s music, rock and roll, was completely forbidden. But any music from the World might bring the danger of brainwashing, so there was a list of forbidden pop songs posted on the bulletin board.  No one explained the rationale, so at camp in the summer of 1976, my friends and I had fun tracking down bootleg copies and analyzing the lyrics.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” was easy: it denied the existence of heaven and hell.

But was Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” banned because it mentioned beer, because the word “lover” suggested that he had a boyfriend (like "Me and Julio"), or because of the rather blatant bulge on the album cover?

Cat Stevens’ “Oh Very Young,” because it mentioned dancing, or because the performer was black? (Everything by the Jackson Five was banned, but nothing by the Osmonds).

We concluded that Elton John’s “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” was banned because of the reference to “vodka and tonic.” But one day my friend Janice told me the real reason.

Every night after altar call, boys and girls were expected to pair up and "take a walk" through the woods.  After a few days of hand-on-shoulder sympathy and "You'll find someone!", I asked Janice to "take a walk."  As we passed the huddled bodies of boy and girls kissing, I heard the song coming from someone's transistor radio, and sang along. “You know you can’t hold me forever – I didn’t sign on with you. I’m not a present for your friends to open. . . .”

“Cool it!” Mary exclaimed. “You shouldn’t be singing about fairies here.”

“It’s not about fairies,” I protested. “It’s about Elton John being disillusioned with fame.”

“No, he’s disillusioned with being a fairy. Remember the next line – ‘back to the howling old owl in the woods, back to the horny back toad’? Owls and toads are demonic, right? He wants to go back to the time before he became a fairy. But it’s too late now, so he’s going to Hell."

"Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road" about being a fairy?  I didn't believe it.

But that fall -- a few days after I first heard the word "gay" on Alice  -- I saw the October 6th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone, with Elton John stating that he was bisexual.  When I figured out what the word meant, I knew that Janice was right.

But he doesn't regret being gay.  He's tired of wearing the mask, pretending that he is heterosexual, always being anxious and insecure and sad -- "This boy's too young to be singing the blues."