Elton John isn't dying — not that we know of anyway. Yet, as he announced in January, the musician is retiring from touring. And he’s not alone. Already this year, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Simon, Joan Baez and Minus the Bear have come through Cleveland saying it was the final time.
But as a species, we’re not good at the messiness of goodbyes. Perhaps that’s why John, 71, is prolonging the inevitable by touring around the world for the next three years, bringing his “Crocodile Rock” and “Rocket Man” anthems to the masses.
He comes to Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, Nov. 3, for what he claims is his second to last appearance on an area stage (he'll be back at the Q Nov. 12, 2019, for the final time). For many loyal fans, sitting through the set will bring a flash flood of memories. Some may not be ready to see him go.
First, Whom Do We Believe?
Of course, John would hardly be the first musician to be pulling our leg. The Rolling Stones infamously said they were leaving too. But then, they didn’t. The lists of bands who went into faux-retirement is extensive; we’re talking Cher, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne and more. Yet, this recent batch of musicians, retiring either completely or just from tour life, seems to really mean what they say.
“I’m not going to be touring and traveling the world [anymore],” John told Anderson Cooper in a CNN interview in January. “My priorities have changed. I have young children. That doesn’t mean I won’t still be creative. But I won’t travel anymore. I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I want to go out with a bang … it’ll be the most produced, fantastic show I’ve ever done.”
Here, it seems John wants to go out on his own terms. As one of the Top 10 bestselling album makers of all time and a stalwart in the spotlight for decades, he without question deserves the long goodbye. But assuming he, and others, really are slowing down, how will the music industry be affected?
Survival of the Industry
Losing John and a whole host of others isn’t just hard for fans but also the music industry titans making money off shows. Last year, six of the Top 25 highest-grossing tours were of retirement age, according to Pollstar. With more artists looking to take it easy, some in the business are worried those older artists, who usually ask exorbitant amounts for tickets, won’t have comparable replacements waiting in the wings.
But as Lorde's music agent, Tom Windish, toldRolling Stone, it doesn’t matter as long as there are more artists across the board.
“If there are less artists playing stadiums who are in their 70s, there are going to be 200 artists who are going to sell 500 tickets [apiece], which are going to be the same amount as that stadium,” he said. “It’s just the audience of people is being distributed in different ways.”
As the concert business is booming right now, we can’t feel too bad for anyone — except maybe ourselves.
The Best Way to Remember
John first bounded onto the American music scene in 1970 with that warm, fuzzy hit “Your Song.” He was daring and gay, and he had a gap between his front teeth. His piano playing made people feel something deep.
But like many in my generation, I was first introduced to the Brit through Simba and Pumba. I had barely cleared Kindergarten when the Disney now-classic The Lion King invaded my small childhood world. My friends and sister and I all had T-shirts and plastic cups depicting various film characters. We sang the songs ad nauseum. My parents explained the reason these songs were so catchy was that they were co-written by someone named Elton John, who had a whole bunch of hits before I was even born. Later, who could forget his impassioned version of “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s funeral. Even later still, his love songs were canonized in Moulin Rouge, which had a soundtrack that my friends, sister and I also sang along to.
This is an artist who has defined moments in people’s lives. Soon, he will be gone from us, but not forever. As Megan O’Grady noted in her New York Times Style Magazine essay about movie stars retiring: “A creative mind, surely, cannot be shut down at will. Artists are our magi, our secular gods. Really, they can no more retire than can a unicorn or a planet. They will not stop seeing the world as they do. What will stop is them sharing that vision with us.”
And in the End
What’s ironic here is that Elton John long ago prepped us with how to say goodbye. With the help of longtime partner Bernie Taupin, he wrote beautifully aware songs about leaving and death (“Candle in the Wind” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”). With lyricist Tim Rice, he wrote The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” and Road to El Dorado's “Friends Never Say Goodbye.” Even from the beginning, through the silliness of crocodiles and jets, he was preparing us for the end. We should have listened.