Dear Elton, this one's for you

Fan: It was at Merriweather 10 years ago that the clouds parted and fanaticism settled in.

June 18, 1999|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It was never about Elton John's glasses or his silly costumes. It was more, much more that spoke to me, inspired me and launched me on the road to fanaticism.

I don't offer the term lightly. I've joined fan clubs, attended nearly 100 concerts and paid ticket brokers hundreds of dollars for prime seating (I'm seeing him again tonight at the Baltimore Arena). I've driven eight hours in summer heat in a non-air-conditioned car to make it to a concert in Albany, N.Y. I've planned a vacation to New York City around a talk-show appearance by Elton John and waited five hours in line to get in, only to be turned away at the last minute. I have acquired autographs, begged for handshakes and stood at backstage doors, hoping.

It was never the intention, never the plan. But it happened. And in retrospect, all the signs were there.

My spiral into Elton obsession began thanks in large part to a sister, nine years my senior, who introduced me to Elton's songs of Bennie, crocodile-rocking, yellow brick roads and skyline pigeons when I was but a preteen. In addition to Elton, her record collection was impressive, her tastes varied, with Ted Nugent albums intermingled with Barbra Streisand.

She was a music buff. She'd constantly quiz me on artists and songs, share little bits of music trivia with me and play me amazing records, from Led Zeppelin to Billy Joel to Lynyrd Skynyrd. She instilled in me the satisfaction of truly knowing about a musician, and she shared with me the excitement of discovering a new song.

Never did she envision where I was headed, I assure you. Today, she's still a music fan, but a subdued, quietly appreciative one, while I'm the one who's jetted off to London to catch Elton John at Wembley Stadium.

My love affair with classic rock music blossomed in time. I'd hear songs on the radio that immediately captured my attention. Many of the songs became quick friends, offering momentary thrills, as the Bee Gees did so well. Others, like Billy Joel and the Eagles, would stick with me.

Music wasn't always such a pleasure. I had been roped into piano lessons at 8, an age when I didn't want to be tied down to anything, especially a bench, another teacher and yet more homework. And after three years of on-and-off lessons from a parade of teachers, my mother set me free. How could I have realized what a mistake she had made?

The progress I'd made was slight, and my talent quite audibly minimal. But I never left the piano entirely. It moved with me from home to home, from childhood to adulthood. I'd dabble and noodle. Buy a music book now and then. And, quite frankly, never abandoned the dream of what could have been.

As I got older, I realized just how much I loved the piano -- loved its sounds, loved piano songs, loved the thought of songwriting and performing. It was a world of fantasy -- a world I'd never really know first-hand.

It was during my first Elton John concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion 10 years ago that I began my true pilgrimage to the land of fanaticism. Everything finally came together -- my love of classic pop, my love of the piano. I saw with my own eyes the talent, charisma and charm Elton possessed and shared with the audience. Call it envy, admiration or vicarious living. Call it what you will. But I called it wondrous.

I was transformed. He was the most self-assured piano player I'd ever seen. He was commanding, inventive and spectacular. I was floored. He was everything I thought he'd be. After the show ended, I found myself desperate to keep discussing details of the evening. And from that day on, I would migrate to his name in record-store racks as I built up a full collection of his catalog of CDs.

I soon began to read collectors' magazines, in search of imported CDs and posters. I began collecting British newspapers, old sheet music, out-of-print boxed sets and life-size cutouts of him. Biographical books, baby-grand-shaped 45s, Elton John AIDS Foundation hats, Versace clothing, novels by his lyricist Bernie Taupin, endless vinyl albums from all over the globe and more -- my collection runneth over.

From attending fan-club gatherings around the country to planning vacations around publicity appearances of Elton's, I've done it all, fanatically speaking. I've even returned to piano lessons, with a teacher who understands the need I wish to satisfy -- to play Elton tunes. And when Elton appears at the arena tonight for a solo piano performance, I'll be there, too.

Oh, and I'll also be following him to a concert in Providence, R.I., the next day.

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