Roller-coaster life of an Elton John fanatic

Musical genius! Dream snapshot! Hopes dashed! Shoppers aghast! Dream restored!


April 15, 2001|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,Sun Staff

The horror began at the photo desk in a Wal-Mart, in Johnson City, Tenn. My scream could be heard at least as far as the shoe department, perhaps even domestics.

Twelve years of my life had brought me to this moment. Earlier in the day, after years of exhaustive efforts, I had actually managed to spend a few moments with my musical idol -- Elton John. To my astonishment, he had even graciously offered to pose for pictures with my friend and me. And now this. Now I was staring, disbelieving, at four indistinguishable prints. My friend and I were there in the murky images, arm in arm with our hero, but because of some cruel joke of fate (actually, as it turned out, a bodyguard with poor photography skills), no one but us would ever know.

I shrieked again. Shoppers turned in fright. I started pacing and repeating, "How did this happen?" I felt physically sick. Tears welled up.

Now at this point, you may be saying to yourself: Excuse me, what's the big deal? Let me try to explain. Or more accurately, perhaps, confess.

I am an addict. A certified Elton-oholic. My family pities me. Friends mock me. Strangers point and whisper. They, like you, just don't get it. So let me share my story and reveal the truths of a fanatic's life. And how that awful moment in Johnson City finally resolved itself.

It began innocently enough 12 years ago at a concert in Columbia. I'd gone simply to accompany my sister. But then ... Seeing him on stage ignited a fire in me. His mastery of the keys, his commanding stage presence, the brilliance of his songwriting. I was touched to the core. I was swept away by his songs, but also envious of who he was, an amazing, successful songwriter. Someone I had always wished I could be.

Seeing him inspired me to return to piano lessons. It also changed my life.

Since that day, my life has been all about Elton: Elton concerts, my next Elton adventure, searching for Elton memorabilia, scouring Elton Web sites and corresponding with Elton friends. I own every CD, tape, album, video, T-shirt and piece of memorabilia I know of that bears his name. Life-size cardboard standups of Elton share space in my bedroom. I've paid scalpers big bucks for concert tickets, and flown overseas just to hear him play in London and Paris. I've planned trips to New York around TV talk show appearances of his, and attended fan club gatherings all over the country.

Last year, in what I imagined would be the pinnacle of my personal Eltondom, I attended a CD signing of his at Tower Records in Los Angeles. I'd had dreams of meeting him, sharing a few words, shaking his hand, snapping a picture. Instead, when my turn in line came, I was flustered and tongue-tied, rushed by the store employees and prohibited from taking photos. By the time I managed to mumble a few pathetic compliments, he already had this "next" look about him.

To add insult to injury, my mother, who'd decided to accompany me on my pilgrimage at the last minute, was next -- and wowed him. A far more casual fan than I, she was completely at ease, sweet-talking him, tossing in Yiddish words, sharing chuckles, saying all the right things. He loved her. I prayed for death. I'd been outdone by my mom.

It took me months to find the humor in the encounter. And by then, an intriguing new opportunity was before me.

Off to Atlanta

My pal Liz Rosenthal and I plotted out a little Elton adventure: First to Atlanta to see a photography exhibit of works he'd collected, then to Johnson City to see him in concert. The trip, which involved planes, trains and rented automobiles, was par for the course. Seasoned fans, we were well-prepared with maps, a to-do list, light suitcases for souvenirs and plenty of film for our cameras.

The first leg of our trip was four days in Atlanta. The plan was to casually browse Elton's photography collection at the High Museum, scour local record stores for cool stuff, hit the Hard Rock Cafe and, of course, try to bump into Elton himself.

Atlanta, you see, is Elton's U.S. home. He resides in a wealthy part of town in a high-rise apartment building. How do I know this? Need you ask?

So we made our march through Atlanta, eating in Elton hot spots, shopping in stores in his neighborhood. No luck.

On our last day in town, we decided to make one more stop before making the 5 1/2 -hour drive to the concert in Tennessee: a record store we knew was one of his favorites. We stepped inside ... and nothing. Still, we browsed for about 45 minutes before giving up. "We'd better go," I said dejectedly.

Just then the front door opened, and my face turned white. From across the store, I immediately recognized the little man in the jogging suit, baseball cap and glasses. "Liz," I croaked. "It's him!"

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