I have a cherished memory etched in my head: My cousin Eddie and me (both around 5 at the time) butchering the lyrics to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” as we jumped in and out of a tiny backyard inflatable pool, chasing each other to the infectious beat, oblivious to the world around us. “Crocodile Rock” has gotten me through many tough times.
And that’s not the only Elton song linked to a person or memory. I can pretty much trace my life with Elton John songs: “Philadelphia Freedom,” a song he and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote for the great lesbian tennis player Billie Jean King, always reminds me of riding in an El Camino with my dad during the country’s bicentennial (probably because it was played so much in 1976); “Slow Down Georgie (She’s Poison)” summons memories of 10th-grade make-out parties; “That’s What Friends Are For” reminds me of my own friends dying of AIDS complications; and “Candle in the Wind” will forever conjure Princess Di’s death.
Oh, and remember 1974’s hit “The Bitch Is Back?” I didn’t realize as a kid that lesbian singer Dusty Springfield sings background on it or that the lyrics (penned by Taupin) were a nod to Elton’s, at the time, unspoken queerness — or his regular foul moods. I used the song to get through the first year working in an all-male environment, playing it each morning before work on my old Walkman cassette player (don’t judge) and singing, “I’m a bitch, I’m a bitch. Oh, the bitch is back / Stone cold sober as a matter of fact / I can bitch, I can bitch ‘cause I’m better than you/It’s the way that I move, the things that I do.” I was neither sober nor a bitch, I think, but the song gave me strength to persevere, and as Dolores Claiborne (and likely Elton himself) would say, “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”
Even though Elton John has 38 gold albums and 31 platinum or multiplatinum albums to his name (and the all-time best-selling single, “Candle in the Wind”), it’s his AIDS activism that has been at the heart of his life for a quarter century now. To talk with him about his work offstage — helping people who are living with HIV, advocating the need for PrEP and treatment, and fathering his boys — is to understand why giving is the top priority in his life. To hear how celebrity isn’t what drives John, but changing lives of people living with HIV does, is an extraordinary World AIDS Day gift to the magazine. Tell us how Elton has inspired you at Magazine@Advocate.com!