Rocketman Reaches the Stars


The Elton John biopic, Rocketman, opened this weekend, and it is an amazing film. From 1970 through 1976, his music was inescapable on radio: AM top 40 radio was saturated with Elton songs, and FM progressive rock stations played his deeper album cuts. For several years, Elton John was the biggest musical star on the planet.

So it makes sense, given the success of the recent Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to give Sir John the same treatment. However, Rocketman is a far more successful film. It begins with Elton stomping down the hallway of a rehab center in an outrageous devil costume with horns and wings. He bursts into a group therapy session, confesses his many sins, and begins talking about his life. As he opens up more and more about his childhood and early career, he gradually removes various parts of his costume, until he eventually looks like everyone else in the group.

What makes Rocketman such a memorable experience is director Dexter Fletcher’s decision to make this a musical, and not a documentary. His willingness to play loose with the chronological sequence of John’s hits, and let them serve the overall narrative of his life may annoy some fans, but it works. Throughout the movie, there are surrealistic sequences of singing and dancing that are wonderfully entertaining.

For example, a very young Reg Dwight (Elton’s real name) is asked to play a song in the local pub. He begins playing piano tentatively, but at the urging of his family quickly rips into “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. The walls of the pub recede, and an young Elton – several years older – is running through a carnival belting out the lyrics while followed by a troupe of choreographed dancers. It’s a thrilling moment that drives home his promise and talent.

Another highlight is the moment when he and lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin first meet and agree to work together. As Elton tries out the first few chords of “Your Song” while peering at Bernie’s handwritten lyrics, the audience is swept up into the excitement of their discovery that they are going to be huge.

No rock biopic would be complete without the star’s obligatory descent into drugs and paranoia, and Rocketman pulls no punches. As he gets bigger and bigger, and more and more people depend on his touring to fuel their greed, he gradually succumbs to every temptation given him. And this is where Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton deserves praise: his vocals are extraordinary, and his portrayal of Elton’s slow descent into drug and alcohol-fueled madness is harrowing. He truly deserves an Oscar for his work.

Of course, Elton’s sexual preferences are no secret, and they are an integral part of the story from the beginning. There are some love scenes that, quite frankly, would never have made it to the screen a few years ago. That said, everything in the movie is there for a reason, and nothing is gratuitous. His brief marriage to Renate is covered sympathetically, and his brotherly bond with Bernie is a constant source of strength and stability throughout the turmoil of his career.

The final scenes where Elton confronts his demons, both chemical and familial, are uplifting and satisfying. If you grew up in the 1970s as I did, or you are simply a fan of Elton, Rocketman is a fitting tribute to one of the most talented composers and performers of our lifetime.

Sweet Jesus, Hear Me Cry

Prayer can pop up in the strangest places. Even in the prayer of desperation, hope in Jesus shines brightly.

Where’s the lady and the time I used to know
I think that I’ve been on the road too long
Scenes of better days are pictured in my head
And haunting me those old familiar songs
Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes

Sunday morning comes I’m feeling kind of down
I can’t see back to where it all began
And I know you’d help me if you only could
I don’t know why or where or who I am

Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes
Take the shadow from my eyes

— Barclay James Harvest, 1975

The Natural and the Foreign: Republics from Rome to America ~ The Imaginative Conservative

As Cicero critically notes, during all of its history, Rome came about by trial and error, custom and habit, not by design. “Our commonwealth, in contrast, was not shaped by one man’s talent but by that of many; and not in one person’s lifetime, but over many generations.” Livy, later, argued the same point, but in Polybian fashion. Cicero notes that through On the Republic he hopes to “show you our commonwealth as it is born, grows up, and comes of age.” By implication, of course, Cicero anticipates the decay, corruption, middle-age, and eventual death of the republic. Unlike in the American experience, the Roman republicans could not appeal to its “founders” or its “founding” or its specific constitution. Instead, all things came into being over time and through incredibly difficult and painstaking work. America’s Republic might be a mighty fortress, but Rome’s was poetic. Only in the divine, Cicero claims, could one find an origin of Rome. The rest was, simply put, experience and tenacity.
— Read on

Hume and that cat

Once this motorcyclist asked me – “What do you call her?” – pointing at the motorcycle. I responded — “nothing!”, and casually explained how it’s just a machine. She was shocked, and retorted in a rather jovial way — “You called her a machine, now she will breakdown!” Sort of reminded me of this David Hume quote “There is a very remarkable inclination in human nature, to bestow on external objects the same emotions, which it observes in itself; and to find everywhere those ideas, which are most present to it.” Hume goes on to attribute these inclinations to mostly children, poets and ancient philosophers. May be the lady was a poet? My own instincts tend to go the other way, I rather bestow on humans the characteristics of inanimate objects. We are also machines, just really complex ones. Guess I am no child, a poet or that ancient philosopher.

Hume’s insight is probably more prevalent, and often a cause for serious mischief. Recently I went riding to Orcas islands, but had an overnight stay at Anacortes to catch that early morning Ferry. Overnight motorcycle parking in a motel lot is always risky, so to minimize the attention I draped it with a dull two-wheeler cover. Next morning I noticed this feral cat sitting and staring at the motorcycle. In a parking lot filled with cars, this draped bike might have invoked his curiosity? We can actually never know. If I say the cat was curious, all that means is — if I was a cat, then I’d be curious. For all you know, that cat might have been a fan of Triumph motorcycles, and it was simply gazing in admiration. Or maybe it was just day dreaming. Possibilities are endless. Unless we place sensors in his brain, we can never truly understand that intend behind his action.

Not just in animals, we have this propensity to assume intend based on the actions of our fellow humans too. Sometimes it’s related to the curious actions of our spouse, or parents or maybe relatives. Our subject of scrutiny can also be the distant actions of some movie star or politicians, as seen through YouTube or TV. Lengthy contentious discussion on the behavior of such a celebrity is not that uncommon. But, whenever we assume intend based on actions, it only tells us more about our own mind, our own assumptions, which may or may not be relevant to the actual object, animal or the person being scrutinized. Not surprising that Hayek once said “We are studying mental and not physical events, and much that we believe to know about the external world is, in fact, knowledge about ourselves