by JT Ellison
Randy and I went to a concert a couple of Saturdays ago, one I’d been looking forward to for weeks. Months! Billy Joel, with Elton John.
Now, for the record, I adore Billy Joel. Adore the music, the stories, the way he engages the audience. I’ve seen him in concert before, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It was at the Cap Center (now US Airways Arena) in Landover, Maryland. I was in high school, which meant a limited allowance, so I could only afford to purchase the cheap seats. Obstructed view. Behind the stage. I was a little bummed, but figured I’d be able to hear, even if I couldn’t see.
Boy, was I surprised. Billy Joel set up his stage with pianos on all four corners, and made a point of playing to every section of the crowd. Even though my seats were “obstructed,” I had a great view, and for a quarter of the concert, Billy sang directly to me. He was funny, self-effacing and charming. The music was outstanding. I went home feeling like I’d been a part of something special, something unique. He’d touched me, without ever having set eyes on me, or knowing I was there. Now that’s power.
Fast forward to current day. We can afford better seats now, though through a timing error we ended up in the nosebleeds. My vertigo and I enjoyed that. Thankfully, the lights went down quickly, and out came Billy and Elton. They played two songs in duet, then Billy exited the stage and Elton took over.
And I mean it when I say Elton took over. The lights. The flash. The pure, unadulterated rock. The individual songs that went on (and on, and on) for fifteen to twenty minutes. And after each song (finally) finished, Elton ran around the stage, banging himself on the chest and inciting the crowd for applause. If I had a microphone near his mind, it would have very clearly screamed LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We slipped out, took a break, got a drink, walked around, and still he played. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of Elton John that I like. But this was a full-on Wembley Stadium show sandwiched into the Sommet Center. And there was this crazy thing that was also supposed to be going on….. Oh, right. Billy Joel.
Elton played for an hour and a half, and after every single song, he paraded around, basking in the adulation. It just felt so forced, so unnecessary. And in contrast, when Billy Joel finally was allowed to take the stage, he started a conversation with the crowd. He apologized to the people with the crappy seats. He told jokes. He talked about his love for, and connection to, Nashville. He took a moment after each song to introduce a band mate. He made it about us, and them, and not about him.
He had the crowd eating out of his hand in two seconds, simply because he seemed to grasp something Elton John didn’t. Billy was there for us. He was playing for us. Elton, sadly, played at us. Elton was a performer, but Billy was an entertainer.
We’ve all met those kinds of people, the ones who ask you how you are, then immediately launch into a recitation of how they are. The people who self-aggrandize, who bang their chests and do everything to get people to notice them. The people who are desperate for any kind of attention, and will do whatever it takes to make sure they’re at the center of it all.
There’s a lesson to be taken away from this. We authors, for better or for worse, are public figures. There are expectations, and challenges, along the way. It’s a heady, heady experience to have people read your work and appreciate it, to gain fans, to entertain strangers. And it’s very easy to fall into the “me” mentality: to think your life, your work, your stories are more important, more entertaining, and more appreciated than anyone else’s at the table. To let your ego take over and run away with your reputation.
I just hope that no one ever comes away from a conference, or a panel, or a signing that I’ve participated in and think that I’ve pulled an Elton John. Give me Billy Joel any day.
And speaking of Mr. Joel, I am most definitely in a New York state of mind. Literally, and figuratively. As you read this, I’m traipsing the streets of Manhattan, one of my favorites cities in the whole world. Lots of events on the plate: meetings galore, signings, and hopefully, a night to ourselves to have a quiet meal and some good wine. I’d like to squeeze in an afternoon at MOMA, a trip up the Empire State Building, and if my ankle holds up, a walk through Central Park. So please don’t hold it against me if I don’t comment in a timely fashion.
Your questions for today –
What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? Why?
And what’s your favorite city in the whole wide world???
Wine of the Week: Chateau Ross 2005 Big Bitch Red