Elton John recalled the moment an angry audience member threw a hot dog at him onstage, and he used the incident to explain why it was important to help younger artists break through.
Stating his case for supporting emerging British artists – who’ll find it difficult to enter Europe after coronavirus as a result of “ridiculous” Brexit regulations – John also argued that it was essential to replace elderly artists such as himself.
“In 1966, I went to Hamburg,” he wrote in The Guardian. “I was the keyboard player in Bluesology, and we had a residency at the Top Ten Club, where the Beatles had famously cut their teeth. It was a real baptism of fire. We played on the Reeperbahn, five hours a night in among the brothels and sex shows, to audiences who hadn’t come to see us. But it was still great: We played so much, we didn’t have any choice but to improve as a band.”
He noted “it was better than my solo debut on the continent a few years later, when some bright spark booked me as the support act to Sergio Mendes in Paris. One audience member was so aggrieved at having his evening of bossa nova interrupted by the strains of ‘Your Song’ that he threw his hot dog at me. Clearly, the only way was up. I kept touring Europe and gradually built up an incredibly loyal audience.”
John recalled spending all his spare time in Hamburg exploring local record shops. “Fifty years later, I still spend hours each week going through new release schedules, buying new albums and listening to songs on streaming services. As a successful artist, one of my raisons d’etre is to promote younger artists and to be on their side. I’m in an incredibly privileged position, and it seems only fair to use this to help people who are starting out. It’s not an act of charity: My favorite thing about music is the energy and the raw excitement that a new artist transmits when you see them live. It’s hugely inspiring, and it’s something you only normally get from a younger artist.”
He outlined some of his ideas for dealing with the Brexit situation, calling for a “short-term fix” to avoid the additional paperwork and costs that would price new bands out of the touring market and asserting it was important for established artists to offer proactive assistance. “Getting your music across to crowds from a different culture to your own, who don’t necessarily speak the same language as you, just makes you a better musician,” he said. “As I discovered in the ‘60s, you can spend months in a rehearsal room painstakingly perfecting your craft, and you won’t learn as much about live performance as you do in half an hour trying to win over an unfamiliar audience. You have to have that visual contact with other human beings.”
John noted that “if you hate every note I’ve recorded, because your tastes are edgier, weirder and more exploratory – if you think that the Parisian hot dog thrower had a good point – you need to support musicians’ ability to tour.” Without that help, he concluded, “the only artists who are going to have any meaningful kind of live career are big, august, mainstream artists like me. And, trust me, I don’t want that any more than you do.”