Rocket Man: A Musical Story Worth (Re)Discovering

From the moment we first developed our agency’s mission, vision and direction nearly 12 years ago, we knew our “strategic communications” moniker meant focusing on helping our clients tell their stories. And the key to overall success in those subsequent years has been guiding those clients to communicate in an honest, authentic way, within a context that ensures messages resonate with particular audiences. The movie “Rocket Man” to me underscores those very core principles and much more.

When Elton John first burst onto the scene in the early 70s, I was in grade school. To me at that time his music seemed fun (“Crocodile Rock”), energetic (“Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting”) if not, at times, a bit mushy (“Your Song” and “Daniel”) but not much else. By the time I reached my teens and 20s I had already moved on to alternative rock and other music while Elton aimed more for the “middle of the road” (“Empty Garden” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”) as he found his way in life.

As I sat in the theater this past weekend watching the biopic/musical retrospective of Elton John’s storied life and career, I suddenly realized I had missed the boat if not the point. It was far from surprising. As a child, I had not been a part of the audience he was looking to affect with his work. John was twenty-three when he first became of note in the U.S. and, like any artist, he was performing for his peers. As such and at that age, the life experiences frame of reference was simply not there for me. I enjoyed his music but it didn’t “move” me. Not yet anyway. (“I would have liked to know you but I was just a kid…”). I also had no idea of his less than ideal family life, growing up with an emotionally vacant father and a mother less than understanding about his sexuality.

Decades later, with life experiences behind me and John’s tale of love hard-won in front of me on screen, I realized just how autobiographical his music with Bernie Taupin really was. I now saw “Rocket Man” as a tale of his being jettisoned to superstardom and an early life of excess and loneliness, while, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” expressed a desperate desire to “come down” and leave the “penthouse” for simpler times and a return to a more stable life. I felt the emotion the songs sought to elicit for the first time. The epiphany brought me, and I am sure others, a new appreciation for the triumph and tragedy in his work. As I look at it more closely I see that it is not nostalgia, but rather, discovery and an opportunity for many of us to go back and listen more closely to his tales. Within a proper context. And appreciate the music – the stories – in an altogether different way this time around. A lesson in storytelling for all of us.