Pride and Pop’s Queen Mom

Matthew Restall, on the story of Elton’s coming out.

Elton John has famously described himself as “the most famous poof in the world.” In Pride Month, as millions celebrate being out, who better to read about and listen to than the Queen Mom of Pop (as the British press have dubbed Sir Elton)?

Actually, this year, as some Pride parades merge with BLM marches, many of us will be reflecting on the significance of present-day pioneers like Frank Ocean and Lil Nas X; or on the experiences of gay black musicians of Elton John’s generation, such as Sylvester and Labi Siffre; or the long and winding road that was the “out” story of Little Richard, one of John’s early influences.

But as Sir Elton is our subject, it is worth remembering that his status as out, proud, and celebrated as such, was a long time coming. Fame and fortune did not spare him considerable suffering along that journey. In fact, they only complicated it further. The Blue Moves album is not about sexual orientation, nor was it intended to be. (Even the album cover’s depiction of shirtless men lounging on a blue-hued lawn was chosen by John because he had recently bought the painting and liked it; he was surprised when the homophobic press cancelled a competition to give album copies away due to the cover’s  “gay” theme.) Nonetheless, the reception of the album, and the turn that John’s career took in its wake, is inextricably bound up in the story of his coming out.

That coming out was tortured and protracted. The tale has been told many times, but nowhere more poignantly than in Me, by Elton himself. It is also explored in the Blue Moves 33 1/3 volume, in my favorite chapter in the book (the only one that brought tears to my eyes as I wrote it, for reasons that I hope are clear in the reading of it). So, it is not an easy story to summarize. But here are a few of its elements. These are not the only ones, by any means. But they hint at its twists and turns, lending a sense of how agonizing (but, in the end, joyful) it must have been for John to live it. They also speak to its significance for the Blue Moves story.

1. Elton was a teenage idol. By 1973, he was hailed as such in the press. Teenage girls screamed at his concerts and chased him down alleys. 16 Magazine gave him three covers in 1975 alone, with titles like ELTON HOT SECRETS. One of his two hit albums released that year included a four-page Elton-themed cartoon from Jackie magazine, which ended with John dreaming of “girls and marriage,” of falling in love “like Bernie” (his lyricist, who had married a girl he and Elton had met on their first US tour in 1970; “Tiny Dancer” is about her). Yet during these years, John was living with his (male) manager. He was both out and in, both partnered and alone.

2. In 1976, Elton gave the interview that would become his most famous. He declared that “everybody’s bisexual” and that “there’s nothing wrong with going to bed with someone of your own sex.” The editor of Rolling Stone (who would not himself come out until the ‘90s) ran the story as a cover piece, titled ELTON’S FRANK TALK. It hit the newsstands two weeks before Blue Moves was released. In the United States, radio stations dropped his songs from rotation. In the South, his records were publicly burned. 16 Magazine never mentioned him again. His sales were never the same.

3. Eight years later, John married Renate Blauel in Australia. She was a German-born sound engineer working on his Too Low for Zero touring team. They divorced in 1988, and soon afterwards John admitted that he was not bisexual, but gay. Five years later, he met David Furnish; they settled down, and 37 years later, are still together and have two sons. When gay marriage was legalized in Britain in 2014, they immediately married—38 years after the Rolling Stone interview and the release of Blue Moves.

Read more about the Queen Mom of Pop here!

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