Tuesday, October 28, 2008
An Interview with Elton on The Red Piano
With The Red Piano Elton John has created a spectacular stage show that continues its four-year run at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. It will continue to run through next February.
In addition on October 28, Best Buy offers the exclusive release of The Red Piano on a two DVD/two CD release. In addition it will be available as a single Blu-ray disc, as well as a special vinyl release of three long-playing records of the songs from the show.
What makes "The Red Piano" so unique is its size and intricate visual design, so complex that it makes the show impossible to tour. Its visuals include multi-color neon sculpture, pop art, inflatables, baubles, balloons and a huge screen that sits behind John on which are projected specially-made videos by John’s friend, photographer David LaChappelle.
The show features 14-songs from John’s long career, including such hits as "Candle in the Wind," "Believe" and "Rocket Man."
This past May John spoke with London’s Daily Telegraph about the show.
An Englishman in Vegas?
Q: An English man in Las Vegas - how does that go together?
EJ: A lot of Englishmen have been here, like Tom Jones, they come here on a regular basis. When I came here I wanted to do a show that no one had seen before. There had never been a rock`n`roll show in Vegas since Elvis. I wanted to do a show, a real fantastic visual show here. When I was offered the chance to come to Caesars Palace I knew the venue was beautiful, a state of the art venue that they built for Celine Dion, and I knew it had great acoustics.
The bar has been raised so much by Cirque du Soleil, by Celine Dion, by everybody that has played there, but I wanted to do a completely different show for me - a production that really reflected my taste in art and photography and fun. A chance to be reflective about my career, not in a sentimental way, but in a fun way.
So I got the help of David LaChapelle, who is a friend of mine, a great photographer. He had never done a show like that before. To be honest we didn’t have much time to prepare for it. David made a lot of films to my songs, I gave him a set list of songs and he picked the ones that he thought he would work best visually - songs that tell a story, like ’Daniel,’ ’Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ and ’Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.’
David is an artist in his own right so I said, ’listen, you just go ahead and do what you want. Bring it to me and we will do it.’ The art is very important in this show. The imagery on the screen is very Warhol-esque, it’s very pop art, it reflects my love of photography and contemporary art. This show is very modern. It is fresh, like eating an apple or a mint, something that hasn’t dated yet.
The Caesars Palace stage is huge, one of the biggest in the world, and if you don’t fill it up you are in trouble. So we got the inflatables made, all the neon signs made, and what we put together was a really spectacular show. We made full use of the screen, which is I think 120 feet wide by about 40 feet high, and we used state of the art stuff. We created a show that is fun for me do every night. When it opened it got really fantastic reviews, saying this is a much different show for Vegas, this has raised the bar - which is the whole point of coming here.
The show has so many different surfaces. There is something there for someone who just wants to have a good time and look at the colours and the inflatables, but for people with a little more imagination there are a lot more deeper things, from the beautiful dance scene in ’Believe’ to the domestic violence scene in ’Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me.’ If you want to look and think about things, there is much more depth there than you could possibly imagine. But for those of you who just want to have a good time, it’s just ’wow!’ I didn’t want to do a superfluous show, I wanted to do something with meaning. That was the genius of David LaChapelle, in putting together those films with those songs. He has been a fan of mine for so long, he knew the songs inside out and he was able to visually translate things that I was trying to say in a song.
I haven’t got fed up with ’The Red Piano.’ I have done around 200 shows and I really love playing it, because the audience is so different each night.
Raising the Bar
Q: How personal is the show for you?
EJ: It’s very personal, because I actually never ever wanted to be in Vegas whatsoever. I always said I will never want to end up in Las Vegas. Which goes to show that sometimes artists know nothing! I am very proud of the show and the fact that it is totally me. It’s what I’m like from an artistic point of view, it’s fun, it’s deep, it’s the songs I really love and it gives me a chance to get across what I am all about, visually as well as musically. I have never done that before, it’s a first for me and I am very proud of it.
We pulled it off in Las Vegas, and now we have to try and pull it off again in Europe. We have got to raise the bar again. Reaching my 60th birthday, when we played in Madison Garden, was an incredible night, and we pulled it off. So now you want to raise the bar for your own piece of mind, and your own personal pride and the public that are paying the money to see you. You can’t just fly on autopilot; you have to give the audience more of yourself. They have been so loyal and fantastic to me for the whole of my career, not just in America but in Europe and all over the world. They expect me to deliver something special, and I expect me to deliver something special. This I think is a really special show.
Q: In this venue [Caesars Palace] the show seems quite intimate.
EJ: That’s the secret of this building. You cannot build atmosphere, you have to put a lot of thought in it. The place holds 4100 people but it seems that you are playing for 2000. It’s very intimate. I can see the audience, I can practically touch them, I talk to the audience a great deal more because there is so much going on stage you have to bring the focus back to yourself.
Also because it’s so intimate it allows you to be funny, have conversations with the audience about the songs, on how they were written. I am very wicked about Celine Dion. She has seen the show, she has a great sense of humor and has been very kind about it.
So it presented a new challenge. When I first came here I was 57 and wanted a new challenge. When people say, ’It can’t be done and it is a very big risk’, then I say, ’Well, then I am going to do it!’ It’s like writing ’Aida,’ when we wrote the musical for Broadway. Because it’s probably the greatest opera ever written and Verdi is probably one of the greatest operatic writers of all time, I knew that we would be in trouble because the critics would think it a bad idea. That’s why I did it. In the same way I wanted to do ’The Red Piano’ because some people didn’t think it would work.
I wouldn’t have done it if the venue hadn’t been here. It is a fantastic venue. In a way it’s like a small Madison Square Garden. The sound is beautiful and I really look forward to every show here. In a lot of the venues you play, you are battling the sound. They are not built for a rock’n’roll show, they are not build for the kind of things that we do here. This is specifically built to house shows like myself and Celine Dion.
Q: The show takes one back in time - could it get too personal?
EJ: No because I think this enables me to be a little reflective. I am not one to look back very often and I don’t talk about the past. I think it’s quite humorous. Some of the images are very personal, some are funny, some I have forgotten about completely.
And you sit there and go: oh my god did I actually wear that? Did I do that? In ’I´m Still Standing,’ which is a collage of all my looks through the past, people say, ’I didn’t realize you had changed so often!’ The looks, the costumes, everything. I’ve had a long career. It’s 40 years of writing with Bernie, 37 years of performing - there are bound to be a lot of changes but until you see them in a montage like that, you don’t realize what you have actually done. As I said I don’t sit here and say ok, let’s get back and look at what I have done, I am always looking forward. So it’s a nice chance, without being cheesy and maudlin, to look back at my career and say, ’This is what I have done up until now.’
Q: To see yourself in those films - it leaves the audience with a strange feeling.
EJ: It’s very strange feeling for me too! That original footage with Justin Timberlake playing myself was done for a David LaChapelle video called ’This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore,’ from the ’Songs From the West Coast’ album. David had all this extra footage and he put it together for ’Rocket Man.’ There is a parallel between ’Rocket Man’ and a rock star on stage, especially in the early years of my career. I didn’t have any balance in my life then, it was a lonely existence. I was very happy on stage, when I was offstage I didn’t know how to cope that much. Justin was incredible because he got some of my looks and some of my expressions down so well it was very spooky for me to watch. One scene when he slides down a wall I got chilled: I thought, ’That’s me. That’s the way I looked, that’s the way I felt.’
It is an eleven minute sort of vision of what a rock star’s life is like.
There is everybody there until you have to go onstage on your own. I love that footage so much, it’s beautiful. Not that I see much of it, because I usually look at the audience, but sometimes I look up and notice things that I haven’t seen, it’s great. That’s why I love doing this show, there is always something different that I spot every night.
Q:The films are so great you tend to forget the artist on stage from time to time.
EJ: That’s what we wanted to do, but I have to bring the focus back to myself at the end of the song and talk about the stories behind the songs. I talk about recording ’Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ with Ray Charles, or about writing ’Daniel’ and people being confused about what it meant. It lets the audience in and it just brings you back, your focus is back on what is really going on.
Q: Tell me about the film about Marilyn.
EJ: That isn’t Marilyn Monroe obviously, but it was copied from Marilyn footage by Burt Stern. Our film is very eerie because it’s just like the photographs and the footage of her.
It’s nice to be able to do that one on my one because it’s such a sad song - and a very emotional song. Of course it’s tied in with what I did for Princess Diana as well. I didn’t want to do it with the band, I just wanted it to be just me and her. This film really conveys the meaning of the song. When she says goodbye and closes the door - she was one of the most incredibly charismatic people ever in the world, and very lonely. There is a lot of loneliness involved in that film, as well as in the ’Rocket Man’ and ’Daniel’ films.
Q: There are a lot breasts in those films.
EJ: For a gay guy there are a lot of breasts, that’s right.
Q: Pamela Anderson dances in one of the videos - did you pick her or is she a friend of David?
EJ: She is a very good friend of David and she is also a friend of mine. She is an iconic woman - very beautiful, and when you meet her she is even more beautiful than on the screen. She is very petite and doesn’t wear any makeup, she is incredible. People seem to love Pamela Anderson. She is fun, she is a fun figure. It’s great for me because it’s a pop show and she is a pop iconic figure. A lot of the images of the show are about iconography and she is definitely an icon.
Q: What is your special moment of the show?
EJ: I love the depth of ’Believe,’ which is one of my favorite songs. I love the ’Believe’ black and white footage with the red roses coming out. I think visually that’s my favorite part of the show, it just looks so beautiful, all the black and white on the stage and then these beautiful red flowers coming out. And I also love the ’Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ choreography which was all done in one take by John Burn who is David LaChapelle´s friend. He also did the ’Believe’ choreography.
Q: And you aren’t done yet!
EJ: Absolutely not! I look at Tony Bennett, he is 82 and he is singing better than he ever sung in his life. He loves what he does, he goes out with a trio, an orchestra, he has a joie de vivre. As long as I enjoy it and still have the passion and the ability to improve then I will still go out there and do it. I think 60 is the new 40! As I said, the public that have been with me for so long expect Elton John to come and deliver either a longer show and give them value for money or something different. And that’s what this ’Red Piano Show’ will do. It is not as long a show as I normally do, but it’s like giving somebody a meal and then it’s over and hopefully they want to come back to the same meal again.
Q: Do you still have dreams?
EJ: I am so happy in my personal and musical life right now, I just want to improve. You know a phone call can change your world, for example in the early nineties I had just gotten sober and I was really happy and just feeling my way and learning to live again as a human being, when I had a phone call from Tim Rice who said ’would you do the Lion King?’ Up to that point my career had just been about making records and touring and doing the occasionally song for a movie or whatever. So that phone call changed my life, because it enabled me to write for the ’Lion King’ doing the animated movie, and then the stage show. Since then I have written three other musicals.
The great thing about this business is if you maintain your integrity and your enthusiasm a phone call like that can come along and, if you are willing to take the risk, a whole new path can open.
Q: I can see why some have chosen you as the godfather to their children.
EJ: I have a very positive outlook. I have been sober 17 years this year and without that sobriety in my life and learning how to be a human being again I would have nothing. And so I am very grateful for that. I have wonderful friends, wonderful godchildren, wonderful family, wonderful relationship, a great career - I am the luckiest person in the world. I have so much enthusiasm for life and for what I do that I hope to go and project that enthusiasm onto my audience, the people who come and see me. Without them I wouldn’t be here.
Q: How important is love to you?
EJ: It is very important. At the moment there is so much negativity in the world. And I say that during the show - people are good, basically they are more kind then they are evil. We just hear about the evil things that people do, the horrible things. Love is so important at the moment. There are so many differences, so many factions, religious people against each other. We should just take a deep breath and say ’Hold on a minute, this is the 21st century. People need compassion, they need love, they need kindness, they need help, never more so than now.’