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Huffman column: Time flies, but Elton’s still cool

By Steve Huffman
shuffman@salisburypost.com
It was 35 years ago this month, Sept. 21, 1973 ó is that possible? Has that much time really elapsed? ó that I saw Elton John in concert at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Tucked away in a scrapbook at home is my ticket stub. I spent $5 for the show.
It was a bargain and would have been a bargain at almost any price. I have many fond memories of the evening.
I went to the concert with my cousin, Tom McGowen. We were both 16 and thought we were pretty tough customers cruising to Greensboro in his father’s old Oldsmobile.
We sat in the coliseum’s upper reaches. As soon as the house lights dimmed, the smell of marijuana ó this was an era when such behavior, while illegal, was often ignored ó began wafting through the building.
I remember that, being the mature, responsible teen I was, I caught a whiff, inhaled deeply, and thought, “Cool!”
By 1973, Elton was a huge star, but not as big as he’d become. “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” had just been released.
On this evening, Elton ó backed by a full orchestra ó still delved largely into music from early in his career.
He played a rendition of “Madman Across the Water” that spanned a half hour if it lasted a minute. He dedicated “Daniel” to Jim Croce who’d been killed the night before in a plane crash.
He reinforced my belief that “Tiny Dancer” is one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time.
Correct me if I’m wrong because (as evidenced by recollections of achievements from my high school athletic career) time has a way of causing us to greatly embellish that which we’ve experienced.
But Elton returned to the stage for five encores.
The last of those songs ó and, again, please bear with me because this did transpire 35 years ago, but I think it’s true ó was “Your Song.”
Elton introduced the song by saying, “I’m going to play a song I swore I’d never play in public again. But you’ve been such a wonderful audience here tonight.”
And then he began, “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside, I’m not one of those who can easily hide, don’t have much money, but, boy if I did, I’d buy a big house where we both could live.”
Nice stuff.
The house lights were finally brought up and Elton was nowhere in sight, but the crowd refused to leave.
We shouted and stood, our early-’70s defiance and youthful exuberance on full display. More than a few lighters were lit and held aloft.
Dang, but we were something.
Finally, someone ó I heard it was a police officer, but I’ve got several friends who retired from the Greensboro Police Department and they’ve told me they would have done no such thing ó set off a tear gas canister.
The coliseum quickly emptied. It’s the only time in my life I’ve been tear-gassed and it wasn’t pleasant.
Outside, a couple of hundred people ó apparently thinking it was Elton’s ride ó were gathered around a limousine parked near one of the coliseum’s exits.
Tom and I were about 50 yards away and had just noticed the group when out of a side door shot Elton followed by members of his entourage.
“How are you gentlemen doing this evening?” he said to me and Tom ó who happened to be the only fans in the immediate area óbefore climbing into a small car that was waiting for him.
And then he was gone.
“Cool!” I remember thinking once more.
And dang if it wasn’t, the whole evening. Hard to believe it was 35 years ago.
– – –
When not whining about the fact that his own dreams of becoming a rock star were never realized, Steve Huffman writes for the Post. Reach him at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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