Elton John is just one “E” away from being an EGOT, and there was no mistaking that an event for Television Academy members at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre Monday night was not just about celebrating the success of Disney+’s livestreamed Dodger Stadium special from last November, but about reminding potential voters that the star lacks just one vowel in his crown.
Following a screening of a condensed version of “Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium,” moderator Dave Karger, of TCM fame, asked, “Ben Winston, you have 12 Emmys; Elton has five Grammys, two Oscars, and a Tony. So combined, there’s an EGOT on this state. Would you be willing to share?” Replied Fulwell 73 Productions’ Winston, who produced the special, “We’re all members of the Television Academy, and I think that we take it with us tonight that all of us have a responsibility…” before his remarks got drowned out by appreciative applause.
John did not offer his own campaign pitch, but did speak at length before the packed house about the special specifically and his long goodbye as a touring artist generally, describing the feeling of triumph in going out on a high at Dodger Stadium. (Going out in the U.S., that is; his multi-year touring swan song still has one last pass to go through Europe, starting later in March and currently set to wrap in Europe in early July.)
“I’m so critical of myself,” John said, by way of saying that he is not an easy mark when it comes to the self-esteem he was expressing about his farewell tour. “I have to say, I’m 75” — about to turn 76 next week — “and honestly, I’ve never played and sang so well in my life, for so long. And I really mean that sincerely. … And really wanted that to be the thing. I didn’t want to go out when I was going down like that,” he said, swooping his hand in a downward motion. It “was so important to leave on a really high note, giving the best that you possibly can for the people that have supported you day in and day for years and years and years. That was my brief to myself. And I think we pulled it off.”
The three-night stand at Dodger Stadium — the last of which went out as the livestream — was meant in part as a testament to his 1975 stand at the same venue, which are remembered as his most iconic appearances. But he mentioned how not everything about those first concerts was something to celebrate.
“Rewinding back to the ‘70s, my concerts when I was so unhappy and so ill,” he reminded the audience, “I was mentally fatigued… I’d taken an overdose two days before. So it was a wonderful thing to come back there, and this is where I am now. And isn’t life amazing? … I’m at a different stage in my life. I have never been so happy. I’m 76 years old next week, and I told David and I told my sons, it’s taken me all this time, but I’ve never been as happy. And that’s because my priorities have changed, my lifestyle has changed. It’s all about my children at home, David and me — and my work takes care of itself, if I take care of it.”
John didn’t shy away from addressing how his performing abilities would be likely to drop off if he continued on the road indefinitely for years to come, or even the ultimate ticking clock.
“I’m very young at heart,” he told the packed house. “I mean, I have the energy of a 20-year-old, basically. Physically, I don’t. Things are dropping off at an alarming rate,” he quipped. “But 75 — I felt, ’75, it’s nothing!’ And then you get birthday cards like ‘Happy 75th birthday,’ and you think: 15 years is 90. And it suddenly hits you — your mortality hits you. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to stop, because, you know, that’s not much time. I hope I get there. I want to see my kids get married, but you never know. Life is full of surprises, and sometimes they’re not good surprises.
“So the reason I wanted to stop, obviously, is because I want to spend the time with my children and with David. The idea of going out on top was such a big thing with me. But I never dreamed… You know, I’ve tour a lot. I’m not like the Rolling Stone, who go away for five years, or Metallica or Bruce Springsteen. They come and go, and when they come back, it’s huge. I’ve always been on tour, whether it’s with my band, an orchestra, on my own, or with Ray Cooper. I’ve been omnipresent on the touring circuit. So when we announced the tour, I thought, ‘Well, I hope it goes well,’ but we were not expecting to have the result that we did.
“The love that I felt, and the people dressing up, it became the most incredible party, and I enjoyed every single minute of it. And people tap into 250 shows” — he noted the signs fans are seen holding up at Dodger Stadium bragging about how many dates they’ve seen over the decades — “and you think, ‘Why are you wasting your money on me?’ But it was a joyful experience, and that’s all you can ask for. Music is a joy anyway. To be able to play music is just so great. I’ve had the most incredible life doing it. but to finish like that, and at a place where I kind of feel it’s like a shrine to me, in the city that gave me the greatest start in my career, at the Troubadour… I owe everything to this city, and then to finish at Dodger Stadium in three nights, while I’m 75 at the end of my career, it was everything I could have dreamed of and more.
“And the broadcast, the live transmission, I didn’t notice anybody on stage. I didn’t notice the cameras. I didn’t even notice the dolly. And that’s the greatest job they did was to make themselves completely unobtrusive, and that helped me so much. So I have to thank them because when I go on stage, I’m concentrating on the music and the audience, and that’s it.”
Replied Winston: “I’m so relieved. I actually might put ‘so unobtrusive’ on my resume. No, it’s a real worry.” The producer of James Corden’s show, the Grammys, Adele’s special and other high-profile TV events talked about how they first got the call to produce the livestream only 10 weeks prior, and then how nervously things proceeded when the three-night stand finally arrived, with manager (and husband) David Furnish and Rocket Entertainment COO Luke Lloyd Davies (both of whom also participated in Monday’s Goldwyn event) joining Winston in overseeing the production.
“The first night, we all sat in the audience just to experience it, just to sort of notice what we needed to notice,” Winston said. “The second night we did a dress run, because of course we’re broadcasting live the following night, so we did a run as if it was live from start to finish — including, by the way, the 40 minute pre-show that we were also doing live as well… And so much went wrong on that second night. It was, on our part, excuse my language, a piece of shit. He was amazing, but we just got everything wrong. The timing was wrong. The cameras weren’t right. And so you go into that third day…”
“I heard about that,” interrupted Elton, dryly.
“After that second night, I didn’t sleep that night,” continued Winston, “because you realize the pressure of it. And then luckily, that third night, it just clicked when it needed to.”
The Dodger Stadium shoot involved 28 cameras, including those trained on the audience or drone or helicopter shots. But that wasn’t the entirety of it. “We had a documentary team there as well,” noted Davis, referring to a yet-to-be-scheduled doc that was also part of the package Disney+ bought. Added Furnish, “on the night, it was actually three crews having to kind of mesh well together and not get in each other’s way,” counting the one that was sending out video to the stadium’s big screens, apart from what was being livestreamed.
John allowed that there were pressure-cooker aspects, though nothing that fazed him too much. “I mean, throughout my career I’ve had certain things I’ve had to do where I’ve had to call on my professionalism — the most obvious example being the funeral of Princess Diana. That was the first time I’ve used a Teleprompter, by the way, because I thought if I sing (the original lyric) ‘Goodbye Norma Jean,’ I’m gonna be drawn and quartered. So I had the Teleprompter down there and I pulled it off.” Of this latest situation, he said, “Because I’ve been doing this since I been 17, if I can’t do it now, I never can.”
There was nothing about the setting he took for granted. “Dodger Stadium is a magnificent place to play,” he said, and the best, “I think, outside of Madison Square Garden, basically. Madison Square Garden is the best inside place to play; Dodger Stadium is the best outside.”
Said Furnish, “Elton and his band are unbelievably tight. I want to point out that everything they do is 100% live. There’s no click tracks. There’s no pre-record…”
“Except for ‘Cold Heart,'” interrupted Elton, keeping everything on the up-and-up, referring to the duet he did with Dua Lipa on the livestream.
“…except for ‘Cold Heart,’ because Elton sings that over the pre-recorded track. But they are 100% live. And what I love about the way we capture the concert is you can see the connection between Elton and his band. They are so tight, and the review that came along from Variety afterward complimented and really praised Elton’s band, which I think you were more happy about” — which John confirmed by quoting the review’s commendation of his veteran accompanists as “one of the great bands of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
That was a band chemistry that has existed only on-stage, not off-, since the advent of the pandemic. Said John, “We had to have a COVID bubble because there was no insurance. We were playing big stadiums, big arenas, and if we miss a show, there’s no insurance, so it’s really a financial big hit. so we got used to being a Covid bubble. It’s difficult at first. I never saw the band at all until I got on stage, for the whole tour. They had their own COVID bubble I had my own Covid bubble. On my 75th birthday in Atlanta, I spent it with just the guy who was cooking for me, my photographic curator and my housekeeper from London. And I was in bed by 6 o’clock.”
John indicated that his enjoyment of the 2022 resumption of the tour came in spite of his own expectations for a post-pandemic run.
“David had, seven or eight years ago, come up with a five-year plan for me, and it all came together at Dodger Stadium, and it’s been an incredible ride. Everything he did, he pulled off — the film (‘Rocketman’), the book (‘Me’), the streaming and the tour, and I really thoroughly enjoyed it. After COVID, I didn’t know when I started in New Orleans at the beginning of the year whether I was gonna enjoy it or not, because I’d enjoyed being at home for two years. I’d never been at home for two years, at all. I actually saw my daffodils grow.”