MAY 2005

> ELTON AND BILLY | tracy kushman

It was Monday, February 24th and for all intents and purposes I should have been in Louisville, Kentucky getting ready to go to my History of Rock and Roll class. But I wasn't. Instead I was in Baytown, Texas, in the back of Janet Faust's truck doing 80 on the freeway running like Hell to the Compaq Center in Houston, to make it to the Elton John and Billy Joel concert on time.

In the front seats Emily and her mother were arguing over how to get to the center while innocent, little me sat in the back, eyes closed, praying that we'd making it there on time and safely. Hell, just safely at this point. They should have figured this out days ago. I thought to myself as I took another deep breath. My inhales and exhales were interrupted by Emily in the front seat, "Mom slow down you're going to rear-end that guy!"

And then Janet from beside her: "Emily calm down I know what I'm doing."

I breathed deep, trying to calm my insides down, trying to relax. I resorted to my old trick. I took my favorite Elton John song and began singing it in my head, concentrating on the lyrics instead of what was going on in the car. Diverting my attention so I wouldn't be scared shitless as we approached the Compaq Center. When I think of those east-end lights, muggy nights, curtains drawn in that little room down stairs ... That's as far as I got. "We're here!" Emily yelled from in front of me. I sighed in relief. We had made it, we didn't die, and we hadn't rear-ended that guy ahead of us. Now I could concentrate on getting excited for the concert.

We found our seats: directly above and behind the stage. On Elton's side (of course). I remember thinking at the time that they couldn't be any better. There was a big screen hanging almost right in front of us that would show us what was going on from the viewpoint of those in the front. And we could look down and get an awesome view of our favorite performers.

Before the show started Emily and I busied ourselves by looking over the programs that we each shelled out twenty bucks for. An outrageously high price, but worth it all the same, to us devoted Elton fans. We "oooed" and "ahhed" over the new pictures of Elton (and Billy too) that we now possessed and went back and forth pointing out little details to each other in each others book.

Then, suddenly, the lights dimmed and my heart went into my throat. A strange, overly manufactured version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" began playing through the speakers in the center. And then there he was. Walking on stage with the white hot spotlight fixed on him was Billy Joel. The whole crowd was on their feet screaming and clapping. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" began to taper off and a new song started. "God Save the Queen" began and from the right side of the stage, complete in a hot pink Versace suit was Elton John. Emily and I stood up even taller (if that was possible) and yelled and screamed so loud we thought we'd go hoarse. Then the two piano players walked toward each other, embraced and shook hands. Then it was off to their respective pianos.

"It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside," Elton sang, and the crowd again burst into screams and cheers. He and Billy began singing Elton's first hit "Your Song" and the concert began.

After a few songs Janet looked over at Emily and whispered "I'm gonna go see if I can find us some better seats. Look for me down there and then come and follow me." She pointed to an area beside the stage below us where a few people were seated but there were still many open seats. Emily acknowledged that she heard but paid more attention to the concert, since now Elton was on the stage solo and was doing an awesome rendition of "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." I didn't think much of what Janet had said until I suddenly felt Emily slap me (hard) on my arm.

"Look!" she yelled, pointing to that same spot. "She fucking got over there!" We debated whether or not we should attempt to follow her, and finally we decided that we would. Elton was now playing "Rocket Man" and would be for a "long, long time" as he normally does during concerts, so we thought it'd be best to get up then and go see if we could find her.

As we left the area with the stage cool air hit our faces, as did a rush of people still buying beer and snacks and souvenirs from the concert. We managed to find our way to an opening that overlooked Elton's side of the stage (we could see his back perfectly.) and we walked down the ramp. Sitting in an aisle seat, in what a ticket would have called "obstructed view seating" sat Janet with her nachos and beer. Emily and I walked down the ramp pretending that we knew what we were doing. Pretending that we belonged where we were. And it worked. No one stopped us, no one asked to see our tickets. No one talked to us at all. We just sauntered down the ramp and into two vacant seats next to Janet.

From my viewpoint I know why they would have been called "obstructed view seating." Part of the stage was blocked by large "roadie boxes" with the letters "E J" stamped big on the side. Other parts of the stage were blocked by the lighting and the sound engineer. Another bad thing about the seats was that there wasn't one of those big screen TVs to watch the show on. But the good part? I was no less than 30 feet away from Elton John. And when he got off from his piano to say "hi" to the crowd, he walked to the side of the stage and pointed straight at me. I swear. I know everyone at that concert said, "He pointed right at me!" but let a girl have her dream.

If I stood or sat in just the right position I could see Elton's back perfectly in between two large spotlight thingies. It was the best view I could have asked for.

Sadly, after an hour and a half to two hours after it began Elton's solo set ended and he left the stage amid more cheers and screams (mostly from Emily and myself). And then Billy Joel came on. It was during the first few Billy Joel songs that Emily and I decided it would be best to try and use the restroom and buy some goodies. So off we went to the concession stand where we stood in line no more than five minutes so that I could spend one hundred dollars on things that really shouldn't have cost me more than fifty.

After that, here's an amazing thing, we actually found a restroom that no one else seemed to know about. There was no line, no wait, no crowd around the bathroom, nothing. Just a couple random girls who had also had the fortune of finding the vacant bathroom. So in we went. And out came Emily in her brand new "Elton John, Billy Joel: Face 2 Face" tee shirt that I bought for her as a (belated) Christmas present. And out I came in the same shirt I was wearing before, an old vintage 1980 Elton John tour shirt from some unnamed tour. It said it was a large, but it fit more like a medium. It was black, and all it had on it was a white piano surrounded by neon green and pink lights on a red stage. Very 80s. It was the first Elton shirt I'd ever gotten. And it was my favorite.

So, only missing one or two songs, we headed back through the masses to our new seats to enjoy the rest of the concert. Billy was all the way at the other end of the stage, so he was a little harder to see than Elton was. But he was just as loud so we enjoyed him just as much.

During one song (I can't remember which one it was now though) Billy stood up while he sung instead of sitting at the piano (something Elton never does) which was good for Emily, Janet and myself because he wandered around to "our" side of the stage ever once and a while. Janet leaned over to me at one point and said, "I think he's a little hammered." To stress her point Billy then performed a half-striptease, taking off his jacket and whipping it around him like call-girls do for their money. It was all jokingly of course, and funny as hell.

But just as Elton's set had, Billy's ended as well. This was taken a little bit better by Emily and myself because we knew that it meant Elton was returning! I was thrilled for two reasons. One of course being it was Elton John and that's reason enough to be excited. But the other one was because the guy beside me, who had "a few drinks" and was on his "too many" kept trying to dance with me and talk to me during Billy's whole set. Once Billy set ended I could go back to my seat between Emily and Janet that gave me the better view of Elton and his piano.

The end of concert was by far the most energetic of any concert I've been to. The chemistry between Elton and Billy was there, definitely. Elton was sneaking across the stage, scaring Billy causing him to laugh instead of sing a line of a song. Billy stood on top of his piano and then did a little jump, like a kid playing in puddles after a rainy afternoon, to Elton's piano while Elton's back was turned signing autographs for the lucky fans in the front row. Then he hopped back without Elton seeing him. I'm sure later he'll wonder how those foot prints got there, however.

Then, Elton yelled "Thank you" and the lights went out. Janet leaned over to Emily and said, "Well that's it, let's go," obviously wanting to beat the rest of the mob to their cars and subsequently to the traffic.

"It's not over yet," I said to her. Panic was in my voice. I was almost positive she'd make us leave anyway and we'd miss the encore of the show. "They haven't played 'Piano Man' yet. They never end a concert without playing 'Piano Man'." And Janet sat back down, not looking disappointed at all.

The rest of the crowd seemed to know that the show wasn't quite over yet too. They were screaming and yelling and even stomping their feet waiting for Elton and Billy to return to the stage. Then the lights came back on and up from behind the stage they came. Elton (now in his third costume change, this time a track suit) and Billy (with a harmonic harness around his neck) walked up to the front of the stage, took each other's hands and bowed to their fans. Then they walked back to their pianos.

Billy started, and then Elton joined in, "Nine o'clock on a Saturday, regular crowd shuffles in," Billy sang his verse and the Elton got to his where he changed the words, "You're a bloody good crowd for a Monday!" he said instead of "It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday" and of course being referred to in song the audience (and yes, I did as well) went wild.

But then sadly the song had to end, and with it ended the concert. Emily, Janet and I grabbed our belongings (minus a jacket Emily wouldn't realize she'd forgotten until we'd gotten out to the parking garage, "It was old anyway," she said as we left it for the janitors to find.) and hurried out to the truck to try and beat the crowd.

No such luck. It just so happened that we had parked right next to a couple and their young daughter who had been sitting beside us before we had gotten better seats. Being the friendly Texas folks that they are Janet and Emily struck up a conversation with the family about the show. Emily mostly talked to the little girl (having a child of her own, she tends to gravitate towards kids now).

Janet instructed Emily and I to stand in the middle of the traffic flow so that she could pull out into the oncoming lane so we could be on our way. Reluctantly we, being just kids compared to Janet, did as we were told, and stopped traffic much to the displeasure of a man and woman in Ford F-150. Once she had pulled out into traffic Emily and I raced into the car not wanting to piss of the couple any further. Once in the car I passed Emily her new key chain (which I had also bought her in compensation for breaking her Elton John candle earlier that week) and then proceeded to put mine on my key ring.

Before heading home we stopped at a Shell gas station to get some drinks and snacks for the half hour ride home. Inside Shell there were about fifteen people standing around talking about the concert. The manager would have been thrilled. "So some guy just came up to us and handed us front row tickets," we overheard a woman say.

"Wow! Front row! That's awesome!" I could resist my urge to interject into her conversation.

"Yeah," she said to me, "I got to touch Billy Joel five times!"

"Yeah, but did you get to touch Elton?" I said back.

"Once," she said.

"Well that's awesome that you got to touch Billy Joel," Emily said, "but we're more Elton fans than Billy fans. We're still Billy fans but we're first and foremost Elton fans."

We left the convenience store with Emily slightly angry, and not just because she couldn't find a 20 ounce Diet Dr. Pepper. "I bet they weren't even big fans," she said in mild disgust.

I, at least, went home that night determined that next time Elton came to town I'd be the one with the front row seat.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Tracy Kushman is 21 and is an English major at the University of Louisville. Right now she's wearing her pjs, getting ready to go to bed. She works at Valu Market. She has a three-year-old God-son named Aubrey who is the world's youngest Elton John fan. She likes monkeys and Diet Coke.