Sara Melson: I have been truly blessed in my life with what, for me, were peak religious experiences—standing front and center at Neil Young’s benefit show at the Painted Turtle; worshiping at the church of Patti Smith at the Wiltern; and watching Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ 50th anniversary show from the wings backstage at the Pantages Theatre, tears streaming down my face. Oh, and there was that time I saw Prince at Coachella—and then had a life-changing conversation with him afterwards; so choosing a show for this column was what one would call a good dilemma.
On Oscar night 2016, I was in my pajamas, stretching in the living room with the awards on in the background, when my phone rang. It was my friend Lyndsey Parker, a music journalist. “What are you doing right now? My plus one fell through. Get dressed.”
An hour later, I found myself leaning on the edge of a platform riser, at the foot of Elton John’s piano bench, watching his fingers fly across the keys. We were at his AIDS Foundation Oscars after-party, and there I was, having staked out the prime spot right underneath him, close enough to reach out and touch his pant legs. To be so close as to see the spit fly out of his mouth as he sang, and to see him play every note of those songs was a surreal, out-of-body experience. The freedom and exuberance of his playing was joy incarnate. I was in ecstasy.
The set was mind-bogglingly awesome. It was hit after hit: “Tiny Dancer,” “Call It the Blues,” “Levon,” “Your Song,” “Bennie and the Jets”—his voice and playing were as powerful as ever. When he got to “Rocket Man,” that’s when I bawled, blowing my nose into a napkin. He looked down at me, and our eyes met; his were twinkling at me. I had spent pretty much every afternoon after school with the tattered copy of Honky Chateau my parents had in their killer vinyl collection, memorizing that album, and especially that song, note for note and word for word. I fell in love back then with Elton through his voice, with its soul and attitude, and that gorgeous resonance. Twelve year-old me could never have imagined this night.
When the show was over, two large bodyguards whisked Elton off the stage platform and through the banquet hall. The crowd dispersed like the parting of the Red Sea as Elton, flanked by the two men, strode briskly toward the exit. Then he saw me in his path, and his face lit up. He stopped, grabbed me by the shoulders, his face inches from mine, and grinned. “Did you like it, darling?” he asked. “You were so amazing,” I said. He gave me a huge bear hug, and then he pulled back, smiled and gave me a long, sweet, luxurious kiss on the lips.
I can still remember the feeling of his soft, full lips pressing gently into mine. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, he passed some of his magical mojo into me that night.
Sara Melson Recalls Elton’s Glory: Sara Melson’s “Wound Too Tight” is out now.