The album art, especially the lyrics, for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road because Grooving Is Fundamental.
In my seven-year old opinion the finest turntable that folded out of a wall was made by NuTone Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Only the truly civilized had turntables that folded out of a paneled wall. The first time I saw a turntable that just sat on a shelf, doing nothing, I was confused.
Strathmore was the eighteenth subdivision built by Levitt & Sons on Long Island. Situated on 677 acres on both sides of Exit 50, Bagatelle Road, in Dix Hills, they built 560 homes on large lots with no sidewalks. To get to the subdivision’s pool, you had to cross over the Long Island Expressway.
Most of my world consisted of one of four colonial-adjacent floor plans: the Endicott, the Fairfield, the Judson ranch, and ours, the five-bedroom Valbrook. Neighbors my parents did not know were referred to as “Y’know, the Judson up by Bagatelle. Those people.” A life lived in one of four plans —maybe six if you included school and the mall —got old very quickly. I needed more.
Luckily, I knew where in each of the four floor plans you could find the NuTone Intercom System with its fold-out turntable. It was always on the wall of the family room, nearest the kitchen. The fold-out NuTone was my sidewalk; it went places.
If you stood on the part of the sofa where your mom usually sat when she actually sat, you could easily reach the handle and pull down the turntable. Drop a record, hit start. The NuTone did the rest. It knew where the record started. Music just happened, which is the best thing for music to do. From there you could send music into every room, even your own bedroom, where you could let the sound from the three-inch plastic-mounted speaker wash over you in all its monaural splendor. Or you could just dance in the family room. When you were done dancing because you’ve banged yourself into the fireplace and have sit down, you can occupy yourself by reading the lyrics of whichever one of your older sisters’ albums you were listening to.
Back then, there was an ad for Reading Is Fundamental that played constantly between cartoons. A city kid meanders sadly through the rubble of a bombed-out Lower East Side, brand new Twin Towers in the background. He is sad because he has nothing to read, no escape from his humdrum existence.
[No, I did not understand the difference between inner-city poverty and prepubescent suburban ennui.]
Then he spies the RIF bookmobile and runs to join the one-of-each diverse line waiting to get in. Once among the books, he picks a large one called I Am Somebody. He bounds joyfully to a quiet perch on the edge of the East River. The cruel city melted away.
This is how I felt when I opened up an album sleeve and settled down on the couch in the place where my mother sat but rarely sat. I would follow along with the words to each song. I was going places in my head. I was somebody.
And the place I went to the most was somewhere beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I strapped on my ruby red platforms and stepped thru an album cover shaped poster into what I assumed was Oz. Or at least somewhere Oz-adjacent.
I was very familiar with The Wizard of Oz. It was always a special occasion when CBS ran it. Once my parents insisted that I watch it on the black and white tv upstairs. No! “Then how am I supposed to enjoy when it turns to color? You have to let me watch the beginning in the family room. I will go upstairs when it switches to color.” They agreed to that, probably because they could see my face was turning a bright Technicolor as I continued to argue that a black and white to color switch in only black and white was a metaphor for my miserable life.
And if The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color, what did it look like BEYOND color after you said goodbye?
Turns out it’s sort of pastel and involves ALL the fonts.
Second grade was the year my teacher put a note on my final report card saying that I needed to lighten up. It was when I started getting bored and feeling different. At school I would try to be interesting. Interesting doesn’t go over well in the second grade. People let you know.
But when I unfolded Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I went to complicated places where being merely interesting just wouldn’t cut it. You had to be really fucking interesting to merit a mention in this world.
But before you could meet these people, you had to journey thru what you were sure was the longest piece of music every written, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Eleven minutes, six seconds.
It just builds and builds as Dix Hills and the fake brick in the family room recede. You’re moving thru Oz. You will only emerge beyond Oz when Elton finally lets you know that the roses in the window box have tilted to one side. “The roses in the window box have tilted to one side” may be the greatest flower-related opening line in all of art this side of “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
People did shit in this Oz-adjacent world. Shit that tilted the very ground.
They confronted death… “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” “Candle in the Wind”
They had drinking problems… “Social Disease,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”
They owned clothes a bit better than my Toughskins. I mean I felt I was close to Bennie sartorially because I had my “Monday” Toughskins jeans with the shiny tic-tac-toe boards bedazzled on the ass cheeks. [“Because it’s Monday, Mom!”] But she had shoes that were electric and suits made from mole hair —here abbreviated as “mohair” to fit the meter… “Bennie and the Jets”
There were women just like those next to Dad’s office in Times Square that you went to every Jewish holiday who were dressed up “because they’re on their way to work, son.” This was not a lie. [“Ron! Why do you have to point that stuff out to him?”]… “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice”
Don’t miss the hardcore girl-on-girl action! Have fun watching your sister Kallen dodge your questions about the lyrical contradictions you’ve noticed pertaining to perceived notions of gender and sexuality… “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” see above
There’s mystery! Seals turn into birds for some reason not apparent in the lyrics… “Grey Seal”
Seriously, what the fuck do seals have to do with birds? Why can’t everything be in the text?
Because sometimes you have to do the work yourself.
So I did the work. Each song became a little movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing backstories on each character based upon Elton’s hints. From the album artwork I learned that the stories we get to hear are only a part of a character’s life.
To this day, it’s the lyrics of a song that gets me going. Beats come and beats go, but lyrics are forever. Any idiot can dance to a beat; a true connoisseur mouths along to the lyrics like they’re living it. I dance to a song because, in that moment, I am sure that I am the subject of the song. One must bounce around to honor that feeling.
Reading the colorful, ALL the fonts lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made me love music. And music makes me interesting.
At least to me.