Roger Waters, Carlos Santana, the Pixies are just a few of a long list of artists who gave in to political pressure and cancelled their scheduled performances in Israel in the past few years. After receiving threats of an artistic boycott by anti-Israeli groups, they were publicly called to avoid coming to this “horrible” place. Those artists joined the cultural boycott of Israel, which was organized by our haters, and that its outcomes are worse than any hostile news report. Those artists helped to put Israel in cultural solitude, simply because they were too afraid of criticism, and managed to bring politics to the universal language: music.
While some caved into the pressure, there are several reasonable, confident, true musicians, who don’t care what people think: they are here to make music. Here, in Israel, we don’t listen to Israeli music only, but rather enjoy international music, mostly American and British. I, myself, am a huge Elton John fan, and when he announced his arrival to Israel, I was almost hospitalized. Shortly after the announcement, the pressure reared its ugly head. Up until the day of the performance, I, along with 40 thousand ticket purchasers, had no idea if we will be able to have the night of our life, or receive a refund. The wait was nerve-wracking. Every week in the four months from the announcement to the performance, new conflicted reports were published. I was certain he would cave, for the fans are the most important thing for my good friend, Elton. But he didn’t disappoint, and played for us like never before.
June 17th, 2010. I’ve been waiting for this night my entire life, and this is why even four months after purchasing my ticket, I still couldn’t believe where I was. Ramat Gan stadium, at night, just me and my 40 thousand best friends. At 8:45 pm, almost too early in Israeli time, the lights went off, and as the late comers were still trying to find their seats, the band members took their places on stage. The youngest amongst them is a 50 year old pretty-boy keyboard player. The eldest, wearing a flannel shirt showing a wrinkled, hairy chest, was obviously not self-conscious. Two minutes of instrumental intro reached its climax when King John took his place by the piano. He was short, fat, and looked more like my grandfather than a rock legend, but when his fingers touched the keys, the world ceased from spinning. It seemed like everything negative or wrong in the world simply faded away. There were no wars, no global warming, no politics. The world became the notes that came out of John’s piano. At that moment, before even performing the first song, I found myself tearing up. I was overwhelmed both by the existence of this concer, and by the amazing force of each note. The gentle vibration in his rusty voice, along with unbelievable improvisations, cast a spell on me.
His voice is not the same, no doubt, and the high tones are hard to accomplish, but sir Elton Hercules John knows he can trust his audience. Almost as if it was prepared in advance, 40 thousand people sang “Roooooaaaadddd aaaaahhhhh” in perfect pitch. He knows how to get the recognition he deserves. At the end of each song, he leaves his comfort zone by the piano, reaches the center of the stage, and bows to the roaring audience, while mumbling “thank you. I love you”. Other than that, he doesn’t talk much, and let the songs speak on his behalf. Unlike most performing artists, he doesn’t tell the stories behind the songs, nor personal stories of any kind. He doesn’t need to. It is a shame to waste music-time. Nevertheless, there was one monologue on which he didn’t skip. Prior to his arrival, just like before any musician’s arrival to Israel, there was a lot of pressure on him to cancel his performance. Anti-Israeli groups called on him to join a cultural boycott on Israel. This type of pressure took down many musicians who were supposed to come here, but not John. To the sound of 80 thousand hands clapping and 40 thousand mouths whistling, he announced that no one can stop him from coming to Israel, and that it is the purpose of music to bring people together. Just like that, he managed to top the pure beauty of the music he makes.
Despite being a huge Elton fan, there were some songs I didn’t recognize. It didn’t matter. I was caught up by each note, as my heart pounded like crazy. The energy trough the audience was un-Israeli and somewhat mellow, but when he started playing “Benny and the Jets”, some sparks of energy started to go through the seats. When he started playing “I’m Still Standing”, there was no warm seat left. Everyone was on their feet, jumping and singing the lyrics which best describes John. Two and a half hours felt like ten minutes to me. Two and a half hours of musical combinations which made both my body and soul shake with thrills, sewed like a golden thread by John and his band.
He returns for the encore to a continent-crossing cheers. For solid five minutes he stops everything and reaches the front rows, shaking hands, signing, and collecting flowers and love. Then, he blows a kiss in the air, and sits by the piano. He starts playing the legendary “Circle of Life”, while images from The Lion King are shown on the screen. The show is sealed with my favorite song of all time: “Your Song”, as a fireworks spectacular shoots in the air. As he leaves the stage, the lights turn on, both in the stadium and in my life. I will never forget that night, the night when the ground shook.