Why Aren't You More Famous?
I'm one of those people who doesn't always take compliments well. Maybe some are actually hard to take well. I'm a songwriter and a singer, a performer and entertainer. It turns out that I write songs that make people come up to me and say, "Hey, that second song in your set sounded like a hit, and the fourth one too. What was that one closer to the end? That sounded like a hit too, and some in between. Come to think of it, I really liked the first one. Why aren't you more famous?"
Clearly, this is meant as a compliment—unless someone is trying to ask what I've done to screw things up—but it has actually been a bit depressing and instigated tremendous self-doubt and criticism: “Why AREN'T I more famous?! Why haven't I had more hits?”—which might be followed by, “Did you ever really have one?" (I'm reminded of the line from Tootsie when Dorothy Michaels says to Dr. Van Horn, "Were you ever really famous?”)
The last time I was on tour in the UK, this happened to me over and over. I wondered where I'd gone wrong. If these songs were so good—so hit-worthy—why were the only people hearing them me, my band, and the 20-100 people who turned out to our gigs? Where did I go wrong?
As it goes with songwriters, this dark conversation with myself echoed and boomeranged throughout the levels of my consciousness until a melody presented itself and a song was born. I decided I’d ask that question—“Where did I go wrong?”—to one of my favorite artists from my youth, one of the biggest hitmakers—ever. Surely, he could shed some light. I didn't actually know him though—couldn’t give a call or a text. So I sent it out the way I do, via this musical missive: “Where Did I Go Wrong, Elton John?”
This is a song that was written with a lot of sincerity and not a little pain. And more pain followed when it wasn't received in the way I wrote it; one magazine called it a "misstep" in its review of my album, Love, Loss and Lunacy. But I was so proud of it. It was a title with an unintentional sense of humor, but the song was pretty sad. So what? Things can be sad and funny, can't they? Or can't they? Maybe that's where I went wrong!
A friend of a friend got the song to Elton. I was told he’d listened to it on a tour bus with his crew, and that he was “chuffed.” "Uh oh," I said to the friend of a friend, thinking I’d offended a music legend with my self-deprecating ode.
“No, ML. In British, ‘chuffed’ means proud and touched."
I was further informed that his crew started singing it to him at one point—perhaps, I feared, as in "where did I go wrong, boss?" So, I assumed the chuff had worn off and some degree of irritation had set in, that he felt not unlike my critics, but for different reasons. This was never verified, except in my mind by the fact that he never asked me to sing with him or open for him on tour—probably because I wasn’t famous enough ;)
Today, I’m sitting alone in a coffee shop at 14th Street and 3rd Avenue, New York City. Great seat by the window, watching the people go by. Twin sisters walk side by side, looking away from each other but marching to the same beat, same gait. There goes another girl with hair down to her knees. Other customers come and go. My lovely server refills my coffee cup. I jot these words on paper, enjoying my freedom and my solitude amid the crowd. Something Elton John might envy.
Where did I go wrong, Elton John? Maybe nowhere. Maybe this is the most perfect place on earth.