Last week Jeanne and I went with a friend to see the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.” You should see it if you haven’t—well worth your time. No spoilers here, except to say that if you love Sir Elton’s music as I do, you’ll love the movie. I’ve been an Elton-o-phile for many years; a few years ago, Jeanne got me a ticket to an Elton John concert here in Providence the day after he celebrated his 60th birthday. His “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album came out during my senior year in high school; I loved it so much that, in short order, I not only purchased it, but also bought the four or five albums he had released prior to the blockbuster double album.
One of these early albums is titled simply “Elton John,” his second LP release from 1970. It begins with two love songs, the first of which is “Your Song,” Elton’s first megahit single. In “Rocketman,” it is the song that finally hooks a resistant record label manager, who calls it “the best thing I’ve heard since ‘Let It Be.’” It is indeed beautiful, but it’s the second, less known love song on the album, “I Need You To Turn To,” that is my favorite Sir Elton song of all time. Simple, elegant, guaranteed to give me chills every time I hear it.
You’re not a ship to carry my life
You are nailed to my love in many lonely nights
I’ve strayed from the cottages and found myself here
For I need your love, your love protects my fears
And I wonder sometimes and I know I’m unkind
But I need you to turn to when I act so blind
And I need you to turn to when I lose control
You’re my guardian angel who keeps out the cold
Did you paint your smile on, well I said I knew
That my reason for living was for loving you
We’re related in feeling, but you’re high above
You’re pure and you’re gentle with the grace of a dove
Elton John was my dorm room soundtrack during my first two years at college 2500 miles away from home. After Christmas of my freshman year, I was engaged to be married; my fiancée and I had been a couple since our junior year in high school. Underneath my extreme introversion and cerebral energies, I am a romantic at heart—I used to get chills and sometimes even a tear in my eye when I listened to “I Need You to Turn To”—but I knew it was not about my fiancée. I found myself wondering if there would ever be anyone in my life who matched Bernie Taupin’s lyrics—and I knew it wasn’t my fiancée. We had been good friends since seventh grade, both of our families and everyone at our church expected us to get married once we started officially dating in high school, but this song wasn’t about her. And she would have said that this song was not about me from her perspective. We got married between my sophomore and junior years in college.
We both should have paid attention to our hearts. Fast forward eleven years, six months after my divorce. My parents invited me to come, with my two young sons, to their place for Thanksgiving. And, oh yeah—they were inviting their friend Jeanne for the holiday as well. I had heard about Jeanne before—my parents had known her for a number of years. When she came up in conversation, my mother always mentioned her beautiful singing voice and her beautiful red hair.
Jeanne and I had even talked on the phone once a couple of years earlier, when she called me out of the blue just to tell me that she had been accepted into the master’s program at St. John’s College, where I had done my bachelor’s degree in the seventies (and where I had listened to Elton John in my dorm room). Jeanne only knew about St. John’s because my parents had spoken of it in glowing terms based on my experience. She thought—correctly—that only someone who had been there would know how big of a deal it was to get into St. John’s. So now this person, whom I knew only through second-hand stories from my mother and a voice on the phone, was going to be at my parents’ place for Thanksgiving. I’m not big on meeting new people, but figured this was safe because I would have my parents as a buffer.
Those few days over Thanksgiving changed several lives. Although the last thing I was looking for was a relationship six months after my divorce had ended eleven years of unhappy marriage, it was immediately clear that there was something going on between the two of us. On Thanksgiving morning, I sat on the sofa in the small living room of my parents’ condo observing Jeanne chatting with my mother who was puttering around in her little kitchen. Leaning with her back up against the wall as she talked, Jeanne struck a seductive pose (or so it seemed to me), and I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was falling in love. A few days later, I inexplicably had tears in my eyes as I started the long drive home. In some deep place I knew I was driving away from my soul mate. But after a month of nightly phone calls of more than an hour each, she joined me for Christmas and we were together for good.
That was a bit over thirty-one years ago. Today is Jeanne’s birthday, an event worth celebrating on many levels. Seeing “Rocketman” last weekend stirred up a bunch of decades-old, pre-Jeanne memories, including how “I Need You to Turn To” used to affect me. I knew forty-five years ago that this song was describing something I had never experienced and someone that I had never met, but deeply longed for. There was no guarantee that I would ever meet the person Elton is singing about in this song. But something stirred inside me at my parents’ condo that Thanksgiving Day as I observed Jeanne talking with my mother—something that “I Need You to Turn To” had told me about many years earlier. There she was, my guardian angel who keeps out the cold.
Happy birthday, my dear. I love you.