“In the circle of life,
It’s the wheel of fortune.
It’s the leap of faith.
It’s the band of hope,
‘Til we find our place.
On the path unwinding, yeah.
In the circle, the circle of life.” (1994) “Circle Of Life” From Disney’s, The Lion King. Recorded By: Elton John Written By: Elton John & Tim Rice
Look around. We see the results everywhere. Our culture tends to scream it out. Childhood abuse, in various forms, can cause even the brightest souls to spin off course, or knocked into another orbit than intended. Early trauma in a child’s life can deliver a lens through which the injured views the future by way of a fogged scrim. Often this skewed vision can last until death, or to the doorstep of an intervention of some kind giving opportunity for an adjustment.
A brilliant young man, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was such an injured person. His childhood experiences drove him headlong into a life of debauchery, self-destruction, horrific tantrums, and hopelessness. Reginald became a severe addict. His addictive behavior was manifested in numerous ways. He became addicted to all things material, shopping, sexual addictions, sour relationships, abusive actions toward lovers, alcohol consumption, drug abuse (cocaine being the pet), out-of-control financial spending, gross hording of collectibles, eating disorders, and so much more. When it came to substance abuse, he became so addicted that he was in the all-you-can-consume-buffet-line. If there was more cocaine in the building, his nose found found it until it was all gone. Once he started, he couldn’t stop.
Relationships, good relationships, were seemingly avoided as a young man. Although he found himself engaged to a young lady, a woman who was abusive in word, in deed, and violent at times, he was presented with a solution to his troubled relationship. He listened to a close friend who was gay, and decided that he himself might be gay. Although it went against all he was raised with, he made the decision to try the gay lifestyle as he continued to run away from his past. The next morning they came with a truck to take him home, while she went her own way. His decisive choice threw him into a never ending line of gay lovers, some of which he never knew their names.
Many years later, he fell in love with…a woman. Nobody close to him believed it could happen, but it did. For reasons a bit unclear, they married. However, his lifestyle, and all that goes with it, had become so amalgamized with his daily life, and the destructive choices he made, ended the marriage some four years later. He, and his wife, both truly loved one another. They both still honor one another to this very day. They vowed to never discuss publicly the intimate details of their marriage, however the fly in the ointment was fairly evident.
As hard as it is to wrap your head around the following, it still must be mentioned here. Always looking for love, and always looking to satisfy his sexual addictions, he would pick up men like some pick up stray dogs. He would use them sexually for a few days, weeks, or possibly up to six months, then drop them by way of a friend slipping the rejected man an airplane ticket home. In the end, he admits to having hundreds of these types of relationships.
He never contracted AIDS, but many of his lovers and friends did. In fact, Reginald lost numerous friends to AIDS, drugs, accidents and suicide. In fact, he attempted to end his life at least three times with intension. Other times, he almost lost his life without any attempts due to cancer and rare infections. Still, his non-stop raving appetite for drugs and alcohol could’ve been his demise at any time throughout the fuzzy decades of abuse.
In 1978, on a rainy, dreary Sunday morning in one of his homes in England, he rose from his bed in deep depression. Actually, he had been in depression for many years as he tried, but failed to self-medicate. But on this day, it seemed much darker to him. Once again, he morbidly felt he was on the edge of death, even visualizing floating away from his body toward space itself, burning up the fuse up there alone. His steps from the bed to the doorway competed heavily with a massive hangover from the night before. As he made his way through the spacious home, he left Reginald Kenneth Dwight behind like a cold bathrobe and , as he did each day, slipped into his Elton John character as he made his stumbling way to the piano bench.
Photo: From – Me: Elton John from, Macmillan Publishing. Photographed By: Terry O’Neill/Iconic Images.
It was a rare occasion when he would write a song without his co-writing partner, Bernie Taupin. Bernie was the lyricist, and Elton was the music composer. However, something often came over him to write a song on his own, without the lyrical assistance of Bernie. This particular, dark morning, was one of them. Still in a cloudy haze from what lingered in his bloodstream, a haunting melody reverberated in his mind. He began to plink it out note by note, chord by chord. As usual, it was beautiful to the ear. At first, he had no thought as to a lyric as he was only playing the instrumental bubbling up from within. The song itself came rather quickly to the keyboard, as was the norm for Elton’s gargantuan talent, but soon a line wormed its way through the notes and the fog of the morning. Like a tape loop, it rotated in his mind over and over again. Being in such a depressive, hungover state, with a sense of great loss, he wasn’t expecting a lyric to make its presence known. Yet, there it was, out of nowhere, loud and clear. Elton began to match it with the chord structure, repeating it verbally like a thick continual scroll. Unlike past lyrical adventures in the composition of songs, this line was the only line that displayed itself to him that morning. It was a short lyric, but a massive, hard-hitting domino of a line not to be lost or forgotten. It read like this…
Now, say what you will about the validity, or the absurdity of such a line, but there are times when one can be inspired by something in the air? Something outside of one’s self? A spiritual connection? A spirit tested? A spirit not tested? Which ever way you believe it to be, this did happen while the melody was being formed in his music room that day. It’s a sad state of affairs when an individual, who is worth north of $500 million dollars, held such a lack of darkness and hope.
He loved the song so much that he wanted to release it. His intension was to title it, “Life isn’t Everything”. In studio, he simply sings the line very softly, repeating the line several times, toward the end of the instrumental. If you should bring it up on YouTube, you will find it to be a stirring, daunting piece, mixed with an edge of a feeling of floating away without care. Businesswise, the song did well on the UK charts, but poorly in the US. Still, if you heard it you might recognize the recording.
Guy Burchett was a 17 year old who ran messages and errands for Elton’s production company. He was a local lad who was always available, hard working, and dependable. Guy was a year younger than I. Knowing how I loved EJ’s music, I can see how eager he was to work for the musician. Elton was notified the following day of Guy’s unfortunate sudden death due to a motorcycle accident. As the information came down, as it turned out, the young man’s life had been snuffed out at the same time Elton was constructing the song on that Sunday morning. Grieved, he made the choice to honor his young friend by entitling the new song, “Song For Guy”.
I am not here to be Elton’s judge. I am not here to bash Elton’s lifestyle. I am not here to denounce Elton’s decisions in life. Because I view things through a biblical point of view, I know that for the grace of God go I. I know I have a tendency to feed on addictive trappings. God granted us freewill. I cannot blame my DNA heritage, or any particular generation in my bloodline, although it would seem easy to do so. Scripture makes it clear that I am responsible for my own decisions, whether to try for the bait in the traps, or not. In Elton’s autobiography, Me: Elton John, he admits falling hook, line, and sinker for cocaine at the very first snort. It can happen.
Still, the single line whispered into his brain on that drizzly Sunday morning in 1978 is so profound…and yet, so wrong. “Life isn’t everything”.
I will assume here that there was a Mr. and Mrs. Burchett who grieved painstakingly at the news of their son’s tragic death on the road. Although we don’t know them, I will assume they might have said, in their grief, “Oh, no!” Or maybe, “No, not my precious son!” Or possibly, “Our boy meant the world to us.” Grief is indeed the penalty of loving. More than likely, Guy’s life meant everything to his parents, in fact, to anyone who loved Guy.
Allowing for Sir Elton’s possible meaning, as he wrote the lyric which pounded into his head, the expression may have been a statement of eternal hope after this life is over. In that respect, it’s true. Life, in the here and now, isn’t everything. Life here is only temporary. Scripture aligns it like a puff of a vapor in the air, or a blade of grass that comes and goes with the seasons. Of course, in Elton’s state of loss, depression, while reeling from the aftermath of a night of debauchery, he might have been thinking death is more valuable. After all, it must be the relief of all that stains us, all that pains us, all that shakes us.
Here, I am pushed to disagree with one of my favorite musicians.
How valuable and distinctive is life?
Life isn’t just a four letter word on a board game by Hasbro. Life isn’t just a name on a Quaker Oats cereal box. Life is a gift, issued to each living thing. However, life for the human was issued in the most intimate way. Unlike the cow, the tree, the worm, humanity first took a breath when The great I Am, The Creator ordained the inhale by placing His own mouth over the nostrils and blew the breath of life into the first human. In other words, God Himself crouched down to the lifeless body of His creation and performed mouth-to-mouth, and that action caused life to occur in the new man. Life is issued. It is a gift. Just ask anyone who has had a near-death experience and lived to tell about it. Moreover, ask anyone who was lifeless due to an illness, or accident, and was reignited. I am one of those people. Life is a gift. Life is a stone thrown into a motionless pond, activating ripples upon impact. If you are alive, you have an impact on others around you. Yet, the One who gave life, also removes the breath.
Let us resolve to mention another truth concerning Elton’s lyric. As stated before, life isn’t everything, in that it is temporary. Just ask Guy Burchett. Oh, that’s right, you can’t ask him. Guy left his body at the age of 17 in 1978 during a tragic motorcycle crash. Guy, the person of Guy, left his body to enter eternity. Holy scripture is clear, there is more to this life. It may seem like a candle in the wind, but when the wick burns away, our flame carries on. Jesus spoke about the afterlife often, and the place(s) of the afterlife. God controls the final exits, and the doors entered. In scope, this life is only a blink of an eye compared to eternity. There is a second life, and a second death for some. I didn’t make that up, it’s spelled out in the ancient scrolls.
Although Elton is weird and wonderful, his book is brutally honest, so much so, it can be a very difficult read. Trust me, there were times at the end of a chapter I wanted to take a shower.
The man, the soul, Reginald, found himself removing his electric boots and entered a 12 step program. He learned much about his mistakes, his substance abuse, and even his old ruthless ways with those around him. He has gone back to many he has wronged to apologize for past behaviors. Sobriety has been his norm for many years now, and helps others who need to enter treatment. His view toward life softened much through the following years, even to the point of pouring himself into charities, and forming the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $450 million in AIDS research and medical treatment around the world. Through his circumstances in life, he has been forced to a more pliable heart. Even at this elder stage of his life, who knows where it might direct him.
As for Elton’s 1978 view of a throw-away life, he has changed his camera angle. In his book, on the very last page, he writes something so vastly opposite of his 1978 lyric. After suffering from cancer, and a devastating infection he contracted while on tour in South America which almost took his life, he writes:
“In the hospital, alone at the dead of night, I’d prayed: ‘please don’t let me die, please let me see my kids again, please give me a little longer.’ In a strange way, it felt like the time I spent recuperating was the answer to my prayers…It was like being shown a different life.” – Elton John, Excerpt taken from, Me: Elton John, Macmillan Publishing
He knows you wouldn’t mind if he put it down into words, how wonderful life is.
The true circle of life, and life’s destination, is in black and white in fuel for the race.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.” – Jesus From John 3:16-17 (NAS)