In a night filled with laughter and candor, the SiriusXM Town Hall with Elton John highlights came during a more somber moment: when the 68-year-old John honored the late David Bowie.
John jumped to his piano and covered “Space Oddity,” one of the many classics in Bowie’s catalogue. He then began the Q&A session, moderated by Rolling Stone critic David Fricke, reflecting on Bowie’s legacy and something beyond the music that stood out to him.
“What I loved about him towards the end was his incredible privacy during what must have been 10 years of incredibly bad luck with illnesses, bad luck, heart attacks, whatever. He kept it private and in the age we live in, with Twitter where everyone knows everything about everything, he kept it to himself,” John said. “He made two albums without anyone knowing he was making them. He had, you know, obviously treatment for his illnesses without anyone knowing or anyone saying anything. And that is the mystique of the man.
“Because we know David Bowie the figure, the singer, the outrageous performer,” he continued. “But actually we don’t know anything about him. And that’s the way it should be in music, and it should be in any art form whatsoever.”
“They don’t make them like that anymore. We’ve lost a huge, huge talent that influenced so many people.”
Throughout the Q&A, held at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, John touched on his love of touring, why he still wants to make new music, and more. Here are the top five highlights.
Why he’s still making new music
John admits that when he and fellow veteran acts tour, fans want to hear the hits. “Usually, when you play a new song, people head to the toilet quickly,” he joked, noting how frustrated it can feel when people only want to hear old tracks, something that Billy Joel relayed was frustrating to him, too. But keeping active in the studio and making new tracks keeps John fresh. “If you don’t play a couple new things, then you’re going to go crazy as an artist.”
What should the Rolling Stones do? Make a blues record
The Rolling Stones still tour despite the interpersonal relationships of the band (“Mick and Keith, they’re fighting all the time,” John said). There’s a solution he sees as the most prudent: Get back in the studio and record their first album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. But not any type of album — a blues one, a throwback to their debut single “Come On.” “I think Mick [Jagger] wants to still be one of them on the radio — they’re not — and I think Keith would love to do a record like that,” John said “That’s what they should be doing. I’ve tried to tell Mick that. I’ve put him together with T. Bone [Burnett], but, ‘Nah, he uses all those old-fashioned equipment.’”
How his relationship with songwriting partner Bernie Taupin has changed
While John writes the music, Taupin focuses on the lyrics. That’s been their arrangement since 1967. “I can honestly say this on my children’s lives: We’ve never had an argument. Ever,” John admitted. “He’s told me on a couple of occasions that my behavior was pretty bad, and that’s because I needed to hear it. We’ve never had a stand-up fight or a disagreement.”
There was a brief time when the two went their separate ways and wrote with other folks, but that only made their pairing stronger, John believes. “If you believe in God, or you believe in something like God or something that directs your life,” John explained, “he was given to me by God. If I hadn’t had met him, God knows where my life would have been. I love him so much.”
The current artists John enjoys might surprise you
The icon is well-versed in today’s music and always open to new collaborations, namechecking an eccentric young rapper. “There’s a new act, who I love, called Young Thug, who I think is fantastic,” John said. “He’s brilliant.”
Other acts John’s into these days: Hudson Mohawke, Grimes (“Her second record — Art Angels — is a brilliant record”), Chris Stapleton (“Tennessee Whiskey” is one of the most surprising things I heard last year), Kacey Musgraves, and FKA Twigs.
He’s never streamed music
John’s musical tastes are current, but he prefers the old-school way of consuming it: CDs and vinyl. “I prefer the ritual of getting the album sleeve, playing the record, turning it over, looking at the gatefold sleeve of the album artwork,” John said. “I only listen to CDs in the car, and everything I listen to now is on vinyl.”
SiriusXM’s Town Hall with Elton John will air on SiriusXM’s The Spectrum channel on Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. ET. The special will be rebroadcast throughout the week. The Town Hall special, hosted by David Fricke, celebrates the release of John’s 32nd studio album Wonderful Crazy Night, slated for a Feb. 5 release.