The big feather boas are gone. So are the Minnie Mouse and Lady Liberty costumes, even the electric eyeglasses that once flashed his name like an old movie marquee. Still, there is no mistaking Elton Hercules John as he commands the stage for the first of four scheduled shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In his gold satin suit with rhinestone cuffs and his white cowboy hat with little red lights dotting the crown, he looks like a disco version of a Texas oil baron. The Divine Mr. J, rock’s original king of camp, is in familiar form—but perhaps not for long. Now 37, Elton has announced that his 1984 tour, slated to end November 18 after more than 50 U.S. shows, will be his last. “I really have to take stock of myself after this,” he says. “I’ll always do concerts, but never a full-fledged tour. It’s getting to be too much.”
Elton’s road fatigue has not affected his chart performance, which at his mid-’70s peak meant seven No. 1 albums. After disco and New Wave pushed him into a lengthy sales slump. he reunited with original writing partner Bernie Taupin for a whole album of material, 1983’s Too Low for Zero. Now Elton is back in the pop drag race and giving Boy George a run for the mascara with a string of hits, including the Top 5 smash I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues and the fast-rising Who Wears These Shoes? Although sales have pushed Elton’s Breaking Hearts album to gold, these days the singer’s favorite color seems closer to blue. Last spring he consummated a lucrative tour sponsorship deal with Sasson Industries, agreeing to pep up their “ooh-la-la” jeans sales pitch by tailoring his recent hit Sad Songs (Say So Much) for TV and radio advertisements. (The new refrain: “Sasson says so much.”) Sasson won’t divulge Elton’s piece of the action but says the campaign has spurred jeans sales as much as 300 percent in some areas. At one Maas Brothers department store in Tampa—where fans received a free ticket to his show for every $30-$50 purchase of Sasson goods—1,400 pairs of jeans were sold in 90 minutes.
But after all that frenzy for tickets and threads, Elton had to postpone the shows in Tampa, North Carolina, Miami and New York because of a flu bug. “I couldn’t stand up, let alone get onstage,” he groans. It was the first time in 14 years that he had ever missed a show. Once this American swing is over, he cracked to an interviewer, “I’ll be scraped up off the floor and put in an urn on a boat back to England.”
There he’ll come to rest at Wood-side, the 37-acre Berkshire spread he has shared with wife Renate since their marriage last Valentine’s Day. A former Lufthansa stewardess who gave up flying in 1977 to enroll in an audio-engineering course, German-born Renate Blauel met Elton last year at London’s AIR Studios, where she helped record the Too Low for Zero LP. “She always had her mind set on somebody in music,” says a friend.
Elton’s tour grind leaves little time for the couple to cuddle. Renate shuttles back and forth between home and road to be with him, and so far their public appearances together have been few. “I’ve got to be the one who helps her and eases her into things,” Elton told England’s Dally Express. “She isn’t used to the razzmatazz.”
There’s little of that at Woodside, where Elton can amuse himself with his private squash court, sauna, indoor swimming pool and screening room. Tucked inside the 15-room home is a costly Art Deco collection, plus $200,000 in antiques Elton packed back from a 1983 trip to China. John clearly has a comfy retirement ahead—if he sticks with it. He tried quitting the road in 1977, but within a year he was touring the U.S. and USSR. Even now he’s hedging a little. “I want to break away from the rock ‘n’ roll cycle,” he said recently in Los Angeles. “I’d like the freedom to do a few shows with an orchestra, or maybe work with just one other musician.” Yellow brick road, this could be a short goodbye.