Love that old-time rock ’n’ roll

Geriatric set still going strong

Susan Flanagan
Published on August 5, 2014

OK. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the following lyrics?
“And the operator said 40 cents more for the next three minutes — Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her, I’ll only keep her awhile.”

I think of Memorial Stadium, June 28, 1980, and my first Dr. Hook concert. Eye patch, moustache, lit cigarette smoking from the guitar. You, however, may be thinking of George Street Festival 2014.

It’s pretty incredible that Ray Sawyer, who was born in 1937 and lost an eye in a car crash in 1967 and wears his trademark pirate patch, is still touring at 77 years old.

And he’s not the only one.

Elton John, despite what he said in mid-July, is still doing concerts at 67 years of age. He was just pulling the collective French legs attached to his fans in Carcassonne, France. You can still get tickets for his Vancouver shows in September. For just under $100 you can sit right up close, behind the stage. Or for up to more than $1,000 you can get a premium ticket with two night’s hotel stay.

I saw Elton John in concert at the Quebec Coliseum on Oct. 31, 1984 (I know this because I am an anal packrat who labels her junk). I don’t think I paid $30, let alone $100, to see his cleft chin, long sideburns, and huge sequined glasses. We were standing on the floor in front of the stage in a crush of thousands of fans.

We had a fine view of the stage and I took a whopping eight pictures of the performance. That’s a lot of shots considering in the pre-digital age a roll of 36 could last you a year.

I’m looking at them now. In one he’s standing on top of his white piano wearing a blue satin tail coat which he whipped off and threw into the crowd. He then picked up his piano stool and threw it down, breaking it. I was not ready for that. It seemed more in keeping with Alice Cooper than Elton Hercules John (nee Reginald Kenneth Dwight — and I thought changing my last name to Flanagan was drastic).

I thought about that concert about two weeks ago when “Levon” came on the radio. I was driving down New Cove Road and I had to sit in my van in a parking lot until Elton had finished the song.

Elton John singing “Levon” is mind blowing. What passion. What originality. What conviction. The song, written by Bernie Taupin — who is responsible for the lyrics of many of Elton John’s hits like “Empty Garden,” “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Candle in the Wind” — isn’t really about anything based in fact. On the other hand, Levon is the name of the co-founder, singer and drummer of the group The Band (of “Up on Cripple Creek” fame), who both Elton John and Taupin admired.

The lyrics are almost Biblical.

Levon wears his war wound like a crown

He calls his child Jesus ’cause he likes the name

And he sends him to the finest school in town

Levon, Levon likes his money

He makes a lot they say

Spends his days counting

In a garage by the motorway

He was born a pauper

To a pawn on a Christmas day

When the New York Times

Said God is dead and the war’s begun

Alvin Tostig has a son today

And he shall be Levon

And he shall be a good man

“Levon” is one of my favourite songs, along with Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee,” Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” (I wanted to name my daughter after Carly Simon). It’s an eclectic list, I know. But if you were to ask me about my favourite band (you’re probably afraid to), it would be none of the above. My favourite band is The Moody Blues.

I know. Who listens to the Moody Blues these days? When I hear a Moody Blues song I’m transported back to my friend Noreen Fardy’s basement on Bradshaw Place in the east end of St. John’s where I spent a lot of my childhood. We would listen to “Gemini Dream” over and over while pushing the manual vacuum back and forth over the rec room carpet using the handle as a microphone.

My husband was lamenting the other day that the new music you hear on the radio today is mostly crap — not nearly as inspirational as when they play ’60s and ’70s songs. Our daughter pointed out, quite accurately I should say, that when they play current songs on the radio, they play all of them, not just the best ones, whereas radio stations usually only play the cream of the crop from past decades. She makes a good point.

Twenty years from now, the only songs from the 2010s to get radio time will be the good ones like Adele’s “Rollin in the Deep,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” or Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.”

The chorus and melody for “Wagon Wheel” are not new, of course. They were written by Bob Dylan back in the day and released on a bootleg under the name “Rock Me Mama” (like a wagon wheel). Ketch Secor’s “Wagon Wheel,” which he says he’s been playing since he was 17, describes a guy hitchhiking along the east coast of the States.

The song went platinum in 2013.

Since we’re on the subject of feel-good music, if you haven’t seen the documentary “Searching for Sugarman,” you must abandon your familial obligations, stoke up Netflix and watch it now. I won’t tell you much about it except that it’s not about my favourite podiatrist in Mount Pearl.

One final note for those who saw Dr. Hook for the first time last Friday night. Did you know that both “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover of the Rolling Stone” — along with most of Dr. Hook’s songs — were written by poet Shel Silverstein of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” fame?

Susan Flanagan is a journalist whose

husband somehow completely missed the ABBA era. (Where was he from 1975-1982? Maybe I don’t want to know.) Susan can be reached at

Tely 10 Team John feedback

Linda Whalen writes: “So moved by your column today, a lovely tribute to John Furlong and others. As I walked my first Tely 10 on Sunday, it struck me that everyone running, walking and wheeling had a story, as the song says, that would break your heart.”

Rod Etheridge of CBC writes: “Really nice piece in the paper today that talked about John. Boy, he is still really missed around here and as recently as yesterday myself and Maggie were talking about him. One of the nicest things about working here was that I’d get to talk with John most every day and laugh with him. When I produced ‘The Morning Show,’ he kept me on my toes and constantly questioned song and interview choices as a way to remind me that we have to stay relevant to what people are talking about. … Reading the details about his personal life, how he would go to Escasoni daily and things like that, just confirmed for me that the John I knew at work was the same John outside of this place. I remember once last year he chastised me because whenever I planned a live show on location somewhere, I would go to him to ask if Gerry would bake her famous tea biscuits for me to give away to listeners (I would get CBC to pay her, of course, and she’d get up at 3 a.m. to bake). And at one point, John said to me, ‘Nope. I’m not asking her this time, Rod, because she is such a wonderful person and there is so much more to Gerry than just her baking, and that’s all you ever want to talk about.’ He was being funny and saucy, but it was vintage John and I really miss him.”

Leigh Anne Power writes: “I just finished reading your Tely 10 piece. I had a great deal of respect for John, and I’m very sorry we and your family have lost him. You wrote a beautiful tribute, so thanks for a very lovely five minutes in my day today.”

Paul Lahey writes: “Hey, Susan, you are right.  Even when running, you can slow down and smell the roses. Go Susan. Go John.”

Elizabeth Squires, Tely 10 coach, writes: “I just read your article ‘This one’s for John’ and I wanted to say thank you for putting everything in perspective for me! I struggled on Sunday and did not do the time I wanted which upset me a little. As I read your article, I realized this race was not about me. When I was asked to co-coach with Art (Meaney), I hesitated for a couple of reasons. First, although I had coached before, it was only 10K clinics. I wasn’t sure I was qualified enough to coach at this level. Secondly, Art is a legend and I did not feel in his league. I finally agreed and I have to say I enjoyed every minute of it. I did not have a group leader to stay at the back of the group so I took up this position. Unfortunately (or so I thought) this took its toll on my training. When we did the 18K run I asked one of the other leaders to run at the back so I could have a good run. That was the best day of the clinic for me. … I ran with Gerry and, without knowing it, we helped each other! … I am so proud of everyone in our clinic who ran and finished! It brings tears to my eyes every time I look at the pictures and see the smiles. Thank you again for … making me realize what this race was all about.”