Elton John has been an illuminating figure in the world of music and entertainment. A star who has been adding sparkle to rock ‘n’ roll since the 1970s. The pop icon has been an omnipresent fixture in music for half a century, helping to forge some of the most recognisable tracks that continue to swirl permanently in the ether.
In the ’70s, Pink Floyd and Elton John were riding high as the height of their successes overlapped. For John, these wild years were soundtracked by the English experimental band, and there’s one particular song that holds extreme poignance. When he listens to their number ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, John is immediately transported back to a heartwarming place, which contrasts with the majority of antics that the singer got up to during that debauched decade.
The track is an ode to their fallen former bandmate Syd Barrett and, legend has it, Barrett coincidentally arrived into the studio when they were recording the material in 1974. By this point, Barrett had left the music industry for good, choosing instead to live out of a London hotel, and his money was starting to run dry, as was his luck. Having cut out contact with his former bandmates, his arrival at the recording studio left them rippled with shock.
The day that Barrett arrived at Floyd’s studio on that horrifying June evening, he was a completely different entity to the one they had last seen a few years previously. Tragically, the musician had become heavily bloated and, even though he was physically there in the studio, mentally, he was not.
‘The Rocketman’ made the revelation about his close connection to the effort when he appeared on the British institution Desert Island Discs in 1986. The BBC Radio 4 show has been asking musicians, actors, politicians and world leaders about their lives, their favourite books, and most importantly, their favourite songs for nearly 80 years.
His story is an emotional tale that sees Elton John explain how a crying mother approached him and his lyric-writing partner, Bernie Taupin, to ask if her son, who was dreadfully ill with cancer, could meet the pair.
Of course, they duly obliged and spent their evenings with the child. During those precious times, the group listened to Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here, and one night, as the sun was setting, the group decided to pray for the boy’s health as ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ was playing.
“Three years later,” remembered Elton John. “There was a knock on my hotel, and this guy said ‘Hi, it’s Steve’, and I said ‘Yes, can I help you?’. It was the same boy, all muscular like Sylvester Stallone, perfectly healthy.” For that reason, the song has a special meaning for the singer. Whenever he hears the track, it brings the memories flooding back.
On a personal level, Elton John has shared a friendship with David Gilmour for some decades and even collaborated on the 1992 effort ‘Understanding Women’. When the latter’s son, Charlie, was sent to prison in 2011 for protesting against the increase in tuition fees for students, John sent a box of books to him, and they’ve since remained in touch since.
While ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is entrenched in sadness relating to the decline of Syd Barrett, for Elton John, it has different sentiments attached to it thanks to the miraculous recovery of the cancer-stricken child, filling him with an overwhelming sense of warmth.