Cover of the Week 48 Rocket Man

By on 10-02-2009 in CoTW, Cover of the Week Project

[Updated and reposted September 19 in response to this insanity.]


I used to play “Rocket Man” during some solo acoustic sets in the early/mid-’90s. The only places I recall playing it are in the U.K. Specifically, I remember a set in Wales. I think this is because there might have been a recording of it. I was actually already starting the recording when it was requested in the below thread/post by one Billy Peregoy. So those of you who also requested Elton John might feel somewhat compelled to make a donation to charity as well, since I am unlikely to do another Elton song. But if I do, it would be “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” and my guess is that few of you want that to happen.

When Buffalo Tom was starting to really crank along, I relished the opportunity to play some completely solo shows on the side for die-hard fans. Playing solo is a completely different challenge from playing with the full rock trio. Musically, the advantages are that I get to mess with arrangements on the fly, without wondering if other players are with me. And I really get to change dynamics and use my voice more. But the disadvantages are that I can’t hide behind walls of distortion and other players covering up possible warts. And while going out on a limb with arrangements usually yields rewarding and often surprising results, it can also result in awkward or tragic musical missteps. And while the dynamics allow for a more intimate listening experience, the range is much flatter than the dynamic peaks and dips of a band, so listeners can more easily get bored.

When I did strings of such shows, I became a lonesome troubadour — Lonesome Billy. I loved the freedom of traveling alone, hopping on trains across the U.K. and Europe, mainly, or getting in my car to go play a show in Toronto (I played with Neko Case and Her Boyfriends up at the Horseshoe there), or down to the Fez in N.Y. Even better was when my wife traveled with me for a mini vacation, as I get morosely lonely quite easily. While that was usually inspirational for songwriting, it did not do me well in the short term.

When I played “Rocket Man,” it was just a guy on stage with only a guitar accompanying. That was going to be the idea here, but I fear I might have ended up bringing it pretty close to the ideas on Sir Elton’s original recording. I always thought of it as a more melancholy version of “Space Oddity,” which I was always more scared by (my old review of the song here). I like Bernie Taupin’s lyric here. It is fairly straightforward for the oblique lyricist. I guess being out there playing those shows on my own allowed me to identify with the rocket man burning out his fuse out there alone. Damn, it’s lonely out in space!