After taking a group picture with fans at a SiriusXM Town Hall taping Tuesday night (Jan. 12) at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, Elton John swiveled around on his bench and began playing his red piano. “Ground control to Major Tom,” he sang, breaking into a lush piano version of David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” as his band was still setting up their instruments and the crowd of only 50 fans and reporters remained hushed.
It was just the night’s first tribute to his musical peer and kindred spirit, who died Sunday at age 69 after a private, 18-month battle with cancer.
“There are so many incredible words written about him in the last couple of days,” John told veteran rock journalist David Fricke, the night’s moderator. “It’s so wonderful. We all know how inspiring he is. We all know that his music stands. We don’t have to say anything about the music: It speaks for itself. He was innovative, he was boundary-changing, and he danced to his own tune — which in any artist is really rare.
“But what I loved about him towards the end was his incredible privacy during what must have been 10 years of incredible bad luck with illnesses, heart attacks, cancer, whatever,” he continued. “He kept it private in an age we’re living in with Twitter when everyone knows everything about everything — he kept it to himself. He made two albums without anybody knowing he was making them. He had 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, but actually, we don’t know anything about him — and that’s the way it should be in music and should be in any art form whatsoever.”
John also recalled how Bowie’s music connected him with his early collaborators. “If it wasn’t for David Bowie, I would never have found my original producer Gus Dudgeon and Paul Buckmaster, who arranged the first three albums for me,” he said. “Because when I heard ‘Space Oddity,’ I thought it was probably the most incredible record I’d ever heard and for a long time after that point. And the production and the arrangement of that song, I said, ‘Whoever did that, I really want to work with them.’ And so I got in touch with Gus Dudgeon and Paul Buckmaster, and we made the Elton John album together and many more albums, so I’ve got David to thank for that.”
The full SiriusXM Town Hall With Elton John — celebrating the release of John’s Wonderful Crazy Night album (out Feb. 5) — will air on The Spectrum, channel 28, on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 5 p.m. ET. John performed five songs before sitting down for the Q&A: three from his new album (“Looking Up,” “Blue Wonderful” and “A Good Heart”) and the classics “Tiny Dancer” and “Bennie and the Jets.” Before launching into the iconic, chugging “Bennie” intro, John talked about how proud he was of his first hit on Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles chart (the song peaked at No. 15 on the chart, which is now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs).
On Monday, John took to Instagram to remember Bowie, sending condolences to his wife Iman and their family.