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AHunter3
03-14-2000, 11:37 PM
Explain to me this "Levon" character--?

I gather that he's a rich feller, makes cartoon balloons for a living, has a son named "Jesus" ('cuz he likes the name), wears a "warboot" (whatever the fuck a warboot might be) like a crown, and was born on a day when the NY Times said "God is dead". And I don't think his kid likes him very much.

Is this just random nonsense, or, if I were sufficiently "in the know", would I recognize the individual Elton John is singing about, or, alternatively, would Levon, as some kind of archetype or example of something EJ was singing about, make more sense to me if I "got it" somewhat better than I do? Why shall he, necessarily (and in whose opinion), be a "good man"? One does not sense major admiration from the EJ corner for this good man Levon...



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Disable Similes in this Post

voguevixen
03-15-2000, 08:24 PM
Hunter, sorry I don't know the answer to your question, but I'm bumping this back to the top because I'm really interested too. I'm not losing (loosing, ha) sleep over it or anything but whenever I hear the song I wonder.

Luckie
03-15-2000, 09:49 PM
i always thought it was "war wound" rather than warboot.
-luckie

dp
03-15-2000, 10:59 PM
Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
Available on the album Madman Across The Water

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

ellis555
03-15-2000, 11:11 PM
in the interests of science, i ran a couple of searches for "Alvin Tostig," but only came up with links to the song lyrics. this leads me to the conclusion that "Levon" isn't anyone in particular. however, if anyone wants to pony up the cash, we can all find out by checking
https://www.1800ussearch.com/1800ussearch-78/mck-cgi/lycos_test.pl/?MT=Alvin+Tostig

this scare anyone else a little?

-ellis

ellis555
03-15-2000, 11:18 PM
forgot about that not working anymore. let's try this, shall we...
https://www.1800ussearch.com/1800ussearch-78/mck-cgi/lycos_test.pl/?MT=Alvin+Tostig

-ellis

Jinx
03-17-2000, 12:12 AM
You'll have to ask Bernie Taupin about many of his lyrics!

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"They're coming to take me away ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee, to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time... :)" - Napoleon IV

Mojo
03-17-2000, 12:31 AM
Doing a google search for "Alvin Tostig" also turned up the following:

6 While his ugly monster wife is in jail, slob Doughboy sells his delapidated dump to Alvin Tostig for $25 cash, 2 20 inch hard rubber dildos and a copy of the Rosetta stone

I hope this clears everything up.

manhattan
03-24-2000, 04:58 PM
Guess what David B just addressed in the mailbag? In the Elton John song "Levon," who is Alvin Tostig? (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mlevon.html) . Here (http://boards.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum6/HTML/000299.html) is the Comments on Mailbag Answers thread on the subject. And I’ve invited special Guest General Question denizen Libertarian to pop on over and clear up some of the other stuff in this thread.

Ain’t the SDMB great?


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Liberal
03-24-2000, 05:37 PM
I'm glad somebody posted the lyrics, because it'll make this easier to follow. The one error is that "His family business thrives" actually follows "Levon sells cartoon balloons in town."

"Levon" is one of those Taupin songs, like "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters", that sneaks in the back door of your head. Just as you think it's saying one thing, you discover there's that makes it's saying something else.

The first line might ordinarilly evoke the image of a "war hero", a la Gulf War or World War II, the kind of war wounded guy that most young people today know and adore. But this was in the Vietnam War days, and Vietnam War veterans were a jaded lot, victims of a gargantuan pissing contest among rulers, woefully disresptected in those days, and just slightly above lepers on the social empathy scale.

The second line, calling his child Jesus, was another blow. Gus Dudgeon calls the line "ironic" (and the whole song "cinematic") because Levon is used as what he describes as "a so-called christian name". Levon was inspired by Levon Helm, founder, drummer, and lead singer of The Band, a raucous gutter rock band with surprisingly mellow harmonies. Helm would hardly be described (then, at least) as "Christian".

Just to make sure the listener knows the context, Taupin presents Levon as wealthy, able to afford the finest school. Again, the image might be lost on post 80s people, because wealth in those days (especially in rock music) was a pejorative condition. Notice that Levon is presented with miserly images of counting his money all day in his garage.

A sub-theme of futility with a surreal twist of fate arises when the war begins (Vietman was a long war, spanning decades), and the New York Times announces that God is dead (as it did in an actual headline in the 60s). Levon is born to Alvin Tustig, a poor man without significance, who had great hopes for his son. But the jading of the society, with its now dead God, is an eerie precursor to the jading of Levon himself, whose life will center around petty matters like wealth and poverty, while the greater matters of his own honor and his own son will slowly escape him, like air escaping from a slow leak.

Jesus, his son, just wastes the days away like Levon does, but with a difference. Jesus longs for something, and we get the sense that Levon never did. Jesus wants to get out of there ("..wants to go to Venus Leaving Levon far behind..."), finding his father uninspiring and spiritually dead. But now you wonder, because Levon was intended to carry on the family faith and tradition. When Elton bellows out the line "He shall be Levon," it sounds like "He shall be-lieve on."

But he doesn't. He doesn't believe on. He was supposed to be a good man, but he wraps up everything he has and everything he is in a tight and private coccoon. How can a man be good when God is dead? Not when He doesn't exist, but when He did exist — and then DIED!

It's a song about hope and dread, optimism and futility, faith and cynicism. The real hope in the song is Jesus, provided he can escape. Incidentally, the name Jesus is mentioned on the same album, Madman Across the Water, twice more, in "Rotten Peaches" and "Tiny Dancer".

brooklyn44
03-24-2000, 06:50 PM
Wow! That was great, Libertarian.
Thanks,
Renee

manhattan
03-24-2000, 07:59 PM
Whoa. Lib. Stick around GQ for a while.

No, really. Take a break from the libertarian wars and hang out for a while. You can clearly teach, and I'll bet you'll learn (brush up on neanderthal/cro-magnon interaction lately?).

Heck, you and jodih can be friends here!

voguevixen
03-24-2000, 08:46 PM
Originally posted by Libertarian:

Jesus, his son, just wastes the days away like Levon does, but with a difference. Jesus longs for something, and we get the sense that Levon never did. Jesus wants to get out of there ("..wants to go to Venus Leaving Levon far behind..."), finding his father uninspiring and spiritually dead.

Do we have any idea how old Jesus is supposed to be in the song? Because I always took this line to mean that Jesus was filled with childhood innocence and wonder, and has no idea it's not possible to float away to Venus. I assumed this meant that although Levon had become cynical and materialistic, Jesus was young enough to still have dreams and believe in magic, and although Levon may have squandered his potential, Jesus may instead, uh, turn against the dark side and fufill the prophecy that Levon was unable to. (Oh lord, please remind me not to drink and post!)



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Now there's nothing unexpected about the water giving out; "Land" is not a word we have to shout.

Billdo
03-24-2000, 11:53 PM
Careful what you wish for, Manny. Pretty soon we might be innundated by "The ethics of rotating tires" threads. ;)

Anyway, great answers all around, Lib. I'm playing Madman right now in your honor.

dp
03-25-2000, 02:55 PM
My take on the situation is: the song has no meaning and is not about any actual person or persons.

At the time, EJ had just hit the bigtime with Your Song. He and Bernie Taupin wanted to cash in while the "iron was still hot" and quickly put something out there for the public to buy.

It seems apparant to me that the lyrics were written under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

They unwittingly created a masterpiece, and the rest is history.

Liberal
03-25-2000, 04:46 PM
Brooklyn

My pleasure.

Manny

Thanks. That's a nice invite. Certainly, the pace would suit me these days.

Vogue Vixen

You make a good case for a very youthful Jesus.

I guess he could be anywhere between five (to know that Venus is a place you can "go") and seventeen (to want to leave Levon behind). I suppose you could blow up balloons "all day" at just about any age, though most little tots, I guess, don't sit around on the porch swing dreaming of leaving home. But adolescents do. A lot.

I think you're exactly right that Levon had become cynical and materialistic, that he squandered his potential, and that Jesus is the real hope for the "family plan".

Billdo

:D No, no ethics threads here, unless someone posts a question about ethics. Thanks for playing Madman in my honor. As soon as I read that, I put it on myself.

My own favorite song is on that album. Care to guess what it is?

dp

Possible, I suppose.

But Your Song was actually more of a hit for Three Dog Night than for Elton John. They released it first, even though he wrote it. So, in a sense, he covered his own song! :)

Anyway, Levon wasn't released as a single until a year later. Tumbleweed Connection (1970), 11-17-70 (1971!), and Friends (1971) were all released between Elton John (1970), which had "Your Song" and Madman Across the Water, which had "Levon".

They released six *!* albums in 1970 and 1971. The other one was Empty Sky (1970). Those two years were their most productive, spanning thirty years *!*, in terms of sheer volume.

astorian
08-14-2001, 03:13 PM
I don't pretend to understand precisely what Bernie Taupin was meant, but I always guessed that Levon was a lot like Captain Walker from the Who's "Tommy." That is, he represented England's version of "the greatest generation," the young blokes who fought in World War 2, then came home and settled down to mundane jobs, began their pursuit of material wealth and position, and started raising children... children who didn't see much merit in their parents' acquisitiveness and bourgeois lives.

Jesus, like Tommy, represents the younger generation, the children of the World War 2 vets, who came of age in the 60s, and rejected what they saw as the crass, unfulfilling, dishonest lifestyle of their parents.

The adultery of Mrs. Walker and the murder of her lover by Captain Walker symbolized the widespread belief of the 60s youth that their parents were liars and hypocrites, that their values were flawed and had to be rejected. Tommy's alienation was represented by his blindness and deafness, while Levon's son Jesus merely fantasizes about a very different life (on Venus) from that of his father (sho seems to care only about money).

"Wearing his war wound like a crown," I suspect, is a reference to the sort of "inspirational" speeches the WW2 generation constantly bombarded their kids with. "Get a haircut, you freak. Why, when I was your age, I was at El Alamein..." "You kids today are soft- WE had to fight the Nazis."

In the end, Bernie Taupin paints Levon as a sad, lonely figure- a good man, a man who's worked hard to make money and give his child the best of everything. But his child hates what Levon stands for, and wants to leave him far behind. Poor Levon, meanwhile, figures he's done everything society ever told him to do, and can't imagine why his son is so alienated from him.

Okay, that's my take. Next up: I deconstruct "Crocodile Rock."

pldennison
08-14-2001, 04:12 PM
Originally posted by astorian
"Wearing his war wound like a crown," I suspect, is a reference to the sort of "inspirational" speeches the WW2 generation constantly bombarded their kids with. "Get a haircut, you freak. Why, when I was your age, I was at El Alamein..." "You kids today are soft- WE had to fight the Nazis."

Reminds me of the train scene in A Hard Day's Night:

Old Man: And don't take that tone with me--I fought the War for your sort.

Ringo: I bet you're sorry you won!

MrVisible
08-14-2001, 05:10 PM
Wow. Brilliant responses, all. I've always seen the song as a portrait of parent/child alienation, but have never gotten that detailed in the analysis.

So, anybody care to do All The Young Girls Love Alice?

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
08-14-2001, 06:02 PM
Sincere congradulations, Libertarian. It was a great analysis, carefully written.

AHunter3
08-17-2001, 08:14 PM
I thought so too! Thanks, all!

Norfolk Enchants
07-17-2014, 08:18 AM
Found this on Wikipedia. I was also wondering about the John/ Taupin song, but also knew of the Nietzche "Gott ist Tot."

Are we perhaps a wee bit over Anglocentric on this board. discuss.

"God is dead" (German: "Gott ist tot" ; also known as the death of God) is a widely quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, though the phrase appears several times in the works of G. W. F. Hegel.[1] It first appears in 1882 in The Gay Science (German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft), in sections 108 (New Struggles), 125 (The Madman), and for a third time in section 343 (The Meaning of our Cheerfulness). It is also found in Nietzsche's 1883 work Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also sprach Zarathustra), which is most responsible for popularizing the phrase. The idea is stated in "The Madman" as follows:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

—Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

md2000
07-17-2014, 08:40 AM
'Poet of our generation? I just picked random words that rhymed..."
-National Lampoon, 1974

Colibri
07-17-2014, 11:38 AM
Moved to Cafe Society. Note that this thread was started 14 years ago.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Just Asking Questions
07-17-2014, 11:57 AM
Alvin Tostig was a German Jew born in 1920 who escaped the Holocaust in 1938, and moved to NYC (a 'pawn' in WWII, as it were). He was an auto mechanic. He met a nice Jewish girl and on Dec 25, 1941 they had a son Levon Alvin Tostig, named for Alvin's father, who did not escape.

Levon grew up poor (a pauper, if you will) but eventually by 1949 Alvin had enough money to open his own gar-age by the Motorway. He provided a not rich but comfortable life for his family. In 1955 Alvin had a heart attack at 35 leaving poor Levon heartbroken.

In 1959 at 18 Levon, enlisted in the US Army and went to Viet Nam as an adviser in 1962, where he was shot in the head defending a Buddhist monk. He eventually recovered but the scar is visible below the hairline on his forehead.

While he was in Viet nam, his mother passed away, some say from a broken heart. After returning home, he took some money from his parent's estate, and invested it. He achieved great success when he created a factory that made wire coat hangers.

Now independently wealthy, Levon was free to live life easy. But he was lonely. He spent a lot of time in his father's now-closed garage, not and many assumed, 'counting his money', but missing his family and living in a funk. He felt totally abandoned and alone.

In 1967 a then 26 year old Levon met a French model named Yvette and had a brief but passionate affair, which resulted in the birth of a young son on Mar 24, 1968 (the day the NYT said "God is Dead"). He named his child Jesus, because he liked the name and didn't care if it offended any one. Yvette moved back to Paris, not wanted to have her life bogged down with children, but in 1970 she died of a drug overdose.

Levon raised his son alone. Because he does not need to work, he runs a small cart that sells balloon animals to little children in Central Park, because it allows him to spend time with his son. He doesn't really have any friends. Levon is a good father, in tradition with the family plan. But he worries one day Jesus will grow up and leave him, and he will be alone again.

beowulff
07-17-2014, 03:28 PM
JAQ -
You should be on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
(Bluff the listener challenge).

Doug K.
07-17-2014, 03:57 PM
Moved to Cafe Society. Note that this thread was started 14 years ago.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Since this has been revived I'm wondering why no one corrected Liberal (Libertarian at the time IIRC) on the Three Dog Night/Your Song claim.

outlierrn
07-17-2014, 09:23 PM
'Poet of our generation? I just picked random words that rhymed..."
-National Lampoon, 1974

'' 'Authentic American voice,' can you believe that? I mean, I just wanted it to rhyme, ya know.''
-Bob Dylan, in a Doonesbury strip

outlierrn
07-17-2014, 09:31 PM
Am I the only one who thinks it really ought to be
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
sons of lawyers, sons of bankers.?

cochrane
07-17-2014, 11:32 PM
Since this has been revived I'm wondering why no one corrected Liberal (Libertarian at the time IIRC) on the Three Dog Night/Your Song claim.

He's partially right. Three Dog Night released the album "It Ain't Easy" with "Your Song" on it in March, 1970, but they didn't release the song as a single. Elton released "Your Song" on his self-titled Elton John album in April, 1970 and the record company released it as a single in October, 1970. So Three Dog Night's version did come out first. Unarguably, Elton's version was more of a hit than Three Dog Night's.

Starving Artist
07-18-2014, 12:41 AM
He's partially right. Three Dog Night released the album "It Ain't Easy" with "Your Song" on it in March, 1970, but they didn't release the song as a single.Well, he was certain incorrect that it was a bigger hit for Three Dog Night than it was for Elton. I doubt that most people of the era even know Three Dog Night recorded it, yet it was a monster hit for Elton and remains very well known to this day.

I was also surprised to see Libertarian (one of my favorite posters and one I wish was still here) appear to attribute the lyrics to Elton when he said: "But Your Song was actually more of a hit for Three Dog Night than for Elton John. They released it first, even though he wrote it." I suppose technically he's right in that it was Elton who composed the music, but even at that Elton is only partially responsible for writing the song.

cochrane
07-18-2014, 12:52 AM
Well, he was certain incorrect that it was a bigger hit for Three Dog Night than it was for Elton. I doubt that most people of the era even know Three Dog Night recorded it, yet it was a monster hit for Elton and remains very well known to this day.

Yes, I did say that.

Unarguably, Elton's version was more of a hit than Three Dog Night's.

Starving Artist
07-18-2014, 01:15 AM
Sorry, my post was intended to be in regard to Liberal's comments. I didn't mean to imply that you thought TDN's version was bigger also.

cochrane
07-18-2014, 04:44 AM
No problem. I didn't even know they recorded it until I bought their anthology back in the 90s.

usedtobe
07-18-2014, 11:34 PM
While we're playing with ancient history...

IIRC, Time NEVER said "God is Dead" - the issue in question had, on the cover:
"Is God Dead?".

Note that little squiggly mark at the end.

Lamia
07-19-2014, 09:59 AM
While we're playing with ancient history...

IIRC, Time NEVER said "God is Dead" - the issue in question had, on the cover:
"Is God Dead?".

Note that little squiggly mark at the end.Time magazine is not the same publication as The New York Times.

There was a previous thread on whether The New York Times ever said that God was dead: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=4545189, although I think the most likely explanation is that Bernie Taupin just made something up for the song. It seems plausible to me that he might have been inspired by the famous 1966 Time cover, but the lyrics of the song cannot be literally describing that cover as they specifically name The New York Times. Since the song was released in 1971 and the Levon character is an adult, he also couldn't have been born in 1966 unless the song is supposed to be set in the future. We're also told that Levon was born on Christmas Day, and the Time cover was from April.

tapu
07-19-2014, 01:52 PM
trivia: An image of the actual Time Magazine's cover "Is God Dead?" appears in the movie Rosemary's Baby. The magazine is lying on a table in the waiting room of the doctor that the Satanists recommend that Rosemary see.

P-man
07-19-2014, 02:59 PM
We were going to name our second son Levon, after Levon Helm. We shouldn't have told anyone, because the backlash made my wife decide to look for another name.

Just Asking Questions
07-19-2014, 05:48 PM
Time magazine is not the same publication as The New York Times.

There was a previous thread on whether The New York Times ever said that God was dead: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=4545189, although I think the most likely explanation is that Bernie Taupin just made something up for the song. ....

As I noted, the NYT page 1 headline "God Is Dead" was Mar 24, 1968.

God Is Dead (http://wp.patheos.com/community/returntorome/files/2011/09/God-is-dead-headline-300x53.jpg)

It's really hard to find a picture, considering how famous the headline is. The NYT website has it of course, but I'm not going to pay.

Anyway, Mar 1968 doesn't fit any timeline in the song. the four points in the line:

1) On a Christmas day
2) when the NYT said "God is Dead"
3) and the war's begun
4) Alvin Tostig had a son today (Levon)

cannot all be met in the real world.

Blank Slate
07-19-2014, 06:29 PM
That headline hardly qualifies as the New York Times saying "God Is Dead".