Elton John and Rufus Wainwright: What level of fandom do they have today?

I was going to talk only about Elton John, but I came across this SDMB thread from 2002, when Rufus was a relatively new act:

Sir Elton John really, really sucks

(Do I see a change in Dope culture comparing this thread with today? The OP gets away with excoriating negativity. I feel like I can barely say anything these days on here of a negative nature without getting torn a new asshole, after which my head is torn off and shoved into the new asshole, after which I am told I have my head up my ass. But I digress!)

It’s a pretty apt comparison. Both are singer-songwriters, both play the piano, both are gay, etc. And both are personally meaningful to me, though I would say I’m a “fan” of neither (though an appreciator of songs by both).

In high school, a teacher held some sort of contest in class and was giving away vinyl records from his collection. I won John’s “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.” I loved the album and would listen to it more than once in a row. Today, I am still a fan of the song “Midnight Creeper.” I think it gets inside the head of a predator pretty well, well before “profiling” and whatnot entered the popular consciousness. And it’s just a great song:

I like a handful of other EJ songs too. Mostly they are his hits.

My Rufus Wainwright story goes like this. I was head over heels for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (or something close to it–don’t try this at home), and she introduced me to the song “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” It’s still painful to think about that song, and that was way back in 2007.

OK, so let me give my opinion on both of these artists; more specifically on the quality and quantity of their fandom today. And then we can proceed with people tearing me a new asshole, etc. Here we go:

Elton John

In a recent thread I started about the nature of Beyonce’s megastardom, a spontaneous argument arose (in which I did not participate) as to whether Elton John counts today or used to count as a megastar. That’s an interesting question, and it got me pondering. I also saw a rerun of Saturday Night Live from the early 80s in which he was the featured musical artist. The song was skillfully performed but seemed to fade into the typical “Elton John” substance out of which he makes his tunes.

Here’s the rub: How many fans does Elton John really have these days? You don’t need to ask that about, say, the band Rush: you just know they have a lot of fans. My gut tells me that he really doesn’t have a whole lot of fans, actually. Rather, most people who like him at all are like me: they dig his hits to the extent they haven’t been overplayed, and that’s about it. I don’t think there are all that many people getting into the deep cuts of his albums and really relishing the musical majesty of EJ.

I think the problem with EJ is one that affects 99% of artists and renders them equivalent to their hits: a lot of his stuff sounds kinda the same. Songwriters tend to process and reprocess the same hooks, or at least members of the same family of hooks, and EJ is not an exception. Another thing that weakens EJ in the aggregate is that his production and instrumentation are pretty heavy. You’ve got the ever-present piano, and he just loads everything and the kitchen sink on top of that. It’s Vegemite on top of Marmite on top of butter on top of jam on top of toast. With bacon. Plus, Bernie Taupin’s lyrics (which range from masterful to abysmal) tend to be pretty dense and heavy. I find EJ’s music fatiguing to the ear, on the whole. I like EJ’s vocals but find they work best for me in limited doses.

So no, I don’t think he “really, really sucks” per the 2002 post. I think he’s extremely talented, genius level even, but he falls into the trap that even most genius level singer-songwriters do. Therefore, I appreciate him, but I’m not a fan per se. And thus I don’t sense that he has a lot of true fans, people who are really into his music. Personally, I’ve never met anyone who called him/herself an EJ fan.

Rufus Wainwright

When I first heard that song back in 2007, I thought wow! This guy is just exploding with talent. I expected to hear more from him, about him. But I never did. I can see on Allmusic.com that he’s made albums rather consistently over the years, and that site tends to give him decent marks. But in my meanderings on the Web, I have heard nary a thing about him, seen virtually no recommendations for his music. In fact, I had kinda forgotten about him until I read the aforementioned 2002 post.

Thus, my preliminary conclusion is that he doesn’t have a lot of fans. Yet, I know he’s the type of indie artist that can have a small but very loyal group of fans, so I am not drawing any firm conclusions. (EJ, in contrast is too big to have that type of fan. I.e., he’s going to sell out big shows and it’s hard to tell what is nostalgia, what is appreciation for hits/fame, and what is actual true fandom.)

In any case, RW seems like an artist who never fulfilled his initial promise. It seemed, at least to me in 2007, that he was going to have a bigger influence on pop culture, on modern music, etc. If this is the case, what might be the reasons?

I think RW has some inherent limitations that are almost contradictory in nature. He’s a “brilliant” songwriter, but his stuff tends to sound quite the same to me. They are “brilliant” examples of songcraft that nevertheless do not take off for me. To get Aristotelian, they have the essence of great songs but not the accidents. They command respect but not enjoyment. Of course, there are exceptions.

I think his voice is another such limitation. He is a “great” singer, yet his voice grates on the (or at least my) nerves very quickly. In terms of both song and performance, he seems to want to turn everything up to 11, yet the end result tends to be 6ish or 7ish.

In short, he seems to have limitations similar to those of EJ, the difference being he hasn’t delivered the hits as EJ has.

Those are my thoughts! I eagerly await the two new assholes I am about to receive, one for each artist. :slight_smile:

Elton’s problem is that he ran out of fresh ideas fairly early, and (as you intimate) started to repeat himself sometime in the late 70’s, which is not coincidentally when he ceased to be my favorite musical artist (I was in my late teens at the time, and a college radio station subsequently greatly expanded my musical boundaries).

His core fandom will show up at his concerts-and he is still capable of gaving a rousing one, as I found out to my pleasant surprise last year in NO.

Elton John is the sixth highest grossing act since 1990 with over 12 million tickets sales. In 2012, he sold out 25 of 38 shows with a total attendance of 240,400 people.

Now there’s a lot of variables in that (how large were the venues he did or didn’t sell out?) but I don’t think there’s a question of a large fan base. I’m another person who really only listens to his earlier hits but there’s also quite a few early hits and I think they hold up well.

I couldn’t tell you squat about Rufus Wainwright. Not a jab, I just have no clue who he is. Maybe if I heard some songs.

Rufus’s first album (1998) got worn out in my CD player, that’s for sure. But then *Poses *was like “meh” and he went off on a drug addiction and then he seemed to want to explore different avenues of making music and art and not really confine himself to making the Next Big Pop Album. Like, he worked on some big environmental thing and wrote some operas.

I first saw him live in 2013, 15 years after I “discovered” him. Wow, what a show! I can’t believe it took me so long to see him! Although I don’t think he’d come to Cleveland at all in that time. I got to go to an after-party, and I ended up sneaking out to the bus with one of the band members and giving Rufus a kiss on the cheek :wink:

He came back to the area just a year later, and I had a ticket but I missed the show due to personal problems. It was at the Kent Stage at Kent State University, and I think it was part of their yearly Folk Fest. No doubt his mom and dad had both played the Fest at some point in their careers.

I think he’s as big as his parents, which is just big enough for him. I think he is bigger amongst the gay community than elsewhere (and I think that’s where he puts his energy). He’s had 17 years now to “break out” and become something bigger than he is but it doesn’t seem like that is something he aspires to do.

Elton John…he is a megastar.

Elton is more a star than a vital musical force these days. He can fill concert halls because old people like me are willing to see him (I did, when he toured with Billy Joel). But to most younger fans, his music is irrelevant. He’s a star for being a star (though he deserves it for his early work).

I don’t know much about Rufus, but I’m a major fan of his father, one of the best American songwriters of the past 50 years and one of the top 5 lyricists in rock.

Yeah, this is what I mean. It’s like, plenty of people like the Eagles for their hits and the nostalgia, but are there a lot of real Eagles fans? (And no, I’m not one of the “Eagles suck!” people.)

Another old person here who is still a fan of Elton John and who has never heard of Rufus.

Elton never did much for me. With the exception of a few songs (“Madman Across the Water” in particular), I was just never interested. Also, I am of an age that I was just beginning to discover pop/rock music when he was at his creative nadir - singing forgettable quasi-disco bubblegum like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and never could shake that association.

I was a big Rufus fan when his first record came out. But my enthusiasm did wane over time.

To start with, I will applaud that he was un-apologetically, openly and fabulously gay from the very get-go. This may not seem like a big deal now, but back in 1998 even Elton was still playing the “open secret” game; that is, most people basically assumed it, but Elton (and Rosie, and Sean Hayes, and Neal Patrick Harris, etc, etc) refused to actually admit it at all publicly, for fear of being labelled a “gay” act and possibly losing business from ‘straights.’ Rufus was always a brazenly queeny, opera-loving gayboy and never hid or tried to downplay it. I will always respect him for that.

And his first record was indeed a breath of fresh air - intelligent, thoughtful, expressing a unique POV, solid song-craft in place of flashy gimmicks, no use of autotuning - and stood out during a time when garbage like the Spice Girls dominated pop music.

It’s just that his music IMO never evolved beyond that. Even as early as his second disc, his music tended to be more of the same. Like ZipperJJ said above, he did wrestle with a drug addiction that might have affected his career for a time, but from all indications he’s overcome that. Yet his later discs, just didn’t grab me like his first one did.

I think Wainwright just had a moment in time when he was particularly significant not just as a musician, but as a cultural signpost. But that moment has passed.

I was one of the people who suggested Elton John WAS a megastar in his day. To me, there are only three undisputed megastar acts in the rock era: Elvis, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Several other acts are worthy of consideration, and I think Elton John (as well as Madonna, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, U2, Springsteen and a few others).

How big is Elton today? Well, if he announced that he was going to play a concert here in Austin this June and that tickets would go on sale at 10 AM this Saturday, I have no doubt he’d still fill up the Frank Erwin Center (a basketball arena a little smaller than Madison Square Garden). I think he’d still sell out basketball arenas in most big American cities.

Not bad for a has-been.

Not the Stones?

Yeah, there are a bunch of acts that could definitely sell out big venues. I mean, you have a lot of Styx-level bands, lol.

I have no doubt.

Where do you keep them?

And it makes me wonder.