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Elton John’s Full Circle of Session Music Done Remotely
There was a time when singers and musicians would get together—in the same room—and jam. Music has that quality. It brings people together. I can't tell you how many times different friends and I would head south to the Village in Manhattan to listen to bands play. There's just something about having musicians playing live, and when it's an exceptionally fantastic set, you could feel the energy and connection among friends and strangers alike.
Netflix produced a documentary called Echo in the Canyon. For those of us who grew up with the sounds of the 60s and 70s, it was revealing and a musical walk down memory lane. In the 1960s, in the California mountains of Laurel Canyon, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, The Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and others created the sounds of a generation with their penetrating guitars, pianos, drums, and vocals.
Brian Wilson’s Sandbox in the Dining Room
One of the best stories from the documentary (although there were many) was about Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. If you know the sound of the Beach Boys, then you know they exuded the California beach cool of the time with hits such as ‘California Girls’ and ‘Surfin’.
At the age of 23, he bought a house in the Hollywood Hills and convinced his wife, Marilyn, to include a sandbox in the dining room. In other words, eight tons of sand from the beach got poured into the room, and his piano got placed on top of it. He loved it, and more tunes and collaborations happened in that room.
Elton John’s Collaboration with Young Contemporary Artists
Elton John, of course, is a product of the 60s and 70s. And, in 2021 he released The Lockdown Sessions, recorded during the pandemic of 2020. One of the pieces of song magic, Cold Heart (Pnau remix), from the album, was the 21st Century mash-up of John's Rocket Man (1972), Kiss the Bride (1983), and Sacrifice (1989). The collaboration with music artist Dua Lipa helped John get a hit #1 single in the UK—his first since 2005.
As we've seen with many artists through the years, including the collaborations between Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Lana Del Rey, and Stevie Nicks, John embraced younger and contemporary artists for his album, including Lil Nas X, Charlie Puth, and Nicki Minaj. However, he also collaborated with music legends such as Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, and Stevie Wonder.
Of the album, John explained, “Some of the recording sessions had to be done remotely, via Zoom, which I'd obviously never done before. Some of the sessions were recorded under very stringent safety regulations: working with another artist, but separated by glass screens. But all the tracks I worked on were really interesting and diverse, stuff that was completely different to anything I'm known for, stuff that took me out of my comfort zone into completely new territory. And I realised there was something weirdly familiar about working like this. At the start of my career, in the late 60s, I worked as a session musician. Working with different artists during lockdown reminded me of that. I'd come full circle: I was a session musician again. And it was still a blast."
Creating Synergy When People Get Together in Person or Remotely
The alchemy behind John's album was that he was open to learning and exploring music with people from other generations and who created music in different ways than in the past, as happened with the bands of the 60s and 70s.
Many contemporary music artists can create entire songs all by themselves. And by that, I don't mean just young musicians. In fact, I happen to know a musician from the Boomer generation in Germany who writes and records all his music in his home. Yes, he played in a band through the years, but he creates in his home studio and collaborates in person and remotely with today's technology.
And this is where creating relevancy and purpose, even if it's for your pleasure, comes into play. Elton John decided during the lockdowns of the 2020 pandemic to collaborate remotely, just as bands of the past used to do. What he achieved, as he mentioned, was coming full circle in his life.
He reached out to others, and although in some sessions, artists didn't share the same physical space, he was able to bring his musical aesthetic and integrate it with that of other artists with different world experiences. In other words, the idea of getting together happened in person and remotely still matters. And in the process, people can learn and grow—no matter their age, experience, or background. But, you’ve got to reach out.
Why We Have to Get Back into Common Spaces Metaverse & Otherwise
If you spend a lot of time reading about technology and its impact on culture and society, you start to realize—especially if you’re older than a Millennial or Gen Z—this wasn’t what I expected to see. The chances are pretty solid that I, personally, won't see those sci-fi cities of the future. But, if I don't die unexpectedly, I will experience and perhaps experiment with the metaverse.
Still, we need to realize as things go ever-faster, we need to lean into our humanity. So, like Elton John, we have to create space for sharing experiences among generations and people of different backgrounds, experiences, and locations. The more we do it, the more our minds expand, and the less our fears of uncertainty become. Moreover, we achieve something that we need to do in this world of cynicism and division. We create opportunities for dialogue, understanding, patience, and kindness.
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