Elton John is a complicated guy (just ask his florist). As rock stars go, he’s relatively apolitical. And when he is tempted to weigh in on current events, he’s no less prone to head out to the fever swamps of the left than a lot of his rock n’ roll brethren.
In 2008, at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, he cited misogyny as one of the barriers to her political success. He’s publicly repeated the pernicious falsehood that Ronald Reagan was a villain in the AIDS crisis. He’s even claimed, without bothering to offer any substantiation for his beliefs, that Jesus “was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man.”
The Rocket Man is no down-the-line partisan, however. He’s famously forged a friendship with Rush Limbaugh. After being one of his critics, he grew fond of George W. Bush after meeting him and being impressed by his efforts against AIDS. That Sir Elton defaults to the left is self-evident. But he at least seems to retain an open mind.
What’s most impressive, however, is how he’s been consistently unafraid to use his global celebrity to support freedom. In 2010, he performed in Israel while other artists (among them, Elvis Costello and The Pixies) were boycotting the country over its policies towards the Palestinians, declaring that artists should not “cherry-pick our consciences.” He’s repeatedly refused to cancel concerts in Muslim nations because of threats from Islamists. He even went to Poland and praised Lech Walesa and Solidarity at the height of the Cold War, for which he was recently honored by the Polish government.
Chinese authorities have hardened their line on foreign musicians, after Elton John infuriated them by dedicating a performance to outspoken artist and activist Ai Weiwei, according to industry sources. Police arrived to interview the singer shortly after he announced that the performance, which took place in Beijing last November, was dedicated “to the spirit and talent of Ai Weiwei”, according to two sources. One said officers wanted John’s manager to sign a statement saying the dedication was inspired only by admiration for Ai’s art. John’s spokesman declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian.
Ai and John met briefly before the Beijing show, with Ai subsequently announcing to fans on Twitter: “I super like him.” John was allowed to go ahead with a scheduled concert in Guangzhou in early December. But the English language edition of state-run newspaper Global Times attacked John. It said the singer was “disrespectful” when he “forcibly added political content to the concert”, adding: “If they had known that this concert would be dedicated to Ai Weiwei, many in the audience would not have come.”
As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to indulge Sir Elton’s penchant for occasionally outlandish leftism on matters domestic as long as he’s willing to lend his prominence to issues like this overseas. Way to earn that knighthood.