One day a few months ago, I was standing in line at a roadside barbecue joint in rural Alabama. My friend Johnny stood beside me, basking in the warm spring air. Only two people were working that day, but nobody complained about how long it took to get their food. This barbecue joint is an old, one-of-a-kind, family-owned place where they slow-smoke their meat. Quality takes time. I had ordered chopped pork with coleslaw and baked beans and Johnny had ordered smoked turkey. We chatted with a couple of other patrons about how good the barbecue was at this place, and about how nice the weather was outside.

As we chatted, the radio station played an old song by Elton John. This place still pipes old-fashioned radio in the dining area, which is separated from the sun-bleached front porch by a screen door that doesn’t quite fit the doorframe. I don’t know why, but it occurred to me that, even here in backwoods Alabama, the name Elton John was a household word. It also occurred that Elton John’s persona and music are a bit odd if you think about it. Like me, Johnny listens to a good bit of classic rock, so he and I talked about Elton John after we got our food and sat down at an old picnic table on the front porch. We came up with some interesting scenarios. Here’s one for you to consider.

Imagine it’s 1970, and you’re an assistant to a producer for a major record label. You pick up Henry, one of your talent scouts, at the airport. Henry is back home after a week in London. You plan to drive Henry back to his apartment, figuring you can talk during the drive. He’s weary from his return flight, but Henry is bubbling over with enthusiasm. Your exchange might unfold like this:

“So, how was London this time, Henry?”

“Cold and rainy, but I gotta tell you, Jack, there’s this guy playing clubs that we need to sign before somebody else finds him.”

“You think the boss will like him?”

Like him? The boss is gonna love him!”

“What does he sing?”

“Rock and roll, man, rock and roll!”

“Is he a good guitarist?”

“Naw, Jack, he don’t play guitar.”

“So, he’s got his own band? Is his guitarist the next Jimi Hendrix? The boss is looking to sign a strong guitarist this quarter.”

“Naw, man, he don’t got his own band; he is the band!”

“So he just sings?”

“He don’t just sing. He plays piano too.”

“You mean jazz piano, maybe like Dave Brubeck? Or rockabilly piano like Jerry Lee Lewis?”

“Sorta like Jerry Lee Lewis, I guess, but different. Just wait ’til you hear this guy.”

“So, he sings and plays piano. What’s his voice like?”

“That’s just it, Jack, he’s English, but he sings like a black guy from Memphis.”

“He sings like a black guy from Memphis?”

“Well, sometimes. Other times he has this … I don’t know, sorta soft, innocent sound, almost childlike. And other times he shouts like … like an angry woman.”

“So, he’s an Englishman who sings in three different voices: one black, one child, and one angry woman, is that right?”

“Four, actually. I mean, he’s got a nice, natural tenor voice with a pretty good range.”

“So, he shouts like an angry woman … like Janis Joplin, maybe?”

“Well, not really. More articulate.”

“Okay, Jack. And his natural tenor voice, sorta like Justin Hayward, maybe?”

“Not as polished, but good in his own way.”

“Whatever. How’s his stage presence?”

“He dresses in white suits with sequins and wears oversized pink and purple sunglasses. Oh yeah, and sometimes he wraps a feather boa around his shoulders.”

“A feather boa? Now, Henry, don’t get your hopes up. I just don’t think the boss is gonna go for this feather boa guy who plays piano.”

“Oh yeah, Jack, one other thing. He likes to play a grand piano, which is sometimes a problem in the smaller clubs.”

“All right, Henry. What’s the guy’s name?”

“Reginald Dwight.”

“‘Reginald Dwight?’ Is that even a real name?”

“Yeah, it’s his real name, but his stage name is ‘Elton John.’”

“‘Elton John?’ Not the other way around? Not ‘John Elton?’”

“That’s right, his name’s ‘Elton John.’ His middle name is ‘Hercules.’”

“‘Hercules?’ Seriously? I guess Hercules John the pianist must write some good lyrics, huh?”

“Naw, Jack, he don’t write no lyrics at all.”

“So whose songs does he sing?”

“They’re his songs, but he has this friend named Bernie who writes the lyrics.”

“Okay Henry. Do Mr. John the pianist and his friend Bernie the lyricist work together? Are they childhood friends? Do they share a flat somewhere?”

“No, they don’t even meet in person. Elton sends Bernie a cassette tape with some piano riffs—”

“Please don’t call piano music ‘riffs.’ At least not in front of the boss. He’ll think you’re talking about a guitarist.”

“Okay, Jack. Anyway, Elton sends Bernie cassette tapes with piano music, and Bernie writes the lyrics. But sometimes Bernie sends Elton the lyrics in a letter.”

“Composing songs by mail. Okay. Tell me about some of their songs.”

“Well, there’s this one about saying goodbye to the yellow brick road, like in the Wizard of Oz. It’s about a kid from the country who goes to the big city, gets disillusioned, and then goes back to the country.”

“Except for the Wizard of Oz part, that sounds like a Country song, Henry.”

“It ain’t Country, Jack, it’s rock and roll!”

“So, we got an Englishman who sings in four different voices, dresses in feathers and sequins, plays grand piano in small clubs, and sings Country-like songs about the Wizard of Oz. And the lyrics were written by some guy named Bernie, whom Mr. John has never met? Please don’t pitch this guy to the boss, Henry. Please.”



Now, if you’re a serious student of music history – or a serious fan of Elton John – you know that the little exchange above, although humorous, contains numerous inaccuracies. That’s all right. Historical accuracy was not the point of my and Johnny’s scenario.

That day, at a roadside barbecue joint in rural Alabama, Johnny and I concluded that Elton John, like the barbecue joint, is one-of-a-kind. Only Reginald Dwight could have become Elton John. No one else could have combined the odd collage of influences in the spectacular way that he did. Many people who heard his music in person discovered songs that spoke to them, and a found persona that filled a niche in their psyches. Others listened and found that his music violated their self-imposed divisions of genre and style. Still others may have liked his music, but found his stage persona distracting or even offensive. No matter. Reginald Dwight became Elton John and went on to become an icon of Rock music.

If you are engaged in any sort of creative art, whether it is painting, music, or writing, it’s easy to think that you and your art are nothing special. Please remember that when God made you, he created a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Only you can be you, and you are the absolute best at being you. Some people will find you weird. Well, okay, maybe not you, but lots of people find me weird. That quit bothering me around age six.

Whether you create art or not, embrace the weird confluence of genetic, environmental, and cultural factors that shaped you. From there, go forth and become the person that God created you to be. Your personality fills a niche in someone else’s psyche. Your unique voice strikes a chord in someone’s heart. Your words are a salve to someone’s wounded soul. And people are waiting to meet the person God called you to become.