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Album: Madman Across The WaterReleased: 1971Charted:
In Susan Black's book Elton John in His Own Words
, Elton says of "Levon": "It"s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It's just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can't because it's the family ritual."
There are some very unusual names in this song, describing three generations. Alvin Tostig is the father of Levon, who has a son named Jesus. There is a lot of speculation that the name Levon came from Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band, but Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin says that he simply made the name up because he likes it, and the song has nothing to do with Helm.
When Rolling Stone asked Taupin about the song in 2013, he insisted that he has no idea what he intended as the meaning. "It was a free-form writing." he said. "It was just lines that came out that were interesting."
This is a great example of Taupin's intricate, nuanced writing style that leads to many different interpretations. For instance, the "cartoon balloons" that Levon blows up all day could be balloons with cartoon characters printed on them, or perhaps something more figurative, like thought bubbles that appear in comic strips, indicating the thoughts that are constantly rising out of his consciousness.
Taupin and John made a great team because Elton could interpret his lyrics very well, giving life to the characters in the songs with a curious ambiguity that encouraged further listens. In many cases, Elton didn't know what Taupin had in mind when he wrote the lyrics - when asked he would often reply, "you'll have to ask Bernie."
Since this runs 5:37, Elton's record company wanted to cut this down for the single so that more US radio stations would play it. Elton refused, insisting it be released full-length.
The actual New York Times
page 1 headline that included the phrase "God Is Dead" is dated March 24, 1968; the full headline read, "'God Is Dead' Doctrine Losing Ground to 'Theology of Hope'." The phrase also appeared in a major (page 3) article on January 7, 1970. Smaller pieces dated January and April 1966 that feature the phrase in their headings can also be found. None were on Christmas Day, but the January ones are close!
The cover art for the album was hand-embroidered on a Levi's jacket. On the back, the track listing was hand-stitched. This kind of artwork has become scarce in the age of digital design.
Jon Bon Jovi covered this for the tribute album Two Rooms
. Elton played piano on some of Bon Jovi's recordings.
Sir Elton and his partner David Furnish became parents to a son born on Christmas Day 2010 to a surrogate mother in California. They named him Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, which is why the baby boy ended up in this Songfact. It is assumed the name "Levon" was chosen because of the song's line, "He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day."