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Levon

by

Elton John



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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." (thanks, Alexander - London, England)
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! (thanks, Tony - Westbury, NY)
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. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
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."
Elton John
Elton John Artistfacts
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Comments (50):

In a BBC television interview with Paul Gambaccini, Elton clearly states that the song is the story of a young man desiring to escape the control of a domineering father. Elton and Bernie's albums in the 70s were often thematic. "Madman Across the Water" is a collection of songs directly inspired by their early visits to America. Bernie had a small habit of choosing interesting character names from people that he knew personally though the finished song's were not "about" that person. When this song was presumably written Elton and Bernie had already met and hung out with the members of the Band. So, the Levon Helm resonates with me for the choice of that name but for that fact only. In my opinion, Bernie wrote lyrics about Elton's life and perspective as much as he did his own and such is the case here. Elton is Levon (and Jesus and Alvin Tostig for that matter).
- Mark, Sylvania, OH
Whew! I thought I put too much thought into what songs mean.

Here is what this song means to me: Use a provocative word here, put in a controversial image there, associate them, throw in some profound sounding filler and some pseudo-factual nonsense, and poof! You have a song like "Levon".

"in tradition with the family plan"

Taupin could use words like music, except instead of playing a piano he played with your head. He beat it, stomped on it, smashed it, walked all over the top of it and set it on fire once in a while. Does that sound like anyone familiar?
- Kevin, Torrance, CA
Levon Helm is from West Helena, Arkansas -- not Virginia.
- Cecile, Little Rock, AR
my comments below are only halfway serious btw ;)
- dennj, portland, OR
"New York Times said 'God Is Dead', and the wars begun"... I think the war he is referring to is when the Christian right waged war on popular culture, Jerry Falwell started picketing book stores and films, banning books at the library, closing strip clubs, getting evangelicals into political office, the moral majority got the whole Jesus movement going. It was the start of the culture wars (though they didn't call it "culture wars" back then, I don't think).
I think Tiny Dancer is about riding in the tour bus day after day with nothing to do but JO (Tiny Dancer in my hand).
- dennj, portland, OR
Between the lyrics to "Capt. Fantastic" "St. Peter" and "Tiny Dancer" I always sensed a conflict with religion that pops up from time to time in Bernie's early lyrics, but I don't mind delving into the fascinating range of possibilities here: there's the mark of a really good song, even if Taupin's work does often seem deliberately obscure and oblique for his own aesthetic satisfaction. It's not hard to find instances where Elton fiddled with the content for the melody's sake. I always found this song delightfully subversive, and it's epic; while "All the Nasties" is often compared to "Hey Jude" I find this song's outro much more akin to it.
- Angela, San Diego, CA
Like many of B.Taupin lyrics, there are double, triple, and quadruple enterdre's associated. His lyrics in his own words are an "amalgam of several subject's of feeling's cut and pasted …surrounded with several props to set a theme."

What most miss in the song "Levon" is what's not there, that being the times in which this song was penned, the late 60's. It was then many Vietnam-vets (Hence "Daniel") came home with heroin habits. Heroin dealers were known as "Balloons," and common street slang for heroin was "Sweet-Jesus." Additionally, "Cartoons," is most likely a reference of heroin's pseudo reality of have altered states of consciousness. Further, the 60's where embodied by several conscious efforts for social change one being the Jesus movement, and another a time of trinomial-marriage to peace, sex, and drugs.

So with this in mind, Alvin is Levon the drug dealer. Jesus is the habit. The 3 represent a unholy trinity. Additionally, Alvin Tostig is not a real person as he is the embodiment of a way of life, not to be confused with "The Way, the truth and the of life" the real Jesus movement.

Further, Levon's habit Jesus, was born on "a" or his Christmas day, not the traditional Dec 25th. Levon considers his bondage to dealing as a monarchal "Crown," and is something that cripples his normalcy as a king and creator of drug dealers. This is his "war/drug wound."

The business of selling and shooting up heron to new and old dealers and users, is done out of His garage. Which can be viewed as a physical garage for drug trafficking, and the garage/storage of the human mind. Additionally, all work is done near a motor way, get way. The motor way can be viewed as with all Taupin's lyrics, multiple ways. Motor sensory of the brain cortices (Heron's affect on neurotransmission-reception mimicking of the natural brain chemical serotonin), or a highway to escape police, and of course both.

As you can see, Taupin is a lyrical master at creating multiple associations with asymmetry subjects.

Also, Levon's habit'd desire is to escape by floating away from dealing, and live a life of drugs and sex, hence the Venus Mythological Roman Goddess reference which holds close to his futuristic Ideals for a life separated from his other personas.

Additionally to the 60's, "God is Dead" (Nietzsche), publicly declared by a common news paper sold globally, encapsulates the songs essence that neither Levon the drug dealer and Jesus his habit, are deemed correct; in essence inducing the beginning of the postmodern era which host the charm of relativistic ideals not theism. Atheism, counterintuitive to the American culture in the United States at that time, became prominent during the 60's with the induction of non absolutes, and social relativism as a collective whole for society and further inducing the birth of "pop-culture."

As stated earlier, Taupin is a master at weaving these lyrical fabrics in extremely creative prose's.

Rock on Taupin!
- Derek Scott, Romeo, MI
I have just two comments in two sentences to add besides this one, and that is: Perhaps Sir Elton has all ready explained the meaning of the song here; has been in a hot debate with this population, and finds it interesting to read what others understand in the poetry. My other comment is simply that most music/lyrics are interpreted by the listener; as the spiriual belief systems and God are, left to interpretation.
- Valarie, Tualatin, OR
Life imitates art - how interesting that Elton John's and David Furnish's new son, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, was just born - ON Christmas Day! And I suppose that since he was born to a surrogate, as is being reported, the child WAS born to a "pawn" (presumably, a well-paid one).
- Michelle, Batavia, IL
Didn't Taylor Hicks record Levon too? I would like to have a CD of it, does anyone know where I can find one?
- Carol, West Columbia, SC
I love all the personal interpretations. Some folks get really deep into the meaning and the symbolism. It is a great song, but, in my humble opinion, this song has a little to do with specifics of Christianity. Although, I love the reference to the Mormon belief that Christ was born on 6 April 1 AD. It didn't make me laugh as much as the poor soul who thinks the whole thing is about dealing heroin (note to self: don't post ideas on the internet when strung out). Sure ... there is the whole "Cats in the Cradle" feel to the relationship between the father and son. But, I really believe this song is about how children are born into wealthy families (like Jesus) who do not appreciate or do much with his life ("Jesus blows up balloons all day
Sits on the porch swing watching them fly." It is also speaking to how the son wants nothing to do with the father and leaves him to die alone. "Pauper to a pawn" is merely pointing out that Levon was not born into wealth ... so you can envision the different out look on life between Levon and Jesus. There is also an underlying theme about Levon loving his wealth over God (Jesus is his name because Levon only likes it). The is made apparent by the use of being born on Christmas day and the infamous "God is Dead."

Anyone every wonder why they are CARTOON balloons? Here is a stretch ... cartoon balloons are made in comics when people speak. Maybe there is more meaning behind selling cartoon balloons representing something like speech or just words as if Levon is a politician and politics are the family business.

Could Alvin Tostig represent something other than an actual, real-life person? It leads me to believe that the name is not tied to any particular religion. Or, "Alvin Tostig has a son today" sounds like an announcement that would be made when an important person has a child ... important like a politician. This could be printed in the news paper.

I suppose everyone has their own view of the meaning of the lyrics. This could be why Elton John has never really said what the song is talking about. If he did say what it was, the song could loose meaning for those who thought it meant something else.
- AJ, Saint Paul, MN
Its about Heroin dealing and drug use!

First:
"HE SHALL BELIEVE ON."

As Mike pointed out, Levon is just a play on words (I thought everyone knew this).

In reading all of these complicated interpretaions I am reminded of Occam's razor: "The simplest explanation is usually the correct one."

An understanding of most poetry requires a little bit of understanding of the era in which was written, and Bernie Taupan tried to give everyone a clue about this in the song itself. Levon was born ... "on a Christmas day, when the NY Times said God is dead ..." Someone else previously pointed out that the times printed this several times during the late 1960's, and the song itself was released in 1971.

During the late 60's many many Vietnam vets came home with a heroin habit. Heroin dealers were known as balloons, and common slang for heroin was sweet-Jesus. Then (like now) it was packaged and sold in balloons.

So, some vet (with a war-wound and a habit and no money) came home and started dealing. He had no money (was born a pauper to a pawn). His dad once had high hopes for him; that he would be a "good man," and likely religious ("He shall believe on."). He was not a good man because he made his money dealing heroin, AND he involved his son in his dealings. Counting money in a garage is merely a reference to being discreet -- not doing something out in the open.

Jesus blows up balloons all day means he involved his son in the trade.

Jesus wants to go to Venus, leaving Levon far behind, etc ... His son wants to get out of the drug dealing biz and FAR away from his dad. That is likely only meaning of this line. Taupin refers to Venus because it rhymes with Jesus and makes the point, but there is no other deep symbolic meaning here to Venus. If Levon's son's name had been Lars then he would have wanted to go to Mars.

It all fits.
- Geoff, Scottsdale, AZ
A change to my post below, concerning Venus: Venus may not be as sexual as noted. "And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus." Venus is a hot planet, and no one wants to go there. (Later, in Rocket Man, Mars will be described as "cold as hell.") The lyricists do not want Jesus (His family) to even want to go to space. It's a distraction from what they_want_us_to_want. "Take a balloon and go sailing" is to fantasize over something meaningless. 'A' balloon is not one of their balloons. What does the press (sellers of cartoon balloons) want us to want? A president Obama, for instance; even decades ago. This is critical to them, otherwise Levon (Levin) would slowly die. >>The relation of Venus to Elton John's sexuality is rather obvious, so used as a distraction from Levin's family as blame.
- Bryan, Harlingen, TX
The Levon name is a variation of Levin; general usage, not a specific person. The Levi jeans cover art stresses it. The 'war wound like a crown' is the holocaust. 'Take heart, don't be depressed, will wear a crown.' His child is Jesus, since He is son of Levin. But he hates the name. (Levin's family always refers to Him as the 'baby Jesus', keeping him that way in their minds.) Levon likes his money. He's successful, crownish. The motorway is what his money drives, more pride. "Born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day" describes what the birth of Jesus (not the crucifixion) eventually did to the Levin's people (birthed them as paupers to a pawn, w/Jesus as the pawn, what they want their balloons to turn Him into). "NYT said God is dead" makes the crucifixion as a statement of fact, as if deserved. Tostig refers to Toffler, for its "Future Shock" effect. "The war's begun", so Jerusalem was destroyed, Jews scattered after crucifixion. (But now another war is current, as they fight back against the Pawn.) "He shall be Levon, a good man, tradition with family place" repeat ad infinitum is a declaration of continued Levin-worth existence, and it is not a curse--or to reverse it. The cartoon balloons refer to family control of media and power, that the family itself can be intertained by, not take seriously. "Family business thrives" means it is a source of life, not feces as some might say of the media. The want for Venus is want for heterosexual sex, but also Star Trekkian infatuated. Lots of those shows on TV. The world is not enough for that pride. "Levon slowly dies" is the hate of Venus, as we also see in the media. It is misogyny or Levon's slow death, and a slow death of their current war. It is highly doubtful Elton and Bernie wrote this. Seriously.
- Bryan, Harlingen, TX
Okay. Now you guys have got me going. Here's my interpretation of the song! I'm no religious fanatic, but there are too many refs to Christianity to suggest that they are meaningless. The name LEVON comes from LEVON HELM of THE BAND--but from here, I think TAUPIN took a Biblical tack. He was born on a Christmas Day when the NY TIMES said 'God is Dead', etc. In short, I believe that since the subjects alluded to (including ALVIN TOSTIG--which I say is TAUPIN'S misprision of ALVIN TOFFLER) are too recent to mark the birth of even an adolescent child, that it is essentially prophetic. TAUPIN is saying that despite the media controversy, CHRIST is on his way--but he'll be a real person, with dreams and frustrations.
- john, wells, ME
The ALVIN TOSTIG thing is interesting. My guess is that TAUPIN and JOHN were rummaging for topical verbiage (such as THE NY TIMES, GOD IS DEAD ref)and subconsciously picked up the name of ALVIN TOFFLER, author of FUTURE SHOCK, and later, THE THIRD WAVE.
- john, wells, ME
This song shows that Elton John can make anything sound good. If you read the lyrics they make very little sense. However Elton pulls it off very well.
- Don, B G, KY
At first the song seems to be about a father and a son, but there is another father in there: the father of Levon. Each of the fathers has an expectation for his son.

Levon's father wants him to be a good man, and grow up in the traditions of the family. That may be where the religious references come from. Perhaps Levon disappointed his father by concentrating on money instead of God. Perhaps not.

The reference to a crown, and the obvious affluence of Levon make him seem proud of the success. His days of being a pauper are over. He does well for himself, and he is able to provide opportunities for Jesus, his son. It doesn't spell out exactly what his expectations are for his son, but he probably wants him to take over the business.

Jesus, on the other hand, is a dreamer. He is blowing up balloons all day, but where? Is he at home on the porch swing? Or is he working when he has to, and daydreaming the rest of the time? Whatever it is, Jesus is not impressed by Levon's hard work and dedication. His dream is to be far away, sailing like one of the balloons

I wondered about the reference to Venus. Maybe it just represents a place very far away. It could have a sexual reference. Maybe he wants to be with a woman. Maybe he wants to BE a woman. Who knows.

It's a very thought provoking song. When I listen to it I think of fathers and sons, and the different directions their expectations lead them.
- Russ, Midway, UT
This song is about a father named Levon that makes cartoon balloons, but his son Jesus who helps blowing up balloons, wants to go to Venus (in the bible, God never states their is really a Venus). Pretty poetic theme and rather interesting.
- San, San Fransisco, CA
Cynthia, anyone who is offended by a simple posted factoid has bigger problems than can be addressed here. That said, great song.
- Karen, Manchester, NH
Ok first of all I absolutely love this song! Easily one of my top 3 favourite Sir Elton songs, along with Daniel and I'm Still Standing and also in my top twenty songs of all time! Secondly, Jerry i admire your faith but please don't use this forum for religious propaganda. you could unintentionally offend someone.
- cynthia, scranton, PA
I really like this song , I is one sad song that is hard to figure out , I think it's about the death of a friend or dying .
- Vince, Lorain, OH
I've always had my own interpretation of this song. It seems like a all to common and always sad family scenario. Levon runs the family business and his son Jesus has no interest in it. He only wants to play and go to "Venus". Dad is set in his ways and thinks the son should have more earthbound goals and plans. Everybody wants to read something religious into this song but, the lyrics clearly state that Levon named his son Jesus "because he likes the name".
- Thomas, Somerville, AL
he shall be reborn
- Sean, Seaside, CA
Jesus Christ was born on 6 April 1 AD. http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/20 It seems that only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognize this, but we still celebrate Christmas in December ;-).

-Jerry
- Jerry-Songfacts, Edmonton, AB
An explanation of who Alvin Tostig is can be found on the following link Askipedia http://www.askipedia.com/askipedia-article-004002-1039.htm ... too long to place on this page
- Corey, Concord, CA
I think the lyrics might suggest the dying off of the wrathful god of the Old Testament, as represented by Levon, in favor of the example of Jesus, as represented by, well, Jesus. Jesus blowing up balloons=grace=wanting people to go to heaven. The image of sailing off on a balloon while Levon slowly dies is an interesting reversion of the actual Biblical Jesus, who wondered why his father had forsaken him and left him to die.
- Dennis, Petoskey, MI
Am I the only person who believes that "Jesus, he wants to go to Venus" is a reference to sex or love with a woman?
- Lori, Alexandria, VA
By the way Scott, West Helena is in Arkansas, not Virginia. Levon Helm is actually from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas which is close to West Helena (and near Memphis, TN). THIS SONG IS NOT ABOUT LEVON HELM!!!
- Barry, Bastrop, La, LA
Yes I believe Novel Rodreguiz is who the song was written about. The story I heard was: He grew up blowing up baloons for his father at his garage/used car lot/Texaco station in Kilgore, Tx. (beside the motorway) and he actually did get to go to Venus, but he didn't stay very long. It was hard for him to breathe there, something about not enough oxygen, poisinous gases, etc. Anyhow he came back from Venus and got a job at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Riverdale, Ga. (outside of Atlanta) where Sir Elton and Bernie ate at. Well they took a shine to Novel and decided to write the song about him. That's the story I heard anyway.
- Barry, Bastrop, La, LA
In my interpretation of "Levon", the song is about Jesus' resentment of Levon and Levon's lifestyle and wanting to get away from it all ("he wants to go to Venus/Leaving Levon far behind"). There's no right answer when it comes to interpreting lyrics, though....but there are wrong ones (a holy war? Come on, that's ridiculous).
- Taylor, Yorkshire, England
Ive heard a rumor that Levon was a guy that worked at a coffee shop where Elton and Bernie used to stop occasionaly, they just borrowed his name.
- Jason, Double Springs, AL
Alvin Tostig is Levon's father. Levon was "born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas Day when the New York Times said God was dead." That's why Alvin Tostig had a son that day. Thanks to The StraightDope for setting it straight.
- Nick, Boston, MA
I'm not sure why Elton himself just doesn't explain what the song is about so people would know. Would save us with all our theories.

Is it more how this song sounds that makes it good or do we really listen to it for the words?
- Ryan, Edmonton, Canada
Yeah, it's also an anagram for "Living Toast" but it's not applicable to the song lol
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
Alvin tostig is an anagram for Vigilant Sot. I thought that was interesting...
- Mindy, Oakdale, MN
Who the hell is Alvin Tostig? It sounds like an anagram name to me, but i don't know of what.
- Brandon, Peoria, IL
Back in the 80's, my friend, Dana and I enjoyed listening to this song. We tried to figure it out and decide why we liked it. Finally, I said "well I just like it because it's called Levon and that sounds like Yvonne" (which is MY name). We had a good laugh and whenever Dana heard the song playing she would call me up and say "listen, listen" and then hold the phone up to the radio. Dana has since passed away & this song brings tears whenever I hear it now, but what great memories it triggers. Thank you Elton!
- Yvonne, Youngstown, OH
I heard from a friend of mine that Levon was a guy who ripped some money off from Elton and his band.
- Luke, Montpelier, VT
I like your interpretation, Steve. I don't think it's a pro-religious song, and I don't really understand the 'holy war' theme. Maybe Bernie or Elton had previously said it to be about that, because I just can't get such a specific story out of the lyrics.

I see it, too, as a story about the relationship between a boy and his father. The song compares the humble beginnings of Levon to that of Jesus and then equates the two figures in their adult life. It's as if society looks at a man who is so rich to be the holy savior for their generation. Hence why the death of God fell on the same day of his birth; people have found a new kind of hero to worship. To society (and to Levon himself) being a success is synonymous with being a good person. But we are soon reminded of the folly of this perspective when we learn that he has failed to win the respect of his own son. Despite his noble success story, war wounds, and ego, he is not genuinely loved for the person he is. His son wants nothing more than to leave his father and never return.
- Kim, Calgary, Canada
I always pictured Levon being a John D. Rockefeller type who started out pour and worked his way up to be a tycoon. And that he had such a high opinion of himself, he named his child Jesus, implying that his self importance rivaled that of God's. While Levon was obsessed with always making more money, Jesus doesn't want to inherit his father's life, but wants to set out on his own. But hey, that's just me.
- Steve, Fenton, MO
The "God is Desd" headlines you mention are misleading. The March 1968 headline (a very minor headline it is) actually reads "'God is Dead' Doctrine Losing Groud to 'Theology of Hope.'" They are all very minor articles referring mostly to the demise of the "God is Dead" movement in liberal theology that sought to insist that God had become irrelevant to contemporaty life. Most likely the song reference is simply made up.
- Andy, St. Louis, MO
This is such a great song. As Elton & Bernie so often put it, a great marriage of lyric and melody. The fact that you dont know the actual story doesn't really matter, the lyrics are just great, and the way Elton delivers them is beautiful. I only know of one man named Levon, and that is Levon Helm from "The Band" who actually hails from West Helena in Virginia. Levon is a very talented musician, and anyone who wants to see any of his work should try and get hold of a DVD called The Last Waltz.
- Scott, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
This song is a very important song for me and my school. I'm a sophomore in a Christian school, and with all of the controversy today, we use this song as a bit of a "theme song", if you can call it that.
- Wade, Katy, TX
This is about a boy and his father.
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
Is there any significance to the fact that "Levon" is "novel" spelled backward?
- Jena, Bonner Springs, KS
On 'Madman Across The Water', there are three songs that mention Jesus. There is this one, then Tiny Dancer 'Jesus Freaks Out On The Street, handing tickets out for god', which i believe is a reference to Jahovah's Witnesses,m and Rotten Peaches, where Jesus is used as an expletive. Does anyone agree?
- Adrian, London, England
Yes. It is on the album 'The One', which is in my opinion, Elton's best rock album of the '90s. Bernie wrote all the lyrics for The One
- Adrian, London, England
And he shall be Levon is also a play on words. It can be sang, "and he shall believe on....", which ties to the interesting references to both God being dead, the war beginning and the son being named Jesus.
- Mike, Seattle, WA
I love the storywriting ability of Bernie. It's a very image driven song. But, I think The Last Song is the most impressive song Elton has done. Did Bernie write that one?
- Eric, Franklin, MA
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