Skip to main content

English culture

“To be English is to be an oddball”

Elton John performing at LA’s Dodger Stadium in 1975. Twitter/@EltonOfficial

Among the “casually destructive assumptions about other nations”, says Finn McRedmond in The Irish Times, one I hear all too often is that there is something “rotten and small-minded” at the core of Englishness. One look at Elton John shows just what a ridiculous lie that is. With millions of records sold and his “general cosmic level of fame”, it would be easy to forget that he “was once a radical”. The world was not always ready to embrace “strange male pianists in feather boas and sequins”. But he was a “trailblazer” of the kind that can only grow up in England – a country “naturally tailored to house eccentrics”.

Christopher Hitchens was fond of pointing out that weirdness is written into the very landscape, in strange place names like “Slaughter” and “Wittering”. In many ways, “to be English is to be an oddball: off-piste in matters of opinion, quirky in behaviour and independently minded”. Kooks like Elton and David Bowie and the many other renegades who followed them, brought unorthodox music into the American charts after first being accepted and embraced in England. In that sense, the country can credibly claim to be a “pioneering force” in cultural open-mindedness, welcoming the “weird and not quite yet socially acceptable”. In a US-dominated cultural landscape that can sometimes feel “terribly one-note”, it’s good to be reminded of the great tradition of the English eccentric.