Elton John and his lover David Furnish recently became the parents of a baby boy, courtesy of a surrogate mother, who birthed Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John on Christmas Day.
“For many years we have talked about fulfilling one of our greatest wishes by becoming parents,” John said. “And now this wish has been granted to us, we feel so blessed and lucky.”
The child was born in the United States. John and his people are refusing to furnish any other details as to the mother’s name or precise whereabouts, which of the two men is the biological father, or the nature of the surrogate arrangement. As is their right.
“We are overwhelmed with happiness and joy at this very special moment,” John and Furnish stated in a missive to US Weekly. “Zachary is healthy and doing really well, and we are very proud and happy parents.”
Of the several names applied to the child, one is familiar to those versed in John’s music—”Levon,” the title of a tune from his 1971 Madman Across The Water release. Some may figure that John and Furnish couldn’t resist appending the name because their child, like the Levon in the song, was “born on a Christmas Day.” But there is probably more to it than that.
Because John and Furnish in 2009 sought to adopt a 14-month-old Ukrainian HIV-positive boy named Lev. But were prevented from doing so, by fossils.
Prior to encountering Lev in a Ukrainian orphanage, John had resisted the idea of children.
“David always wanted to adopt a child and I always said ‘no’ because I am 62 and I think because of the travelling I do and the life I have, maybe it wouldn’t be fair for the child,” John said at the time. “But having seen Lev today, I would love to adopt him. I don’t know how we do that but he has stolen my heart. And he has stolen David’s heart and it would be wonderful if we can have a home. I’ve changed my mind today.”
However, Ukrainian Family, Youth and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavelnko ultimately decreed that: (1) gay couples are not suitable parents under the country’s antiquated adoption laws; (2) said laws also state that there can be an age difference between child and parents of no more than 45 years, making both John and Furnish too old to adopt; (3) the mother had not fully waived her parental rights, so although Lev was entombed in an orphanage, he was not formally available for adoption; and (4) foreign citizens adopting children must be married, and John and Furnish’s 2005 civil union under British law does not qualify as a “marriage” in Ukraine, a country crippled by Fear Of The Ick.
John and Furnish returned home without young Lev—though vowing to support him anyway—and now, roughly a year or so later, John, Furnish, and the surrogate mother, have produced a Lev/on of their own.
I lost track of Elton John over the years. Though a fan of his very early music, I abandoned him at “Crocodile Rock” (I loathe kitsch). I was aware that he had become part of the Princess Diana cult, and that after reworking his ode to Marilyn Monroe, “Candle In The Wind,” for Diana’s funeral services, he entered into a memorable war of words with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards: happily awash in liquor, Richards mused to a Canadian reporter, “the man seems to like singing songs about dead blondes”; John shot back by describing Richards as “a monkey with arthritis.” I understood that John had seemingly emerged the victor in a titanic battle with alcohol and various powdered rocknroll accoutrements, and that the Queen had deigned to make him a “Sir.”
That John decided to name his child “Levon” brought him back into focus. Because that was probably my favorite of his songs. And because I worry that, through that name, Mr. Ha-Ha may try to get him.
As I first noted here, Mr. Ha-Ha is the fellow who derives infinite amusement from that which causes mere mortals pain. He is a trickster, who delights in transforming what people intended as protective into instruments of hurt. Thus, James Joyce, afflicted all his life by terrible vision problems, that eventually rendered him blind, attempted to protect his daughter from the same fate by naming her Lucia—”light.” Mr. Ha-Ha allowed Lucia to keep her sight, but played with her name like a mischievous genie, flooding her with so much light that she went mad.
The song “Levon,” when it first emerged, engendered rumblings that John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, were avatars of anti-semitism. In the lyrics, “Levon” is identified as the son of “Alvin Tostig,” and is presumed to be Jewish. That “Levon likes his money/he makes a lot they say/he spends his days counting/in a garage by the motorway” was understood to be a gross anti-semitic slur involving money-grubbing Jews. That Levon “calls his child Jesus/because he likes the name” was further understood to reference Judaism giving birth to Christianity, and that Levon was “born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day/when the New York Times said God is dead/and the war’s begun” was supposed to reference the stress between Judaism and Christianity, with the latter supplanting the former.
Lyricist Taupin pronounced all this utter rubbish: “People get their knickers completely in a twist just because Levon called his son Jesus, and he was a balloon salesman. Just because he didn’t call his child ‘George,’ and he wasn’t a mechanic or something. I don’t know, the story’s completely simple; it’s just about a guy who wants to get away from his father’s hold over him. Strange.”
In the same interview, Taupin confessed that the song “Take Me To The Pilot” has no meaning whatsoever, being the product of a gibberish coma.
In the realm of Mr. Ha-Ha planning an assault on John through the naming of his child “Levon,” we have the warning bell from Taupin that the song involves “a guy who wants to get away from his father’s hold over him.” There is also this four-alarm line from the lyrics: “while Levon, Levon slowly dies.”
Jeebus preserve us.
When I named my own child, I was not yet fully awake to either the power of names, nor the power of Mr. Ha-Ha.
My then-wife, her mother, was the first to settle on it, as a gift to me, knowing how I had become terminally infected by Orwell’s 1984 at the age of 10, and that I was then massively in lust with Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the 1984 film version of 1984.
Naming a child after a doomed victim of a totalitarian state is probably not the wisest thing I’ve done. But where Mr. Ha-Ha really nastily struck, I think, was through the line from the novel where she is described as “a rebel from the waist down”: my daughter was crippled in an accident when in the very flower of youth, and from the waist down her body is indeed in rebellion against her. And, save stem cells, probably always will be.
At some point I started to become unmoored from my own name. I think now it may have begun when I read about Irving Kanarek, legendary criminal-defense lawyer, the man who was ultimately stuck with defending Charles Manson. Kanarek was renowned for using every known device—and many he invented himself—for stringing along hopeless cases, grinding the wheels to the slowest of crawls, in hopes that thereby the prosecutor or judge might blunder, through exasperation, irritation, fatigue, or the mere law of averages, into some fatal mistake. Or a key witness or juror would succumb or go mad. Or the world would end. Something. Anything.
Anyway, in one case, when the first witness took the stand, and was asked the first question—his name—Kanarek rose and objected, on the grounds that the man reciting his name was inadmissible hearsay, because the man “knew” that to be “his name” only upon being told that it was by his mother.
Now, this is sheer brilliance, because, although it is monumentally absurd, it is also true. A person knows her “birth name” to be “her name” only because she’s told that it is. In a place like the US, that name quickly becomes attached to you, through the accretion of various official documents, and through endless repetition by friend, and, eventually, foe alike. But that doesn’t mean it’s “you.”
By the time I was in my very early 20s I was writing under five different pen names at once, as well as under my “real” name. Eventually, I started eschewing the “real” name whenever possible.
I lived in a small town and I increasingly found that people were reacting to me, in the flesh, under my “real” name, as a person they had created in their minds, based on their reading of what I had written for various feisty publications, rather than who I actually was.
The disconnect was sometimes subtle, as when I became lovers with a woman who had read my stuff for something like 15 years, thinking, when she first began reading, that she had encountered the work of a 40-year-old alcoholic . . . which, by the time she met me, I actually was.
But sometimes it was massive. Once I larked a piece about a ludicrous extravaganza involving men sitting in a small indoor ring, playing cards around a table, until a bull was let into the ring: the last man to leave the table “won.” I played a little with the “facts,” reporting such details as the clowns who entered the ring between rounds to pick up severed limbs and deposit them in a bucket.
This story sparked massive outrage. The radio station I was mostly listening to at the time was a C&W outfit: I turn the thing on to hear myself denounced in the most savage of terms; hourly sounded breathless ululations that the paper where the piece appeared should be subjected to a stringent boycott, until I had been fired and forced to publicly prostrate myself in fulsome apology. The point man for this jihad was the owner of the Western shop where I’d been buying my cowboy boots for the last decade. I walk into the place to hear myself getting roasted over the airwaves, even as the guy who is otherwise baying for “my” blood comes over with a big smile on my face, to let me know that the $400 hand-made boots I’d ordered from Texas had arrived. You see, as his customer, he liked “me”; as the guy who’d written the piece for the paper, he thought “I” should be settled with a shotgun.
Anyway, thus far this millennium I have succeeded in not possessing a single piece of official paper with “my” name on it. The bank and club and whatnot cards I use have somebody else’s name on it, so, in public, I am most often acknowledged by the name of a person who doesn’t even exist. I understand that this can’t go on forever, that at some point I will again have to be “me.” Sometimes I do wonder, though, if they’ll even let me back in, as “me.”
My “real” name is fake, anyway. That’s because in the mid-1800s, the last of those who bore “my” last name was a woman. She was the end of the line. But in a burst of ur-feminism, her husband offered to switch his last name to hers, so that the line could go on. Everybody in the world with “my” last name, then, comes from that union. But we’re not supposed to be who we are. Instead, we’re supposed to be of the people of “Vox.”
Generally, the only person who knows all your real names is your lover. That’s why I like that song by Rihanna, “What’s My Name.” She may be a young’un, but she gets it.
In any event, I wish John and Furnish and young Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, and his mother, all the best. The key line in “Levon” is “and he shall be Levon/and he shall be a good man.” And that’s what we really all wish, for all of us, isn’t it? That we shall be a good man, a good woman? So I hope that Mr. Ha-Ha has the grace to stay his hell out of it, and let that come to pass.