In Tradition With The Family Plan

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 motorwaywas 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.


8 Responses to “In Tradition With The Family Plan”

  1. 1 soothsayer December 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Congrats to Sir Elton (who incidentially, would be correct about Keith Richards )

    Also incidentally, those angry men who called for your head surely did you wrong.. Your story was true..

    “Convict Poker” is the high-light of the World Famous Angola Prison Rodeo held every weekend in that swamp of a Louisiana, all throughout April and October..

    40+ Years of Guts and Glory — so the website says

    “The Angola Prison Rodeo is a professionally produced rodeo. Angola contracts with professional rodeo stock contractors to provide the rodeo stock used in events; professional judges are contracted with to objectively judge each event. In addition, to ensure inmate participant safety, professional rodeo clowns are always present in the arena during events. A full complement of emergency services personnel are on-site to provide medical assistance to inmates and spectators.”

    A sample of the action (although the Angola Museum/Gift Shop is more than happy to sell you several complete episodes)–

    I have been to Angola on more than one occasion — but never to the rodeo.. I did briefly write about it here in an interview with Angola 3 News —

    “If allowed to, inmates also offer a critique of The World Famous Angola Rodeo, where inmates participate for cash prizes at great risk. There have been several inmate deaths at the rodeo as well as extreme injuries and on-going chronic conditions. Inmates are allowed to sell crafts at the rodeo but the Warden/prison takes a 20% cut. The rodeo makes approximately $1 million each weekend in October as the new arena (built by inmates in short order under Cain’s directive) seats 10,000. This is just one of several money-making endeavors at Angola that depends on neo-slave inmate labor starting at 2 cents per hour – the minimum wage had been raised to 4 cents per hour but was recently returned to 2 cents, according to the tour guide. The highest available wage for a few rare jobs is 20 cents per hour.”

    Someday I will force myself to say more on this – it certainly is the epitome of the joint exploitation of animals and de-humanized inmates (90% of whom are Black)for the entertainment of over-weight white men..

    At the moment it is more than i can bear..

    If indeed there is a Mr HaHa, he is, no doubt, the Ring Master of this sad show ……..

    • 2 bluenred December 31, 2010 at 9:16 am

      The story I wrote was true: they really did hold this bull poker-game inside a barn-like building at the fairgrounds. What people didn’t like were the embellishments, that I added to highlight the absurdity and Wrongness of the thing, like the clowns depositing limbs in a bucket. I am not at all happy to learn that people actually are maimed and killed during these events, though obviously that’s the inherent risk. It’s bad enough that people freely participate in such nonsense, but enlisting coerced people like prisoners for such “entertainment” is way over the line. My suspicion is that, at root, this is just an authorized, formalized variation on the nasty habit of (white) prison guards cajoling (black) prisoners to engage in violence for their amusement.

  2. 5 soothsayer December 31, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    yes i am sorry to say that this — “this is just an authorized, formalized variation on the nasty habit of (white) prison guards cajoling (black) prisoners to engage in violence for their amusement” — is exactly what it is..

    But hey enough of this morbidity : )

    It’s New Years snd this is supposed to be about a new day for Elton and the family..

    You know i like the song for the “dead blondes ” but i won’t post it : )

    Instead here is this — for Billie Jean and that baby

    Here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

    Thanks bluenred

    • 6 bluenred December 31, 2010 at 4:22 pm

      Songs about dead blondes are fine here. Songs about live blondes, too. ; )

      Morbidity is out? But there’s still about eight hours left before New Year’s. Does that mean I should cancel the morbid posts I was gonna post? : /

      Thanks for being here, sooth. Happy New Year’s to you, and to all.

  3. 7 Julia Rain (the daughter) November 14, 2011 at 3:03 am

    “Naming a child after a doomed victim of a totalitarian state is probably not the wisest thing I’ve done.”

    Not at all. I love my name. Recently I wondered, since my mom has told me the story of how “Rain” came to be my middle name, and rather last minute, what my middle name might have been otherwise. She said she didn’t really have any other ideas, aside from maybe Sarah – which, while it is a name I like, it is not “me”. Did you have any other names in mind?

    Despite loving my first and middle name, I’ve kind of been perpetually at war with last names my whole life. This is my mother’s fault, and she admits it, since she has so many and uses them with absolutely no system whatsoever. I think it literally took her 20 years to change her name on her driver’s license, and now that she’s married again, she’s still using her maiden name here and there.

    So on school records I had one name, doctor’s records another. I did the weird hyphenating thing starting in middle school, but that took up too much space on my schoolwork and took too long to write-out – and they messed it up on my Junior High diploma anyway. So in high school I played around with using my middle name as my last name, and did that silly thing where I added an “e” to try to make it seem more last-name-like.

    So by the time I got married I was rather relieved to have done with it and just have one last name. But I kind of have the best of both worlds now, since my pen name has your last name in it, so even though I’m not having children to pass the name onto, I’m passing it on to the world in the form of literature, which will hopefully be longer-lasting anyway. 🙂

    I continue to be “Julia” in the real world and “Rain” in the virtual, deviant world. But when I introduce myself to new people, I do so as “Julia Rain”, as though I’m a Sarah-Michelle or a “Mary-lou”. But without a hyphen. I have decided hyphens are Wrong. I just really like both my names. “Vox” is also a lovely, evocative name that I must somehow incorporate into something at some point.

    I also know you and my mom both say you would have been dreadfully lost had I been a boy, but at least I would have been named well that way, too. This is evidenced by the fact that I bestowed this name upon my male lead.

    I wonder if perhaps having all these different names has contributed to the feeling I have that I am a different person depending on who I am with. I also believe, despite the fact that everyone thinks the personas people create online are not authentic, that I am the most “myself” online. This is for two reasons: one, I am able to write out my thoughts, which are much more articulate than when they come out of my mouth and two, at least in deviantville, the part of me that in seen online is about my creative side, which feels like the most authentic part of me. You thought it odd that people responded to you as a writer – I actually really like it. It feels right.

    The lawyer who objected to the man giving his name – wouldn’t that have landed him in contempt of court?

    Is the outrage over the story you wrote the reason you can never find good boots anymore?

    You became obsessed with 1984 when you were 10? Gosh, you really were a prodigy. I did first fall in love with “To Kill A Mockingbird” when I was six though, for what that’s worth.

    Also, you like a Rhianna song. You are officially much cooler than I am. 🙂

    • 8 bluenred November 16, 2011 at 2:45 am

      We should have just named you Julia Rain and been done with it. You didn’t need any other names. If we had done that, the last-name Angus need never have occurred.

      I knew you were a girl. So boy-names were never really part of the deal.

      It’s perfectly okay to be a different person depending on who you are with. As long as the Lying is kept to a minimum.

      I can’t find good boots because the world is Wrong.

      Mockingbird at six is way cooler than Orwell at ten. ; )

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When I Worked

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