Remember Elton John’s recording, “Candle in the Wind?” The year of the song’s release was 1973, and its lyrics memorialized a famous person who died young and in the prime of what appeared on the surface to be a glamorous life, namely Marilyn Monroe, real name Norma Jean Baker, who died in 1962 at the age of 36.
Reverend Katie Black, the new minister at First United Methodist Church in Winnfield, reviewed “Candle in the Wind,” in her talk to Winnfield’s Rotary Club on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, entitled “Finding God in Unexpected Places.” Her review of the lyrics of the song, written by Elton John’s lyricist at the time, Bernie Taupin, pointed out how they surprisingly reflect several aspects of God. This was definitely an unexpected place to find God, but sure enough, Reverend Black was right! As we read and heard the lyrics of the song, God’s compassion and grace were there.
Rev. Black first noted that the song does not criticize or pass judgment on the person for aspects of her life that were portrayed by the press, suggesting addiction, promiscuity and perceived immorality of the famous subject, as God does not judge and reject us even though we are far less than perfect, and only Jesus lived a sinless life. The writer is sympathetic to the person, noting the way the press hounded her because of her fame, and caused criticism by the public due to the way reporters portrayed her, never looking beneath the surface to who she really was, and what her life was really like.
The chorus says “it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in,” and Rev. Black noted this reference to the fact that life is fragile for all of us. Many people don’t get to live their lives until the candle burns all the way down; life is often snuffed out too soon, long before a person has accomplished his or her intentions, like a candle only half burnt down is easily blown out by the wind. These lines are a further comment on the loneliness inherent in a life of fame, not knowing on whom one can really depend in times of trouble, for which only God is the answer. The writer also reflects on the humanity of the star with “I would have liked to have known you but I was just a kid, your candle burned out long before your legend ever did.”
Rev. Black also called to the group’s attention the similarity with Jesus, the equivalent of a superstar of his time, and who in fact lived a perfect life, but had accusations of all kinds of sin and wrongdoing made against him, which were believed despite their falsity. The song notes how superstardom results in all types of false allegations against the star, and the public spreads the same falsehoods, never looking beneath the surface to see the person’s humanity rather than the image created by people who don’t know the real star: “Loneliness was tough, the toughest role you ever played, Hollywood created a superstar and pain was the price you paid; even when you died oh the press still hounded you, all the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude…”
Ultimately, Rev. Black calls upon us to take from the song the example of being like Jesus, and refraining from criticizing other people. “Take a day off from being a critic,” she said, “and build up others” instead of tearing them down. “Look through other people’s bad habits, see people as Christ sees us,” because we all need a second look, and a second chance to get things right.
The meeting was adjourned, as customary, with Rotary’s motto, “Service above self.”