5

I recently got Elton John's song "Daniel" in my head, and got curious what it was about - it seemed likely from the lyrics that they might be referring to something specific.

A quick look online says it's an anti-war or at least aftermath-of-war song, from the perspective of a younger brother, about someone who comes home, is received as a hero, doesn't want this but can't avoid it, and leaves (to another state, or overseas, I'm not sure).

But after listening again, I can't figure this except as a very obscure reference that might be the last thing anyone would guess. Then again I'm not a US citizen so I don't have all the cultural knowledge by omosis of growing up in a country that fought that terrible war.

As a naive listener its still coming over as a song about an unknown person sad about a close older silbling who's leaving home for an unknown (but probably regrettable) reason, and not a lot more. Could be because of anything from local prejudice to ... well, anything really.

So, as a bare listener, is there anything in the lyrics that gives away its true context as a war song, or a Vietnam war song, or what exactly is being described in the lyrics? Or does one have to "just know/be told this"?

2

Although Taupin has said that it was written about a Vietnam vet, there's nothing in the existing lyrics that would indicate Vietnam specifically, or war in general. The closest you get is a vague reference to "scars that won't heal," which could be hinting at PTSD. But that's really just figurative and could be anything bad that has happened in the past.

Confirming his intention, the website songacts.com quotes Taupin from his website:

"I'd seen this article in Time magazine on the Tet Offensive. And there was a sidebar next to it with a story about how many of the soldiers that were coming back from 'Nam were these simple sort of down home country guys who were generally embarrassed by both the adulation and, depending on what part of the country you came from, the animosity that they were greeted by. For the most part, they just wanted to get back to a normal life, but found it hard, what with all the looky loos and the monkeys of war that they carried on their backs.

I just took it from there and wrote it from a younger brother's perspective; made him disabled and wanting to get away. I made it Spain, basically, because it rhymes with plane."

Elton apparently believed the song was too long and decided to omit the final verse. He has stated in concert that that last verse explains the rest of the lyrics, but Taupin disputes this:

"We had that whole thing about the missing verse that everybody seems to believe explained the true meaning of the song. I think that's just an urban legend. It didn't really explain anything. Sure, it was cut out. But that used to happen all the time with our songs. I would often overwrite, and Elton felt it necessary to edit somewhat. But believe me, it didn't say anything that the rest of the song didn't say."

It’s not really an “urban legend.” Elton has claimed as such from the stage. It's quite possible there was something in that final verse that gave some specific indication about the subject. We'll likely never know unless the deleted lyrics were saved.

  • This doesn't really help answer the question. I'm interested if anything in the song suggests that context/interpretation – Stilez Jul 12 '18 at 12:36
  • This doesn't really help answer the question. I'm interested if anything in the song suggests that context/interpretation. Statements and comments by the songwriter are sort of " yes if you happen to read them you'll know". But what I'm wondering is about anything in the lyrics of the actual song that gives any hint what it's about, or related to - such as why the singers brother is leaving, what's gone on, etc, within the lyrics or informed by "universal US cultural knowledge". – Stilez Jul 12 '18 at 12:40
  • 1
    I never had a clue it was related to Vietnam until I read what Taupin said. There's nothing in those lyrics that hints at Vietnam or war in general. The only thing that even hints that way is the reference to "scars that won't heal," but that's entirely figurative. There may have been something in the final verse that hinted at the source, but we'll most likely never know unless someone saved the deleted lyrics somewhere. – SpinDownUGo Jul 12 '18 at 17:19
  • I always thought there *might be religious subtext to "Daniel" and "You're a star in the face of the sky", but I would've never guessed it was an anti-war song or about Vietnam at all with the reference to Spain. – Darth Locke Sep 15 '18 at 20:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.