I’ve always wondered about the meaning of the song Levon, as performed by Elton John, with lyrics written by Bernie Taupin. After a little research, this is what I’ve been able to find out about the meaning of Levon.
Elton John on Levon’s meaning
The best information I’ve found comes from the songfacts website. There, one contributor states the following:
In Susan Black’s book, Elton John in His Own Words, Elton says of Levon: “It’s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.” (thanks, Alexander - London, England)
Two notes about that quote:
- Elton John in His Own Words appears to be out of print
- Elton John didn’t write the song, Bernie Taupin did
Bernie Taupin on Levon’s meaning
Since Bernie Taupin wrote the song, I thought he would be a better source of information about the meaning of Levon. On that same page someone else added this:
When Rolling Stone asked Taupin about the song in 2013, he insisted that he has no idea what he intended as the meaning. “It was a free-form writing,” he said. “It was just lines that came out that were interesting.”
The names “Levon” and “Alvin Tostig”
According to Gus Dudgeon, Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics for Levon, was inspired by The Band’s co-founder, drummer, and singer Levon Helm to name the title character after him. The Band was apparently John’s and Taupin’s favorite group in those days. However, in 2013, Bernie Taupin said that the song is unrelated to Levon Helm.
They also state this:
The “Alvin Tostig” mentioned in the song (Levon’s father) is, according to Taupin, merely fictional.
An Elton John fan website adds some speculation regarding the name “Alvin Tostig”:
Tracing the name “Alvin Tostig” is fairly straightforward, but with a bit of a twist. Taupin has said the name was fictitious. There was a historical “Tostig,” who was the Earl of Wessex back in the 1040s, perhaps Taupin pulled the name out of history without realizing it. Also, some have speculated that Levon contains veiled references to a popular book of the time, “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler.
(Note that some of this text may be copied verbatim from straightdope.com, or vice-versa.)
Personally, if you want to speculate on the name “Tostig,” I’d add that it’s close enough to “Taupin” that you might speculate that Taupin was potentially writing about himself.