President Donald Trump does not express much affection for celebrities, which is unsurprising considering how many of them have vocally, even profanely, repudiated his policies.
He has repeatedly praised John in his books. He plays “Tiny Dancer” to warm up his rally crowds and blasted John’s music at deafening levels on his campaign plane.
And when the president decided to pick an insulting nickname for Kim Jong Un, the missile-happy leader of North Korea, the title of John’s hit “Rocket Man” fit the bill nicely.
At a rally in Montana on Thursday, the president found yet another role for John: as a foil for one of his exaggerated boasts. Alongside comments about immigration enforcement, #MeToo and the “fake news” media, Trump bragged about his crowds, saying he had “broken Elton John records.”
“And I don’t have a musical instrument,” he added, saying the only instrument he had was his “mouth.”
It was unclear exactly what type of records he was referring to — the attendance of 6,500 fell far short of many Elton John concerts. But what was clear was that John, who has voiced discomfort with Trump’s use of his music, remains very much on the president’s mind.
Read on for a short history of Trump’s mostly-nonmutual admiration of the British megastar.
Think Like a Pop Star
Trump has name-dropped John several times in his books. In his 2004 title “Think Like a Billionaire,” Trump wrote about his love for a variety of musical legends. “There’s so much great music,” he writes. “For me, I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Elton John.” (“And besides that, Tony lives in one of my buildings,” he added.)
“I never get tired of listening to them and probably never will,” he wrote.
He sure didn’t.
In 2009, he wrote about John again in “Think Like a Champion,” as an example of how to use one’s own talent. He brooded on the potential that would be wasted if “Elton John was happy to just sing for himself in a garage somewhere.”
“There’s nothing wrong with bringing your talents to the surface,” he added. “Having an ego and acknowledging it is a healthy choice.”
Part of Trump’s attraction to John stems from his pure admiration of the singer’s success, said Michael D’Antonio, a biographer of the president.
Trump was not the type of star-struck fan who would tack an Elton John poster to the wall, D’Antonio said. Rather, he said, “it’s Elton John’s fame and his money and popularity, and his effect on culture, that Trump would admire.”
The president has made comments about John on a more personal level.
When John entered a civil partnership with his then-boyfriend, David Furnish, in 2005, Trump rushed to congratulate the pop star. “It’s a marriage that’s going to work,” Trump wrote on a blog. (The couple were not legally married until 2014, when same-sex marriage became legal.)
“In any event, I’m very happy for them,” he added. “If two people dig each other, they dig each other. Good luck, Elton. Good luck, David. Have a great life.”
His acceptance of their relationship, his comfort with gay acquaintances in New York and his support of AIDS charities, including John’s, made Trump unusual among Republican presidential nominees.
But during his campaign and since, gay rights supporters have been dismayed by positions his administration has taken, such as declining to recognize Pride Month, backing the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, and scaling back protections for transgender people, most notably in his effort to bar them from the military.
Palm Beach’s ‘Greatest Event’
Trump and John have appeared together at some charity events.
On March 18, 2006, John performed a benefit concert at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club that raised $1.4 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Trump tried to squeeze more than 700 people into the event, violating the capacity code for Palm Beach.
In a letter to the town, Trump complained about the limit and said he had turned away hundreds of people. He called the event “the greatest event in the history of Palm Beach.”
Master and Pupil
In 2013, Trump posted on Twitter a throwback photo of what he called “piano lessons” with John.
The Songs Play On
Bands including REM and Aerosmith have requested that Trump stop playing their songs at his rallies.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2016, John asked why Trump could not just bring in “country stars” instead of spinning his tracks.
“I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign,” he said. “I’m British. I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years.”
On Friday, John’s publicist said he could not comment on Trump’s remarks in Montana because John was “away on holiday.”
After Anthony Scaramucci, a member of Trump’s transition team, hinted that John might play at the president’s inauguration, Fran Curtis, John’s publicist, shut down the idea with an email: “Incorrect. He will NOT be performing.”
But John’s displeasure did not seem to deter Trump.
In “Let Trump Be Trump,” their behind-the-scenes book about his winning campaign, his former top aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie wrote that Trump played John’s music so loudly on the campaign plane that staff members could not hear themselves think.
And Trump has continued to play John’s songs before his crowds, record-breaking or otherwise.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.