WASHINGTON – As a young father, Joe Biden had a commuting ritual with his sons. When driving Hunter and Beau to school, the three of them would sing Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” as loud as possible.
Decades later, when Beau was dying of brain cancer and unable to communicate, that song again helped Biden connect with his son.
Sitting by Beau’s side in his hospital bed in May of 2015, Biden told him about Elton John’s visit to the White House that day and then quietly began singing “Crocodile Rock.”
“Beau didn’t open his eyes, but I could see through my own tears that he was smiling,” Biden wrote in his book, “Promise me, Dad.” “So I gathered myself and kept at it, for as much of the song as I could remember."
On Friday, Biden is hosting John at a White House event billed as a celebration of “the unifying and healing power of music.”
The musical performance, which also honors John and “everyday history-makers” such as teachers, nurses, mental health advocates and frontline workers, comes less than two weeks after James Taylor kicked off a White House celebration of a legislative victory with some tunes.
“How about James Taylor, a voice that heals our soul and unites a nation,” Biden said of the singer he called “a good friend” before touting the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act.
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Biden has gotten many boosts from his musical friends over the years, particularly during the 2020 campaign.
At an LGBTQ-themed virtual fundraiser that raised nearly $2 million in August 2020, he thanked Cher for being an early supporter “when it took some guts to do so.”
“Fortunately,” Biden said, “guts are something Cher has in abundance.”
At another event, Biden told Barbra Streisand he’d been a fan since seeing her in concert when he was in college.
“I have every single album you have ever ever made,” Biden said. “You think I’m kidding. Check on my cell phone. They’re all there.”
Biden has a habit of whipping out his phone to prove his musical bonifides.
Declaring himself an “unadulterated fan” of Willie Nelson, Biden played “On the Road Again” from his phone when introducing Nelson at a 2020 fundraiser.
When Jimmy Buffet sang “Come Monday” at another event, Buffet noted Biden had the song on his phone.
Carole King, who performed “I Feel the Earth Move” at a fundraiser, is also “on my playlist,” Biden assured the singer.
And at a September campaign appearance in Florida at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in 2020, Biden was introduced by Luis Fonsi, the singer of the international hit “Despacito.”
“I just have one thing to say,” Biden said, before hitting play on his cell phone to pipe “Despacito” into the microphone as he bobbed his head to the reggaeton sensation.
“There you go, dance a little bit, Joe,” Fonsi encouraged. “Come on.”
Friday’s event with Elton John, a collaboration with A+E Networks and The History Channel, is called “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme.”
That’s a reference to a favorite poem by one of Biden’s favorite poets, Irishman Seamus Heaney.
In “The Cure of Troy,” Heaney wrote that humans being suffer and “No poem or play or song/ Can fully right a wrong/ Inflicted and endured.”
But hope for a great sea change, the poem continues, “Believe that a further shore/Is reachable from here./Believe in miracles/And cures and healing wells."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Crocodile Rock' and the healing power of music in Biden's life