Anyone who knows me even passingly well knows that I absolutely love the music of Elton John. Though I’d always heard his music growing up, it wasn’t until I was in college that I truly discovered how much I really enjoyed his music. In the years since, I’ve seen him in concert four times (and hopefully going to make it to a fifth). I’ve always eagerly awaited an official autobiography and now, at last, it’s here.
In Me (could there be a more Elton John title?), we finally get the complete story of his tumultuous life from his own perspective. We witness the dizzying heights of his success, as well as the nadirs of his life, including his plunge into a cocaine addiction that takes over for much of the ’70s and ’80s, until he enters rehab in the 1990s. John is not shy about delving into the ugly details of these addictions, and his bracing honesty is refreshing and at times unsettling. I can’t imagine that it was easy for him to delve into these ugly parts of his personal history, but somehow he manages to make it utterly believable and endearing. Through this narrative, we come to learn what really makes Elton John tick, through both the good and the bad.
But we also get a window into the personal relationships that have shaped his life. We meet John Reid, his first lover and the man who was a key part of his business success (and, ultimately, some of his failure). Elton isn’t shy about telling us how much he loved Reid, and I very much enjoyed his frankness about his sexuality. We also meet Elton’s parents, a study in contrasts, his mother a woman of many emotions and a love of music, his father a stiff-upper-lip type who never seems to understand his son or his desires. I’ve long known that his relationship with his mother was difficult, but here we get a stronger sense of just how long that conflict went on. One can’t help but feel a great deal of pity for both of these people, neither of whom really seemed to understand one another. As someone whose relationship with his own mother has been at times strained, I found these parts of Elton’s story to be particularly moving.
And, of course, we also encounter Bernie Taupin, Elton’s long-time lyricist with whom he has written some of his most enduringly popular songs. These were honestly some of my favorite parts of the book, since one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed most about Elton’s music is the lyrics to his songs. At one point, John compares Bernie to Tolkien, and that seems a pretty accurate description of the types of lyrics that Taupin has always managed to produce. It’s clear that, though they’ve had their times of conflict, John and Taupin are truly one of the greatest musical duos to have graced rock-and-roll.
And, finally, we meet his husband David Furnish and their two children, both of them born from the same surrogate. Reading these sections of the book, it’s striking how much being a father has really begun to change John’s life and his perspective on it for the better. Anyone who might have had doubts about whether a 60-something-year-old man can be a father should have their doubts assuaged by this book.
Interspersed with the biographical elements of the book are insights into the music. Elton shines a light into the motivations behind so many of his most popular songs, as well as what went into both the good and the bad albums (let us never forget that Elton once recorded a disco album). However, I have to point out that, while Elton and Bernie both seem to think that The Big Picture is one of the worst albums that they’ve ever made, I always found it quite enjoyable.
Me also highlights the many important people that Elton has encountered throughout his life, ranging from the Queen herself to almost every famous or fashionable person you can imagine. Sometimes, you just have to marvel how quickly Elton John managed to rocket into the upper echelons of superstardom, and reading Me one gets the feeling that it’s precisely the precipitousness that in part led to some of his worst troubles. By the time you finish reading Me, however, you can’t help but be happy for Elton.
What I found particularly refreshing about this book was the fact that Elton is just so forthright about his own flaws. He makes no bones about the fact that he has a fearsome temper and is prone to outbursts that, to many, look more than a little ridiculous. He also recognizes that he has a bit of an acid tongue that has, needless to say, gotten him into some hot water more than once (his spats with George Michael, Madonna, and Billy Joel are well-known). Despite his flaws, however, one gets the feeling that, despite his waspishness and his temper, that deep down he really is a good person trying to do the best that he can, and that he loves fiercely, deeply, and indelibly.
If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that it’s too short! There were many times when I found myself wanting to hear more about the writing process and, even more, about the meanings that he saw in the music that they created. Maybe at some point there’ll be a sequel? There just seems so much more that we could learn about his music, so let’s hope so!
All in all, Me is a fascinating and unflinching glimpse into Elton’s life and psyche. To my mind, it is nothing short of miraculous that Elton has somehow emerged from all of the chaos seemingly stronger than ever. I continue to marvel at his powerful longevity. Aside from everything else, Me is exceedingly well-written, a pleasure to read from the first page to the last. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the life of this fascinating musical figure.