Elton John’s memoir, called “Me” and published today, Tuesday, is one of the best rock and roll autobiographies I’ve ever read. It’s very gossipy, candid, and funny, right up there with Keith Richards’ “Life,” another book that you can’t put down and want to re-read. Where Sting, Patti Smith, and some others have offered maybe more literary remembrances of their salad days, Elton has a breezy touch that suits his extraordinary life perfectly. (I’m also a big fan of Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles” and Chrissie Hynde’s ).
In “Me,” we learn a lot. You’d think after the great movie “Rocketman,” we knew everything about Elton John. But you were wrong. The book is a totally different animal, I’m happy to say, much more candid and in Elton’s own voice.
Right now my favorite story is of Yoko Ono summoning Elton “urgently” to the Dakota a couple of years after John Lennon’s murder. She’d discovered a bunch of songs that John had recorded demo’s for and wanted Elton to finish them. This is startling because you’d think she’d have asked Paul McCartney. Elton declined. He writes: “I thought it was too soon, the time wasn’t right. Actually I didn’t think the time would ever be right. Just the thought of it freaked me out…I thought it was horrible. Yoko was insistent, but so was I. So it was a very uncomfortable meeting.”
Elton notes that ultimately Yoko put the songs out just as they were, on album called “Milk and Honey.” (Coincidentally, this week Ringo Starr has issued his version of one of those songs, “Grow Old with Me,” featuring McCartney. Elton didn’t know that was going to happen when he wrote the book.)
“Me” has a lot of great stories, and you have to really dig into it to find them because there are tidbits within anecdotes. There’s a lot of about his sex life, boyfriends and so on, his ill fated marriage to a woman named Renate, and his purely platonic love for his long time lyricist Bernie Taupin. (The latter inspired the song “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” from his “Captain Fantastic” album.) We also get the story of the fiancee, Linda, who he didn’t marry at age 21 but inspired the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” (Taupin hated her, Elton staged a fake suicide attempt to get rid of her– and that still didn’t work!)
I love the music stories, how Neil Young performed the “Harvest” album for Elton and his crowd at his London flat in 1971 at 2am with Kiki Dee “drunkenly walking into a glass door while holding a tray containing every champagne glass we owned.” Elton writes: “So that’s how I heard the classic Heart of Gold for the first time, presented in a unique arrangement of solo piano, voice, and neighbour intermittently banging on the ceiling with a broom handle and loudly imploring Neil Young to shut up.”
Elton underscores his friendship with Rod Stewart, which Rod documented in his own book. They call each other Sharon and Phyllis, I’m still not sure why. Elton recalls another great friendship, with Freddie Mercury, who he says called Michael Jackson “Mahalia” (as in Mahalia Jackson) and complained to Michael’s mother about his llama. His only encounter with Elvis Presley doesn’t go as well. “Our meeting was short and painfully stilted,” he writes. Elton’s mother (a whole other story) was with him and said, “He’ll be dead next year.” (And so he was.) There’s also the whole story of Leon Russell, how they were friends, lost touch, Elton emulated him, and then made a great album with him.
There’s plenty about the back to back deaths of great friends Princess Diana and Gianni Versace. There’s also a lot about Elton’s drug use, alcohol, how he sobered up and took on the AIDS epidemic by forming his very successful charity. He mourns his friend Ingrid Sischy (as I and many others do, she was brilliant) and celebrates Billie Jean King. And of course, he meets David Furnish, settles down, has two kids, and here we are. Elton John also has a pacemaker! Are we all getting older or what?
Is “Me” a souvenir? It is, but for anyone who grew up in the 70s, it’s a must read. And it’s full of pictures, from a happier, more melodic time. Listen, don’t shoot him, he’s only the piano player.
PS Just a personal note to Elton: I always liked the live versions of the songs on “Here and There.” Don’t slag it, even if Dick James released it for his own personal gain. It has my favorite version of “Crocodile Rock.”