Do you ever get into a book sometimes and just wish you had the stamina to stay awake for the entire two or three days required to read it without putting it down? That’s how I felt reading ME, Elton John’s new memoir. Following on the heels of Rocketman, an excellent movie, the book filled in all the bits the movie didn’t have time for. More importantly, though, it was a first-person account of the life of a legendary pop star and celebrity, in his own words (with considerable help from a ghostwriter, no doubt).
Elton John was born Reg Dwight, the only child of parents who, in John’s own words, should have never married. They fought constantly, didn’t really enjoy being parents and when they did finally divorce, their irascible behavior never improved. Fortunately, during the time they were together, their home included a piano and young Reggie, a born music nerd, soon learned to play by ear.
His passion for rock and roll, blues and other types of music only grew stronger when became a teenager and Britain was a hotbed of new music from groups and individuals who inspired him to take music seriously. He managed to persuade his grandmother to pay for him to attend the Royal Academy of Music so he could learn to write and play “properly” which paid off in the years to come.
Rejection and playing dives was a large part of Elton John’s early apprenticeship. By the time he met his writing partner Bernie Taupin he knew his talent lay in composing music to accompany Taupin’s lyrics and they remained partners throughout their careers.
Socially awkward Reggie Dwight was a twenty-three-year-old virgin when he met his future partner, lover and manager John Reid. Through a series of serendipitous events, they broke into the American pop scene with increasingly better songs, more outrageous costumes and a growing fan base.
One of the least agreeable personality characteristics he inherited from his parents is a hair-trigger, irrational temper. This was well documented in 1997’s film Tantrums and Tiaras produced by his future husband, David Furnish (a Canadian) some years later. It was partially the result of seeing his deplorable behaviour in this film that convinced him he needed to mend his ways.
Despite his mother’s disagreeable personality, she played a major role in his life. He took her on tours, consulted her on buying houses, and generally tried to earn her approval and affection as his success grew. She remained disagreeable, manipulative, critical and insulting until the end of her days.
The life of a rock star inevitably turns to drugs, alcohol, shopping and other addictions. These substances only served to exacerbate his behavioral problems and he spent years self-destructing before joining a rehab program in 1992. By then his mental and physical health were precarious and he knew he had to start taking care of himself. After attending various 12-step programs on a daily basis for more than three years, he cleaned up and other than controlling his volatile temper was able to build a new life with Furnish, his future husband, and co-father of their two boys.
Elton John’s honesty and ownership of his bad behaviours is striking, particularly concerning his addictions. Addicted to bad love affairs, alcohol, shopping and assorted other problems, drugs seemed to most affect his personality. “Cocaine’s like that. It makes you egotistical and narcissistic; everything has to be about what you want.” Thanks to the drugs and even in spite of drugs and alcohol, he managed to keep working until his failing health could no longer be ignored.
Like most of us, as we mature we see the value in moderation and learn from our mistakes. For nearly thirty years, he’s been an active advocate for AIDS and other charities. There’s obviously a lot of name-dropping in this memoir which makes for great reading and insights into the life of a rock star. We see his great sense of humour, frequently expressed through potent self-deprecation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, every single page and if I’d had the stamina to stay upright and awake for two days, I could have read it in one sitting. I’d rate it 9 out of 10.
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