So it’s a few weeks past Christmas and you are still sitting there with money or a gift card burning a hole in your pocket because you haven’t decided what to use it on. Well, I’m here to tell you that you wouldn’t go wrong throwing that gift cash on a copy of Elton John’s memoir, ME. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s crazy and yet it doesn’t bog down your brain with too many details or boring stories. Like John himself, it vibrates with his self-deprecating wit, never allowing himself, or anyone else, safe haven from his imaginative descriptions.
At 354 pages, the story of John’s life flies by, yet he covers all the bases that fans want to know about: his childhood relationship with a distant father, his realization he was gay, the songs that have become part of our audible existence and the superstars that orbited within his atmosphere. It’s all in there, honestly told, with a wink and a snicker and a bit of melancholy that he shook off with drugs and eventually a great love in his life.
His relationship with his father, who was in the Royal Air Force and gone a lot, became a boil that would eventually heal but not until years later: “Even today, I still sometimes think that I’m trying to show my father what I’m made of and he’s been dead since 1991,” John writes in Chapter One. His mother was also temperamental, prone to outbursts of anger and criticism, all the way up to her death in 2017 at age 92: “I spent my childhood in a state of high alert, always trying to ensure that I never did anything that might set her off.”
Music became his sanctuary. His love of Elvis, his knack for playing any tune on piano after simply hearing it, his obsession with buying records all led him to his destiny. His first real break was playing in Bluesology, backing Long John Baldry: “We played a lot of black clubs, which should have been intimidating,” John writes of that time in the sixties. “A bunch of white kids from the suburbs trying to play black music to a black audience.”
It was just by chance that he was introduced to the lyrics of Bernie Taupin and that single event changed his life forever, something he reflected upon on the last page of his book: “My history is full of what ifs, weird little moments that changed everything. What if I’d been so upset by failing my audition that I’d dumped Bernie’s envelope in a bin on the way to the station?” That what if would have been huge in the world of music: no “Your Song,” no “Bennie & The Jets,” no “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” no “Pinball Wizard,” no “Rocket Man.” Unfortunately, it took a while before they locked into their groove. John recalled his debut single, “I’ve Been Loving You,” by saying, “The British public reacted as if they’d been warned every copy was contaminated with raw sewage.” But, so you’ll know, he also wasn’t too fond of “Bennie & The Jets” either and it went to #1 in 1974; and as for his 1986 album Leather Jackets, he claimed it, “Had four legs and a tail and barked if a postman came to the door.”
Playing the Troubadour Club in Hollywood in 1970 caused his star to rise at an alarming rate. From then on, Elton John was, well, Elton John: crazy outfits, terrific songs, a showman to the very last note; the outrageous parties, the cool-club drugs, the stars who gravitated to him because he shone so bright; Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, John Lennon and Ringo Starr became lifelong buddies; he hung out with Princess Diana; he recorded songs with George Michael, Leon Russell and Little Richard; he’s godfather to Sean Lennon; he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, has a CBE and was knighted by the Queen. Not too shabby for a chubby kid named Reginald Dwight with a bit of OCD.
John talks openly about his sexuality like it was really not that big of a deal. One day he just realized that, yeah, he was gay. But he did often wonder about it, as his relationships always ended, leaving him miserable: “What if I’d only spent the last fourteen years sleeping with men because I hadn’t found the right woman yet?” So he married a woman and still wasn’t happy. David Furnish finally filled that void and they have been together since 1993 and have two sons.
John’s tone is never boring, never long-winded, never too shocking. It’s almost as if he’s sitting on the sofa with you sharing his stories. You end up laughing out loud with him, sometimes feeling a pang of sadness in your heart for him, and in the end, quite satisfied with the time you’ve spent with him. Rocket Man, the movie, may have whetted your appetite for more Elton John and with ME, you get the extra details, the real story. So stop twiddling that Christmas loot around in your pocket and spend it on this book. No regrets, I assure you.