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Me

Review

Me

The quote on the back cover of the book explains it all: “The great thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star.” In his highly anticipated autobiography, ME, Elton John vividly illustrates just how a shy kid from the town of Pinner could reach such heights and fall to such deep depressions, all while entertaining the world with his music, making (and losing) more money than he ever could have imagined, being a passionate fundraiser for charities, getting knighted, and finally finding the love of his life and eventually, fatherhood, all while maintaining his 50-plus-year career and still seeming to love every second.

It starts off in Pinner, where Elton was born Reginald Dwight to distant and emotionally abusive parents. Early on, Reg displayed a prowess in music, which would provide him with a path to forge his way out of his sad isolation: “When I think back to my childhood, I think of Mum’s moods: awful, glowering, miserable silences that descended on the house without warning, during which you walked on eggshells and picked your words very carefully, in case you set her off and got thumped as a result.” His father wasn’t much better. A military man who was often away, Stanley was remote and detached even when he was at home. Music provided young Reg all that he was lacking at home: distraction from his life and a foundation on which to build a dream. With his loving grandmother’s encouragement, he started studying piano in earnest at the Royal Academy of Music after winning a scholarship. When his mother introduced him to the music of Elvis Presley, there was no stopping Reginald Dwight --- except maybe that name.

"Elton John vividly illustrates just how a shy kid from the town of Pinner could reach such heights and fall to such deep depressions, all while entertaining the world with his music..."

In the hopes of making his dreams of being a professional musician come true, Reginald Dwight had to go, and in its place, Elton Hercules John was born. Cobbling his new name from fellow musicians, he was ready to work professionally. Elton started touring with local bands, as well as visiting American acts when they came to the UK. Although he could come up with the tunes easily enough, he just wasn’t as confident at writing lyrics. Enter Ray Williams, an A&R man for Liberty Records. After failing at an audition for the label, Williams handed Elton an envelope full of lyrics sent in by an aspiring songsmith named Bernie Taupin. A musical partnership was born that day that would produce hit after hit, album after album, and still flourish to this very day. Despite a quiet start with his first album, Empty Sky, his next self-titled album would soon garner the attention of music fans and critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

And with that begins the ascendency of Elton John, as well as a busy and debauched decade ahead of him. As is typical of a lot of musicians at the time, he began dabbling in drugs, as a means to ease his social anxiety or to relax after a gig. But Elton doesn’t just “do” things, he does them spectacularly. He began to excel at excess in unprecedented ways. Adding to an already unruly temper, alcohol and drugs would lead to incredibly destructive rages (breaking his manager’s nose, throwing oranges at Bob Dylan) or sequestering himself in his bedroom, with only whiskey and cocaine for company. At what looked like the height of his career, he felt on the verge of death.

After his first romantic relationship with John Reid fell apart, Elton kept him on as his manager for years until it was revealed that Reid had been misappropriating funds from him. He was always searching for someone to love, as he now recognized himself as gay, but relationship after relationship fizzled. As he himself acknowledges, his was a hard life to step into. His partner would essentially have to abandon his own life and accept the ticket to the crazy rollercoaster that was life with Elton John. Throughout all the madness, he continued to tour, make hit records, and perform and record with the best of them.

It wasn’t until the death of Ryan White from AIDS in the late 1980s that Elton considered turning his life around. Having read an article about the young teen who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and was being discriminated against by his small town, he immediately got in touch with Ryan’s mother and went to meet him. Spending time with this remarkable boy in what would be the last months of his life made Elton appreciate the preciousness of life.

After a recent boyfriend broke up with him, citing his alcoholism, cocaine addiction and bulimia as the reasons for it, Elton decided to enter rehab. After a few false starts, a bare-bones rehab in Illinois did the trick. As part of his therapy, he had to perform chores like making his own bed and doing his laundry for the first time in his life. He realized that he could still perform and write hits without all the drugs and booze. A stream of major successes in the late ’80s and ’90s proved that. (The Lion King, have ya heard of it?) It all came down to his love of music and the crowds.

In addition to sobering up, Elton began his first functional romantic relationship with Canadian expat and businessman David Furnish. They had a civil union in the UK in 2005, as soon as it became legal, followed by an official marriage ceremony in 2014. The couple had two sons, via a surrogate, in 2010 and 2013. Adulting seems to suit him well. Now that he has a loving family and has experienced some health setbacks (he had prostate cancer a few years ago, as well as a serious infection that nearly killed him in 2017), Elton wants his 70s to be spent enjoying those precious fruits borne from decades of labor.

This year saw the release of Rocketman, a musical biopic of Elton’s incredible life, starring Taron Egerton. And now with this memoir and his worldwide farewell tour, he seems to be putting his priorities in place. As much as he loves touring, he wants to focus his energies on his family, devoting more time to his charities (his AIDS charity has raised more than $450 million), and writing and recording music with his partner of more than 50 years, Bernie Taupin. He’s in a grateful, reflective mindset these days: “My history is full of what ifs, weird little moments that changed everything…. But it all happened, and here I am. There’s really no point in asking what if? The only question worth asking is: what’s next?” We can’t wait to find out.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on October 25, 2019

Me
by Elton John

  • Publication Date: October 15, 2019
  • Genres: Autobiography, Music, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1250147603
  • ISBN-13: 9781250147608