Elton John’s first full autobiography finally landed last year. It was a huge success not only because of his superstardom, but because it was revealing, funny, quick and full of drama. Some 240,000 hardback copies were sold in 2019.
Elton John tells his extraordinary life story with honesty, humour and irreverence. Here he charts his journey from the shy boy who grew up in Pinner to become one of the 20th century’s most iconic pop stars. His life is one marked by dramatic highs and lows. His phenomenal career, setting up his AIDS foundation, finding love and starting a family contrast with his battle with addiction and getting clean. It’s a roller coaster of story that captures the man behind one of music’s living legends. Taron Egerton reads.
Taron Egerton has recently played Elton John in the biopic, Rocketman. Other credits include The Kingsman and its sequel, Testament of Youth and Eddie the Eagle.
Elton makes no effort to make himself seem good or worthy of the reader’s approval. When he sells all his stuff, he writes: ‘Before you get the wrong idea, I should add that I had absolutely no intention whatsoever of leading a more simple and meaningful life, uncoupled from the yoke of consumerism and unencumbered by material possessions.’ And he makes no secret of the fact that, as he grew older and richer and more famous, he became unbearable. When his house was being emptied of all its goods he moved into a hotel, only to find that he was being kept awake by the wind, so he phoned his office: not to see if he could change rooms, but to demand that something be done about the wind itself. ‘I absolutely was crazy and deluded enough to ring the international manager of Rocket [his company] and ask him to do something about the wind outside my room.’
The inevitable intervention takes place two thirds of the way through, and our hero begins the long haul back to sobriety, surrogacy and same-sex espousement. Never trust a narcissist to tell their own story. But thanks to the wit and skill of the ghostwriter, Alexis Petridis, the old monster comes across as charmingly self-deprecating — sometimes to the point of incredulity. Let’s just say that this is a fabulous book in both senses of the word and leave it at that.
Naturally, Me is a landmark in the whole memoir genre. A tale this eye-popping, this name-dropping, this chemically enhanced, this era-charting should be quite hard to mess up. But John’s willingness to reveal and Petridis’s unerring ability to foreground John’s ridiculousness are key... One big appeal of this book to most readers will be that simply everyone is in here, from the Queen Mother (comes to lunch) to US shock jock Rush Limbaugh (Elton plays his wedding and donates his sizable fee to Aids charities). Elton reunites John Lennon and Yoko Ono at one point; in the aftermath of Lennon’s murder, Yoko asks Elton to take over Lennon’s unreleased music. He refuses, one of the more noble decisions taken in a life that often seems entirely devoid of good sense or higher sentiment.
Some autobiographies fail due to the rock star memoirist insisting on writing every word, irrespective of his experience in the field; others can be doomed by the employment of a ghost writer more interested in fact and formula than on capturing the essence of his subject. Thankfully, Elton John avoids these pitfalls and, assisted by journalist Alexis Petridis, produces a remarkably self-lacerating and frequently hilarious account of a fantastic life. In common with many confessional works, it is the formative years that shape the character and the story. The creation of “Elton John” is partly an attempt to escape the pain and confusion of a troubled adolescence.
Dignity is thrillingly cast aside in this riotously entertaining book full of premium celebrity tittle-tattle... In the main, though, perhaps this heroic volume’s most uplifting lesson is that, with a clear head and enough will, major tiffs with almost anyone can be overcome... For a follow-up, the publishers could do worse than reproduce Elton’s visitors’ books. Who wouldn’t want to read those?
The book’s happier, wiser final stage details his work with the Elton John Aids Foundation, his commitment to sobriety (George Michael refused his help) and his path to parenthood. His recent prostate cancer casts a shadow, yet even here he is unafraid to discuss the brutally unglamorous surgical side effects. Just as he feels no shame about showering loved ones with gifts, this book treats readers with the same lavish generosity. Both million-dollar tablecloth and vulgar doll-shaped radio, Me is a wildly enjoyable account of a singular life, preposterous, but priceless, too.
He’s remarkably self-effacing about his temper, addictive personality, and the admitted “dreadful behaviour” with boyfriends whom he’d expect to drop everything to come with him on tour. His reflection on how, regardless of the success or adulation he was enjoying at the time, underneath the glittering costumes he was still Reg Dwight from Middlesex – body-conscious, insecure, full of self-doubt and self-loathing – is deeply moving.
Me could be twice as long but is mercifully free of technical details about recording sessions, and covers the extravagance with pace and hilarity. Towards the end, his feelings about first-time fatherhood at 63 leave a warm glow, and there’s a reassurance that although he’s retiring from touring, his career is not over. It feels like there are lots of outlandish tales still to tell.
That he has celebrity anecdotes to burn is not a surprise. But the self-mocking tone is more unexpected from a musician so grand that at his 2014 wedding party he had one table dedicated solely to the Beatles and their families. Yet while his extraordinary talent justified his personal excesses, it is his self-awareness that has counterbalanced the narcissism and made him such a likable figure. This is, after all, the man who allowed his husband, David Furnish, to make a documentary about him and call it Tantrums and Tiaras... Elton has never come across as an especially warm celebrity: too sharp tongued, too ridiculous. Neither quality is played down in his memoir. And yet his clear-eyed honesty and his ear for the comic line make him a deeply appealing memoirist. By the end of the book I felt only regret that I am unlikely to get an invitation to join him on his yacht, where I could listen to him recall the time he asked Yoko Ono what happened to that herd of cattle she and John Lennon once bought: “Yoko shrugged and said, ‘Oh, I got rid of them. All that mooing.’”
The music journalist Alexis Petridis has done an excellent job of capturing what reads like John’s conversational tone. Me is very much a post-rehab book. He isn’t afraid of putting the boot in, and David Bowie (“distant and aloof”) and Tina Turner (she told him, “You wear too much Versace, and it makes you look fat”) come off pretty badly, but mostly there is self-realisation, apologies to the people he has hurt, and reflections on where the coke binges, shopping addictions and endless need for attention came from.
If John had no material other than the job his foul-tempered parents did on him, he’d still have a riveting story to tell. But “Me” is a very crowded book by a man who’s kept a lot to himself until now. Earlier this year the movie “Rocketman” gave a reasonably accurate overview of the Elton John story — but it barely scratched the surface of what’s in this memoir. The lurid parts will get all the headlines. But the man’s hard-won self-knowledge is what the book’s really about... “Me” was written with the help of the British music critic Alexis Petridis, who met with John frequently, heard his stories and created a facsimile of how John speaks. There’s the hand of a pro in the book’s polished transitions and foreshadowing. But judging from the glimpses of John’s own writing that the book provides — at one point in rehab, he writes a letter to cocaine that contains the sentence “I don’t want you and I to share the same grave” — the voice here sounds just right, even if it has been unfamiliar until now. It’s a gift to finally hear from someone who has delivered so many of Taupin’s words and so few of his own.
If you are in the market for an autobiography crammed with sex, drugs and rock and roll, Elton is clearly your man. One of the world’s greatest songwriters and entertainers for more than 50 years, he has never been particularly noted for bashful discretion. Indeed, anyone who has read his blunt interviews or seen blockbuster biopic Rocketman will have an idea of what to expect. Written with music critic Alexis Petridis, Me offers a chatty, gossipy, amusing and at times brutally candid account of a shy piano prodigy’s rise from humble origins in Pinner, Middlesex to the maddest excesses of cocaine-addled global superstardom and its long aftermath of addiction and recovery...The second half takes on more serious tones as he addresses his work with HIV/Aids, discusses sobriety, gay rights, love, marriage, family and mortality. But there are enough musical insights, amusing digressions and strange encounters (such as Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone fighting over Princess Diana) to keep the pages turning. Sir Elton has lived his life as an open book and has now written a very entertaining one.
International music icon Elton John has penned his first ever autobiography chronicling the highs and lows he has experienced en route to stratospheric success.