In which I say “oh God same”
Last weekend I listened to Elton John’s recent autobiography on Audible, read in alternating chapters by the man himself and Taron Egerton, who played him in Rocketman. And let me tell you: you do not need to have had a sixteen-year cocaine habit to find at least something familiar in this story. Well, not if you’re me, anyway.
Here’s some stuff we apparently have in common.
Mentally devolving into a series of what ifs.
Throughout his journey, from his first attempts to break into professional songwriting to long after becoming obscenely successful, he describes feeling an enduring uneasiness around what a coincidence it all was. What if Ray Williams (the guy at the office in Denmark Street) had handed him anyone else’s envelope of lyrics other than Bernie Taupin’s? What if he had tossed it on his way home? What if he hadn’t thought to do a handstand on the piano at the Troubadour? What if he had seen then-manager-and-boyfriend John Reid doing a line of coke and just…walked on by? It really goes to show that so much of our lives comes down to total chance. Not that we don’t work hard and have talents, but there’s a good bit of Random Generating done by the universe to account for.
Not belonging, but also not not belonging?
Hanging out with some of the people he met through Long John Baldry and Bluesology, the band he was in for a gazillion years before making a name for himself, young Reg not only first perceived what his sexuality might be but realized that he felt at home among these people in a totally novel way. The thing is, he hadn’t exactly felt lonely prior to that. He had never been a loner—as he says, he was often surrounded by friends at school, and he was definitely influenced by his family even if he found it safer not to spend too much time around them. But it took him a while to distinguish between people he just enjoyed being with and people who truly allowed him to feel like himself. Naturally, this only got more difficult as the chasm widened between his public persona and his private self. And while I have yet to suffer that kind of identity crisis, I know what he means. Growing up I was often on the fringe of several social groups, different enough to be set apart but close enough to enough people to never really be at a loss for company. I think everyone experiences this to some extent, depending on how popular they are (and with whom), but I hadn’t ever heard it articulated as it is here.
Arriving at a thing as it’s on its way out.
By which he is referring to the dying years of the songwriting/publishing business, which happened to be the formative years of his partnership with Bernie. Is the resemblance obvious, asked the girl who started a blog at the tail end of the 2010s?
I was pondering this not too long ago, so it was both affirming and unnerving to see the thought process mirrored in the words of a very famous personality. He describes only first becoming tangibly interested in sex in his twenties—understandable given his growing access to and knowledge of the gay community. I identify with this experience, if for slightly different reasons. But even beyond that, he describes never much caring for having a lot of sex, which runs counter to the image we’ve cultivated of the rock-star lifestyle. Among the many and conflicted messages we receive in our teens, we don’t typically hear how nonlinear the process of growing up can be. We each experience it differently. My own delayed adolescence has come mostly in the form of how I contend with anger, as I talked about last week—a struggle our subject here, saddled with the “Dwight family temper,” didn’t have in quite the same way.
How much glasses is too much glasses?
Little Reg got his start wearing specs just for reading but became very attached to his pair out of a desire to emulate Buddy Holly—attached enough, as he recalls, to actually ruin his eyesight. Concurrently, he stopped engaging in certain activities which have been rumored over the centuries to cause blindness. While I credit Buddy Holly with having had the exact OPPOSITE effect on me in terms of engaging in those activities (*wink*), I do have something meaningful to say about the glasses thing. I too have never worn glasses necessarily to correct the quality of my eyesight (I am somewhat nearsighted, and my peripheral vision leaves a lot to be desired, but it has more to do with protection—there’s a whole medical history there) and in fact often elect to perform in musical or theatrical contexts without them for the purposes of aesthetic and character. I guess the logical next step would be to design crazier ones to match whatever persona I’m inhabiting. I’ll try it when I have more money. Recently I’ve taken to packing mine along on any outings; they fog up while I have a mask on, and I’m not dealing with that.
Also, did you know “Tiny Dancer” wasn’t even a single? Or a hit, at the time?? Some people just don’t have to try, do they???
(PSA Bernie we NEED your side of the story like right away)
Image: at the Troubadour, 1970 Ed Caraeff