Monday, January 2, 2012
Interview with Bernie Taupin
I get irritated when people try to become familiar and say, "Oh, have you seen Reg lately?" Because you don't say that to Elton. Not unless you want your head torn off. When people change their names legally, you respect that.
I never got to have a cool name. Lash La Rue. That would've been good.
My mother's father taught English literature. When I was about ten or eleven, I could recite Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome. While other kids were playing pedestrian war games, I'd be Horatius keeping the bridge.
Don't call my lyrics poetry. It's an insult to real poets.
John Lennon famously said that "Before Elvis, there was nothing." I say, Before Elvis, there was everything. After Elvis, there was a lot less.
Lincolnshire is the Idaho of England. You were either going to drive a tractor for the rest of your life or head for the city to work in a factory. Answering a magazine ad placed by a new record company looking for talent was a form of desperation.
I didn't play any instruments. I had no concept of a bridge or a chorus. I wrote some sort of nonsensical psychedelic lyrics that were plagiarized from a conglomerate of things in vogue, and actually got a reply. So I went to London and this guy said, "I've got this kid. He wants to write songs, but he doesn't write lyrics. He's auditioned for us, and everyone said no. Maybe you two guys should hook up." That's how it is. Mick Jagger meets Keith Richards at a train station and says something like, "What's that album? Can I hear it?" It's kismet. Elton had answered the same ad.
I sat very properly in the control room. Elton walked in and said, "Are you the guy who writes the lyrics?" I said, "That would be me." He said, "Let's go have a cup of coffee." That was it.
There are songs that, to this day, Elton thinks I've written about him when they're actually about me.
I was on a trip to England, driving to my parents' place in Lincolnshire, when the whole first verse came into my head at once. "She packed my bags last night preflight, / Zero hour, nine A.M. / And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then." The whole stanza. I'm going, "Oh, my God, that's great." But I didn't have a pen, paper. Nothing. This was before microcassettes and those sorts of things. And I'm on the road and I have nowhere to put it. So I had to keep it in my head for about an hour. I'm driving along going, "She packed my bags... " over and over again. I pulled into the driveway, ran inside — "Nobody say anything to me!" — and wrote it down.
I like it to be a bit more interesting than a good old "I love you, you love me, my heart will break if you leave me." Throw in a curveball. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." Put a dark twist on them, you know.
"Crocodile Rock" is a strange dichotomy because I don't mind having created it, but it's not something I would listen to.
Back in the seventies, when people were saying that "Madman Across the Water" was about Richard Nixon, I thought, That is genius. I could never have thought of that.
The "Buh-buh-buh" was pure Elton. I didn't write it that way. But it was a great interpretation. Because the whole idea of"Bennie and the Jets" was almost Orwellian, you know — it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock 'n' roll band out of science fiction. Automatons. So when Elton did that very hypnotic "Buh-buh-buh," it worked.
When you read a screenplay, you're reading a screenplay. When you see it performed, that's another dimension.
There's something creepy about taking your music home and consistently listening to it.
I've been married three times before. It takes you a while to really find the right connection.
I paint, you know, and have a fairly good career going. And I'm touchy when elitists say you can't be taken seriously in more than one form of art. Duke Ellington said that everybody should do two things. I'll listen to Duke Ellington before I'll listen to the critics.
My philosophy is that if you don't feel like what you're creating is the best work you've ever done, it's time to throw in the towel.
One of the terms I dislike intensely is survivor. "He's a survivor." Disengaging yourself from crap and bad habits doesn't make you a survivor. It just means you've got the common sense to stop fucking yourself up on drugs and alcohol. There's nothing heroic about it.
I go through books like a paper cutter.
When Elton and I started out, we were literally kids. Then we became young adults. Then we became adults. Now we're old men. But old men with distinctly young ideas.