Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inside Elton's Private Chapel

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Elton John has been writing music since the 1960s, and between then and now, he has had enough life experience to reach some remarkable conclusions.
"I certainly, if I'm being honest with you, don't think you write as good a song on cocaine as you do when you're normal," he tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

  John's new memoir, Love Is the Cure, details how he misspent much of the 1970s and '80s. He says he abused drugs such as cocaine and alcohol, and even suffered from bulimia.

 But John says his struggles with addiction have made him stronger. "I think now I'm a much better singer, and I pay much more lip service to the lyrics, and even when I sing songs that I've sung a thousand times, they seem new to me," John says. "I think the experience that I went through has not only helped me as a person, but it's also helped me as a musician and a singer."

 John says one of the songs with which he has reacquainted himself is "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," which he wrote during a period of turbulent romances in the '70s. "I was always having ridiculous, short relationships with people because I took hostages in the relationship. They had to come with me, they had to travel with me, and after six months they hated my guts because they had no reason to live," he says. "I'd taken their identity away from them." Now, John says, the song makes him think of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. "I sing it now in a different light, and it's more like an Edith Piaf song for me now than it was in those days," he says. "It has an accordion in it, and it always reminded me for a French song, and every time I sing it now I feel like Edith Piaf — although I'm taller."

 John says he still enjoys working not only with old songs, but also with old friends.  He and Bernie Taupin have been writing music together for almost half a century, but John says their relationship has never been better. "I'm not a lyric writer — I get all my inspiration from looking at the written page," John says. "[Bernie Taupin] gives me the lyric, and I go away and write the song, then come back and play it to him. And I've never lost the enjoyment or the thrill of playing him the song that I've just written to his lyric."

  Interview Highlights

On his first encounter with cocaine in the '70s, when John's manager brought it into the recording studio

"I was so ignorant about drugs and so naive. I mean, my band was smoking marijuana for years; I didn't even know what a joint was. And I'd never seen a line of cocaine in my life, and I don't know whether it's bravado, or, 'OK, I'll join in,' but, [in] my stupidity, I had a line of coke and that started the whole process. ... I fired [my manager]. But it took me a long time to do it, because I was never a confrontational person, and it took me until the '90s to do that."

On what drugs did for him, and where they led him

"I was just genuinely shy. I'd always been a shy kid. And when I happened, when my success started, I was incredibly confident onstage because that's where I loved to be, but offstage there was no balance. I was the same little kid that went onstage, but onstage I had all the bravado and the chutzpah necessary to do a great show, but there was no balance in my life. I always said cocaine was the drug that made me open up. I could talk to people. But then it became the drug that closed me down, because the last two weeks of my use of cocaine I spent in a room in London, using it and not coming out for two weeks. And it completely shut me down. So, it started out by making me talk to everyone and then ended up by me isolating myself alone with it, which is the end of the world, really."

  On realizing he needed help

"When I knew Ryan [White], I knew that my life was out of whack. I knew that I had to change. And after he died, I realized that I only had two choices: I was either going to die or I was going to live, and which one did I want to do? And then I said those words, 'I'll get help,' or, 'I need help. I'll get help.' And my life turned around. Ridiculous for a human being to take 16 years to say, 'I need help.' "

  On choosing a song to play at Ryan White's memorial

"It's very hard to choose the appropriate song to sing at something like that. 'Skyline Pigeon' was on my very first album, called Empty Sky, and I chose it because I thought at that time it was the first really good song that we'd ever written. And it was a song about release and freedom, and death is [a] kind of release and freedom. It's a very pretty song, a very pretty lyric. And so I sang it then, and it seemed the most appropriate thing to sing and the lyrics seemed to go beautifully with the passage of crossing over to the other side, as it were."
- NPR/ Today

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