Friday, September 13, 2013
Elton on His Fabulous Life, Watch Elton at the iTunes Festival
After more than 40 years at the top of his profession, workaholic Sir Elton John, who regularly plays hundreds of concerts a year, has decided it’s time to slow down.
Fatherhood and his recent life-threatening bout of appendicitis have both convinced the 66-year-old music legend to reassess his lifestyle and spend less time on the road.
With David Furnish, his partner of 20 years, Elton is the father of young sons Zachary, two, and Elijah, nine months.
And his 30th solo studio album, The Diving Board – out today – is one of the finest in his illustrious career, with the doting dad crediting his fulfilled and happy home life as being the inspiration behind it.
Here, Elton – who has sold an incredible 250 million albums – speaks about his career, his family and his decision to address his addiction to work.
The new album is very reflective. It was already completed when you went into hospital to have your appendix out in early August. Did the songs seem eerily prophetic?
I’m a great believer in the saying that things happen for a reason.
When I got appendicitis I’d been working so hard for so long. I’m addicted to working and I love playing.
I did 124 shows last year – that’s 200 flights – but I said to David, “I don’t need to work so hard anymore. I don’t need to work every month of the year”.
We decided that this would be the last time. The illness served as a sign telling me to slow down.
My children come with me everywhere because they’re very portable.
When they’re not so portable, I’ll want to take them to school, so I want to get my lifestyle in order for that.
When I sing some of the songs like Home Again – which is especially poignant – and Oceans Away, about the wonderful old soldiers who saved our lives, you do think of your life and mortality creeps in.
I’m 66. I can’t keep doing this physically for the rest of my life. Stop it! But I’m so excited with the record.
I haven’t really listened to it much, but I played it to someone the other night and they loved it.
That gave me confidence and, with the word of mouth from other people, I’m feeling very good.
What made you want to do 100-plus shows a year? You obviously don’t need the money.
Well, you know me. I couldn’t just have one bunch of flowers, or one line of coke, or one drink or one pair of shoes... It’s inbred in me. I’m an addict.
The only addiction I never really had was gambling, thank God. So I’m addicted to working.
I don’t have to play 124 shows a year, but I love it. I do tours with a band, I do tours with a percussionist, on my own and I do Las Vegas.
I tour as many countries as possible and I’ve toured every state in America, plus every province in Canada.
You get addicted to working but it’s the travelling that kills you. You usually end up in Brazil, Australia or Singapore... somewhere a long way from home.
That’s why that song Home Again means so much to me.
When you come back and you sit down in the kitchen, it’s so great. I can smell my family, I can smell my home.
I’m so addicted to playing, I think, “Let’s go there... let’s see what this is like”. This year, I’ve played Paraguay and Peru – places I’ve never played before.
I have a list of about 100 countries and say, “We’ve got to do this”. Why?
When you go to heaven – or hell – they’re not going to give me a medal for playing 100 countries.
But that’s just the way my brain works.
You are now, of course, father to two small boys. How has that changed you?
Having children, which I thought might be a little challenging at my age, has been such a cakewalk and a delight.
Everything I thought I’d hate about having children – the crying, the screaming – nothing fazes me. I love it all and it’s relaxed me.
It’s just so wonderful to have someone in the house like a child to turn your attention to.
It’s not about you anymore, it’s about this lovely little human being.
When we added Elijah... it has just been so wonderful for both of us, me in particular.
I think subconsciously when I’ve written these songs you can tell how relaxed I am.
People might imagine you and David have a lot of help with the children. But you are pretty hands-on?
We do have a nanny, but the kids are very portable. They come all the way round the world with us. Zachary went to Australia twice before he was one and he’s been to Hawaii twice.
That’s the great thing about very young children – they come wherever you are and it’s not that much of a big deal to put them on a plane.
Yes we do have a fantastic lifestyle, but we’re hands-on with our kids too.
Are you conscious of leaving an artistic legacy for your kids rather than just a material one?
I don’t want my sons to have to depend on what I leave them, or what David leaves them.
They are going to have to find their way in the world. They’re going to have to earn their pocket money and realise the value of it.
I came from a working class background. David and I both have positions in our lives which we’ve worked for.
We’re very aware that our children are going to have to work round the garden and clean the car to get their pocket money!
As far as music goes, I’m dying to be able to take Zachary to a concert and dying to take him to see The Lion King, but he’s not quite there yet.
I took him to see one half of the play-off final at Wembley and he was as good as gold. But he’s only two so he doesn’t have the attention span.
But he loves having music on all the time. I sing to him and he’s growing up around music like I did, so it will have an affect on him.
What songs do you sing together?
Zachary’s song has always been Zip-A-De-Doo-Dah, but we sing “Zachary-doo-dah” and with Elijah we sing Delilah, but go, “My, my, my, Elijah”. They both respond to singing and they love doing it.
Has having kids mellowed you?
Oh, I’m so different.
Yes I used to have a quick temper, but you can’t have a temper around the children, or raise your voices to them.
They know when they are being naughty because they get time out.
They know what’s right and what’s wrong, but I don’t raise my voice to the children.
Of course, I’m more mellow. I have the most incredible life – a partner of 20 years this year, two incredible sons, great family and dear friends. It is a wonderful life beyond my wildest dreams.
There’s nothing for me really to complain about. We all lose our temper now and then, but I don’t really.
When I look at that Tantrums & Tiaras thing I Iaugh my head off. I was so badly behaved.
It was me and it was honest, but those days are gone.
So no more wars of words with Simon Cowell or Madonna [whom Elton called a “fairground stripper”]?
The thing with Madonna was I was being interviewed by an Australian guy.
I finished the interview and someone recorded me on a cameraphone, which is really not on.
I’d never say those things in public about anybody and they stitched me up royally.
Madona’s been so good about it. I’ve written her letters and I’ve apologised to her in person.
She’s been gracious enough to accept it, but I was really upset about it.
Simon Cowell and I are great friends and we wind each other up. Rod Stewart and I do the same thing.
I have a very good relationship with Simon. Those things are just a bit of fun.
Is David Bowie copping out by releasing an album but not touring?
That album [The Next Day] is probably the most brilliantly conceived and marketed release I’ve ever seen.
To have no one know he was making an album is kind of preposterous.
I know how hard it was from trying to keep Zachary a secret from the world.
For David’s single to come out on his birthday with a brilliant video was so moving.
He’d been very ill at one stage, but in every picture I see of him – I never talk to him – he looks extremely happy.
There are other things in the world apart from touring. He made a terrific record but he doesn’t want to play live.
Maybe he will one day, I don’t know, but he’s got more charisma, more mystique.
Everybody knows everything about everyone these days.
I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Facebook and I don’t even have a mobile phone. I can’t stand it.
People’s personas – and mine sometimes you could say – are bigger than their music. But I’ve cultivated it over 40 years.
With newer acts now, you know way more about them than the music which comes secondary.
People like Paul McCartney, Bowie and Madonna have mystique because they’re not available all the time.
If you are 24/7 on Twitter and Facebook there are no surprises anymore.
Artists have to be very careful about it.
Are you surprised that The Rolling Stones have managed to stay together?
The hardest thing is keeping it together in a band where you have four or five people battling against each other.
I think Mick keeps the Stones together. He’s one of the most professional artists I’ve ever known.
He’s fit, he runs around the stage whether it’s cold or boiling hot, and he really gets the crowd going.
With all the politics in that band – the things in the book that Keith wrote – it’s hard keeping everyone together, but sometimes antagonism can make sparks fly.
You can’t imagine Mick being on stage without Keith and vice versa.
Last year, the Pnau record put you back in the charts. Then there was the Tiny Dancer hit, your hook-up with Blue an other collaborations. You seem to be able to have both pop hits and credible maturity. Do you need both?
I love to make the records I make, then I get my kicks playing with The Scissor Sisters or on the Tupac album that Eminem reissued.
I’m on the Fall Out Boy records, played with Queens Of The Stone Age... I’ve got a duet coming up with Gary Barlow. Those kind of things keep my hand in.
I did an Englebert Humperdinck track this year on the same day I recorded with QOTSA.
I went from one to the other, but both were just as pleasurable. I love playing on other albums.
You also have a successful management stable with Ed Sheeran, Lily Rose Cooper and Irish teenagers The Strypes. It must be thrilling to see those acts grow.
The Strypes’ heroes are Doctor Feelgood and two weeks ago I spoke to [Feelgoods’ guitarist] Wilko Johnson on the phone.
I’d never spoken to him but I just wanted to say, “Hi, what you are doing is amazing”.
If anyone this year has been a hero to music it’s Wilko. He’s played music all his life and loved it, and here he is dying of terminal cancer and still playing.
I told him about The Strypes – he’d heard of them – and I said, “I’d love you to meet them because they’re crazy about you”.
So we set up this show on Canvey Island and it sold out without advertising.
The Strypes played, and Wilko and one other Doctor Feelgood member came and played. Then they shot the breeze afterwards.
I wanted to do it for the band – they will never forget that for the rest of their lives.
They met the person who inspired them, he played with them and loved them. From Wilko’s point of view, I’m sure he got so much out of it, too.
These four Irish boys are so magical. They’re the most infectious thing I’ve seen since The Beatles. It’s like they’re from another planet.
Most kids of that age want to be One Direction, Justin Beiber or Justin Timberlake.
It’s so inspiring, like getting a bolt of energy. I’m topped up with energy now for the next 10 years!
The Strypes are so modest and so hard working, and boy are they improving every show.
It’s like Ed Sheeran phoned me up and said he’d got the choice between doing another record or going on the Taylor Swift tour in America.
I told him it was a no brainer – you go on the Taylor Swift tour, you do all these dates and you may be driven crazy by it in the end.
But the experience and exposure you’ll get... well, you just can’t buy that.
So he’s done it and he’s been seen by millions. Opening up for someone is so important.
In my day I did it with Derek And The Dominoes and Leon Russell. It gives you so much fortitude.
You do your performance and think, “Go on then, follow that”.
Then you stand at the side of the stage while they play and you think, “One day, I’ll be as good as that”.
I’m sure opening for Taylor Swift has given Ed so much confidence. Besides which, he’s got ability coming out his earholes.
As a man who owns a management company, that’s what I do. I can phone Maverick Sabre and give him encouragement.
It’s what happened to me in my early career with George Harrison sending me a telegram. Also The Band and Neil Diamond. It validates you as artist.
I love being in touch with young people. They give me the energy and the will to carry on.
One constant through your career has been your writing partnership with Bernie Taupin. Does he come to studio now?
No. The only time he came into the studio was when I did a song with Leon Russell called Gone To Shiloh [in2010] and he loved it.
The whole process has never changed since we first met. He gives me a bunch of lyrics and I go away and play at the piano.
He comes in when I’m finished and I play it to him.
He’s never said, “I don’t like that”, but obviously there are some songs that get a better reaction than others.
The excitement has never changed from writing Your Song [in October 1969] to Home Again and playing it to him.
And that’s one of the reasons we still love writing together.
Is singing songwriting partner Bernie Taupin's lyrics a bit like method acting for you?
I’m getting a mini film script really because he’s such a cinematic writer. I look at it and I can see the film.
On this album, Oceans Away, which is the very first track, is the only thing I’ve ever recorded that is just voice and piano.
It was obviously about the men and women who have served us over the years... who have given their lives to us.
It’s a very emotional song to sing. Bernie wrote it about his father, but my grandfather was in the Scots Guards, my dad was in the air force and my mum was in the runners in the war, so it hits home every time I sing it.
When I watch Armistice Day in November, it just makes me weep, these people of dignity marching who have given us their lives.
You must identify with his lyrics to an extent. Do you ever feel he’s writing your story?
You could say that about The Diving Board. I thought, “That could be me”. But when I wrote the music I thought about Lindsay Lohan – it very much tells her story.
The danger is, when you’ve drunk in fame, you want more of it. Then you have to be aware of the people around you and the decisions you’re making.
That’s when the snakepit starts – when you’ve had your first big hit and first big album and you think, “I want more”. That’s when the dangers start.
You can see it all around today with reality television. Everyone wants to be famous whether it’s on TOWIE, The Kardashians or anything. It may be nice when it’s happening, but when it’s over it’s dangerous.
You must have some great memories. For example, the last time John Lennon played on a stage, it was with you back in 1974.
Yeah, and Elizabeth Taylor did her last TV or video with me when she did the Original Sin video.
When you sit down and think about it, it’s quite mind boggling. I don’t really want to rest on my laurels, but I’ve certainly got some stories to tell my children!
- The Mirror
at 6:30 PM