Saturday, November 11, 2017
Cameron Crowe Chats to Elton & Bernie
Cameron Crowe: You two met in ’67, when Bernie answered an ad in the New Musical Express newspaper for a writing job at Liberty Records. Elton answered the same ad. Neither passed the audition, but you came together as collaborators, just about 50 years ago. Knowing what you now know about each other, would you go back and repeat this same relationship again?
Bernie Taupin: Undoubtedly. I think one of the things that kept us together for so long is the vast differences in our personalities; anybody who’s followed our careers would see that pretty easily. If we had been at all the same make-up in our characteristics, it probably wouldn’t have lasted.
Elton John: I love Bernie more than I’ve ever done and I think he feels the same way about me, because we’ve led separate lives. We don’t live in each other’s back pockets. We are totally different. He is the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and I am Captain Fantastic. That’s how it turned out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
CC Were you looking to collaborate, or were you both lone wolves on that day [in 1967]?
BT There was a sense of desperation for me. I was raised on a small farming community in the north of England, and I left school when I was 15. I didn’t go to college or university. So everything I learned, I learned in the next 20 years on the road.
EJ Me too. I was playing in a band called Bluesology with a guy called Long John Baldry who’d just had a hit with “Let the Heartaches Begin” – and consequently our venues changed from great R&B clubs to supper clubs. I just thought there had to be more to music than playing to people who are not interested and just eating fish and chips or chicken and chips. I look back at myself then – I was quite chubby and very insecure, but I loved music.
CC You once said that when you get a new set of lyrics from Bernie, it’s like a script from your favourite director. I wondered, have you always been that visual?
BT I was raised on Western movies; the music I listened to when I was a kid was basically traditional country. The people who inspired me were people like Marty Robbins, who told stories; Johnny Cash with the Western albums that he did; Johnny Horton, “North To Alaska”. Where I came from, there was very little opportunity, and my play time, my down time, was always immersing myself in stories of fictional lands.
CC Elton, are there lyrics you won’t sing?
EJ Bernie and I have written hundreds of songs. I haven’t sung every lyric he’s given to me; sometimes I have a block and just can’t do it, no matter how many times I’ve tried, even it’s been a good lyric. I can squeeze more of his words into a line than most other artists, because he didn’t start off writing in verse/chorus/verse/chorus, they were just lyrics. As he became educated and got more musical and wrote and recorded his own songs, it
became far more sophisticated.
BT I sometimes try to steer him, I give him pointers, references, like “this could be a Ray Charles type-thing”, or “this could be a Tom Petty”; and he totally ignores me.
EJ It’s extraordinary that we’ve never had an argument or a difference of opinion over a song. It’s quite touching. When you consider all the wonderful relationships that have broken up because of personal or professional differences, and relationships that have prematurely come to an end – Bacharach and David spring to mind – we have learned to give and take.
CC You found success pretty early on and acclaim from your favourite artists, including Bob Dylan and Leon Russell. You were invited to Brian Wilson’s house because he was in love with “Your Song”.
EJ We were like kids in a candy store. This was the land where all the great music came from. Brian was a genius. Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night told us that Brian would like to play us the 16-track of “Good Vibrations”. One night – we went to his house…
BT …it was a big pink house in Bel-Air…
EJ …with drum kits up the driveway. We knocked on the door and we stood there, so frightened. And Brian opened the door and went: “Oh! I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind.” And went [affects terrified voice]: “Ohhh, we’re from England and we’re very nervous.”
BT He had the dressing gown on.
EJ And the sandpit was in the dining room; we stayed there till 1.30 and we finally got to hear [“Good Vibrations”].
BT He kept turning it off!
EJ It was extraordinary. The secret is that we are fans of music and fans of great artists; when we hear something that’s great, it inspires us. Every artist will tell you the same. We’re listeners.
CC True or false: don’t write a love song when you are in love, write a love song when it’s over?
BT It’s more fun to do it that way. I’ve always maintained that the underbelly of life and heartbreak is much more satisfying to write about; the hardest thing for me is to write an upbeat, uplifting song.
EJ I totally agree. I love misery. “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is so much more enjoyable to sing in a way than “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”.
CC True or false: too sentimental is condescending in a song; a little sentiment is timeless?
BT I think there are times in our career where maybe we have been a little overly sentimental. If you go all out, then you have a tendency to make it overblown and a little sugary.
CC Elton, you’ve said: “I know that people have their little time in the sun when they can do no wrong; it lasts maybe four or five or six albums, and then, someone else comes in – in my case, Phil Collins, Madonna, Prince, U2, the Police – all those people. I knew I was good enough to maintain a career, because I’m a good live performer, but I said I’m not going to be number one for all time; and thank God, I had the common sense to know that. People like Michael Jackson, who said: ‘I need to sell more records than Thriller’, I worried, I thought you’ve got to be joking, you might be setting yourself up for a fall.” It’s a very wise perspective on yourself – did that come painfully?
EJ I’ve always been fascinated by charts. I could run a record company very, very well, except that I’m terrible at business, but I’m fascinated by what I do. I have three books: DVDs, books, CDs. I go on [the music website] Pause&Play, which says which albums are coming out in the next two months, I write down the ones I want, I order them in America. I write down the ones I want in England, and I order them in England. I do it with books and DVDs, because I want to be at the front of the cultural movement that’s going on all the time. I’m not going to look back; I want to be there now.
CC How do you write a hit?
BT I’ve always maintained that if you can play an instrument, you have the potential to write a song.
EJ Writing has changed so much these days. Eleven people wrote “Uptown Funk”. If you’re an artist, or if you want to be an artist, you go and play – you get a band together or you go and play live. Ed Sheeran, who is signed to our management company, started out playing in people’s living rooms and busking. You cannot buy experience. Go out if you’ve got a guitar or piano; play in a bar, in a hotel. If I’m in a hotel, I always go up to the piano player and say: “How are you doing?” Because there, but for the grace of God, go I.
BT It’s like Bruce Springsteen said: I learned more from a three-minute record than I ever learned in school.
- I News
at 7:12 PM