For nearly half a century he’s been one of music’s most flamboyant performers, but Sir Elton John was uneasy when he took the stage at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles last month:
“The audience wouldn’t have known it, but I was so nervous last night, which I think is probably a good thing,” he said.
He has more than 50 Top 40 hits, but this night Sir Elton was also debuting some new songs. “And you can’t really play more than three or four, because the audience really doesn’t want to know.”
“What is that feeling like?” Mason asked.
“Horrible! It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve written this song and I really like it, and you’re going to the toilet.'”
On “Wonderful Crazy Night,” Sir Elton’s 33rd studio album, the singer says he wanted to celebrate his wonderful life.
“I wanted a joyous tone,” he said. “I wanted an Elton John ’70s record that sounded as if it was made now.”
His lyricist for this record is the same songwriting partner he’s had for 49 years now, Bernie Taupin.
They met before Elton was Elton, when young Reginald Dwight answered an ad seeking songwriters.
“When I look back on my little shy self, I can’t believe I actually had the balls to do it, but I did,” he said.
The record label paired him with Taupin; they clicked immediately.
“If I hadn’t made the decision of going, my life would have been completely different,” Sir Elton said.
“We lived at my parents’ apartment in North London. He became the brother I never had. I love Bernie. Not in a carnal way, but in the most emotional, beautiful way.”
Apart from a short separation in the late ’70s, they’ve worked together ever since, becoming one of the most successful songwriting teams in history.
Mason asked, “When Bernie brings you a lyric, do you ask him to explain it?”
“So you don’t know what ‘Levon’ is about?”
“No, but I mean, I’ve got my own idea,” Sir Elton said. “And every time I sing it, I have this vision going on in my mind. But that’s the magic of those lyrics, because every time you sing it, you think about something different.
“And even in ‘Your Song,’ I mean, I never get fed up with that. It’s the most beautiful love song. Now I sing it, and when I think of it, I’m thinking about David or I’m thinking about my boys.”
“It’s so hard for songwriting teams to stay together.”
“They’re so acrimonious sometimes. The thing with him and I is, we dropped our egos.”
“How did you do that? Why did you do that?”
“Because it was necessary,” Sir Elton said. “We’ve never — and this is on my childrens’ life — ever had an argument. Ever.”
“There’s no point! He’s had harsh words with me when I haven’t been behaving myself. He’s told me the truth. But it’s never been an argument.”
Elton went through an especially dark period in the Eighties, when he battled drugs and depression.
Mason asked, “When you were dealing with your drug problem, how did you keep going?”
“I did, and that’s what kept me alive,” he replied. “If I’d stayed home and just shut my curtains and not appeared for six months, I wouldn’t have appeared period, because I would have killed myself.
“Music has been my friend since I was two or three years old. When my parents were getting divorced, it was my sanctuary in my bedroom, listening to the radio, playing records. The fact is, music kept me alive. It saved my life.”
“Feels like you traded it, in a way, for an addiction to performing.”
“Well, the addiction to performing is bigger than the addiction to drugs, thank God!”
Sir Elton will perform again at the 23rd annual Oscar party that he’ll be throwing tonight with his husband, David Furnish — a benefit for the Elton John Aids Foundation.
How intense is the planning of it? “It’s amazing. I mean, it’s got to be 900 people now. We started off at 130 people in a restaurant in Beverly Hills. We raise $4 to 5 million that night at least. It’s hard work, ’cause you have to go ’round and try to schmooze everybody and say hello to 900 people, which takes a lot of time. So you don’t really get to watch the Oscars — which sometimes isn’t a bad thing anyway. ‘Cause it’s like, the first half hour is great and then they go ‘ohhhhhhhhh.'”
“You described yourself once as the best known homosexual in the world,” said Mason.
“Yeah, and I think probably the acceptable face of homosexuality, which I realize in my later years, can open a few doors.”
“A responsibility comes with that as far as you’re concerned?”
“A responsibility comes with it.”
A responsibility to engage world leaders, like Russia’s President, who has spoken out against homosexuality: “And so I had a call from President Putin, and I’m going to go meet him sometime this year. And I’m not expecting to change the scenario right away.”
“Have you thought about what you’re gonna say?”
“No, I’m not gonna go and say, ‘You have to do this. You have to do that.’ No, I have no expectations. But if I can change things in five years, then it’s all well and good. It may take 50. It may take five minutes. Who knows? But unless you try …”
The singer is a citizen of the world now, with houses in England, France, Atlanta and Beverly Hills, which is where he actually spends quite a lot of time.
When he’s playing Vegas, it’s an oasis for his sons, Zachary (now five) and Elijah (who is 3).
“It’s great. The boys love it here. They have a yard to play in. They love the weather.”
“Can you keep up with ’em?”
“Oh yeah, I just love them,” said Sir Elton. “I mean, ten years ago, if you’d have said I’d be sitting in this house with two children and married to my husband, I’d have said you’d put acid in my drink. And boy, it has been the best decision I ever made in my life.”
“Are you surprised at how you’ve been as a father?”
“Yeah, I’m absolutely, totally — I thought I would find it irritating, you know, because I’m a neat freak. I like objects, so I like them to be in certain positions. The boys are brilliant.”
And fatherhood has changed the way Elton John sees his future:
“They just put everything in perspective,” he said. “So it’s led me to looking at what I’m gonna do. I’m cutting down on shows. Everything is arranged around their school holidays now. I will still be working, but I will be cutting down, and in the end I will stop.”
“You will stop?”
“Yeah, I want to see them grow up. I’ve had such a great life.”
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