Me by Elton John review – hilariously self-lacerating

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A memoir that is racy, pacy and crammed with scurrilous anecdotes – what more could you ask from the rocket man?

Choosing one’s favourite Elton John story – like choosing one’s favourite Elton song – can feel like limiting oneself to a mere single grape from the horn of plenty. Leaving aside the music for the moment, Elton’s public and maybe even private persona can be divided into two phases: first there was the raging drugs monster, as extravagantly talented as he was costumed. Now that he’s sober, there’s the more conservatively dressed, happily married elder statesman of British pop, a proper establishment figure, albeit one who’s still unafraid to pick fights with everyone from Keith Richards (“a monkey with arthritis”) to Madonna (“looks like a fairground stripper”). Both eras have yielded a steady crop of outstanding Elton anecdotes, often retold by Elton himself, who, possessing the kind of self-knowledge few of his fame and wealth retain, tells his stories better than anyone else. Probably the most infamous of all is the one about the time he’d been up for several days (this, clearly, was from the pre-sobriety era) when he decided something really needed to be sorted out. No, not his devastating drug addiction or his lack of sleep – the problem was the weather. So he called a chap in his office and told him to sort it out: “It’s far too windy here, can you do something about it?”

Such is the wealth of material he has to choose from, this story gets only a passing mention in his outrageously enjoyable autobiography: “This is obviously the ideal moment to state once and for all that this story is a complete urban myth. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that, because the story is completely true,” he writes, with a self-deprecating shrug. And then he moves on to the next tale, which might be about the night he and John Lennon refused to answer the door to Andy Warhol because, as Lennon hissed to Elton: “Do you want him coming in here taking photos when you’ve got icicles of coke hanging out of your nose?” Or it might be about the time Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone nearly came to blows over Princess Diana at one of his dinner parties. That he has celebrity anecdotes to burn is not a surprise. But the self-mocking tone is more unexpected from a musician so grand that at his 2014 wedding party he had one table dedicated solely to the Beatles and their families. Yet while his extraordinary talent justified his personal excesses, it is his self-awareness that has counterbalanced the narcissism and made him such a likable figure. This is, after all, the man who allowed his husband, David Furnish, to make a documentary about him and call it Tantrums and Tiaras.

Elton makes fun of no one more than himself. He is utterly, astonishingly, hilariously self-lacerating

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