I've always enjoyed Elton John's music but never considered myself more than a casual fan of his. I knew all of his many hits from hearing them on the radio during my childhood in the 1980s and with him being one of my mother's favorite artists, I listened to a lot of Elton growing up. Thus, when I was sent his brand new autobiography, Me, completely unsolicited from the publisher to review I thought "sure I'll read it, what the hell?" As a fan and student of rock history (and especially its 1960-1980 golden age), I knew quite a lot about Elton John's career, but I never thought I'd ever read a book about him. Still, with as much appreciation as I had for his music and his place in rock history, I decided to give the book a shot and boy, am I glad I did.
One thing that was quite clear from the beginning of this book was that it wasn't going to be boring. From the very start where he describes his somewhat unhappy childhood in the London suburb of Pinner, Elton writes in a very self-deprecating and humorous manner that is instantly engaging. He also has a very British sense of humor in how he looks at and describes the various events in his life and this appealed greatly to me as a lifelong Anglophile who appreciates that. Unlike many rock memoirs, Elton doesn't spend a ton of time dwelling on the unhappiness of his early years...he doesn't shy away from discussing it, but refreshingly he doesn't harp on it in the "woe is me" manner so many other musicians have in their books. The same goes for the various trials and tribulations of his career, most notably the disastrous relationships, cocaine habit, and shopaholic tendencies during his 1970s and 1980s heyday. In discussing all of these issues, Elton is very open, honest, and at times funny while never avoiding the self-reflection that eventually get to the heart of these matters.
Unsurprisingly, the best parts of the book are when Elton describes the inspirations and memories of all of the legendary songs he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote over the years. The story of how he and Bernie met, completely serendipitously, is a true case of the hand of fate intervening and the way their career unfolded, from struggling in-house songwriters to solo superstar was incredible to read. His first two albums were intended not to kickstart his career, but to showcase numerous John/Taupin songs for other artists to record. It turned out that the public enjoyed Elton's piano playing and voice and a star was born. His wild and crazy career and all of its twists and turns are discussed, but Elton also touches on his strained relationship with his parents (especially his mother), his outlandish stage costumes and concert presentations, his struggle with coming to grips with his homosexuality, his troubles with drugs and relationships, and the eventual peace he found with his longtime partner David Furnish. There is also a very warm chapter describing his evoltution from self-centered star to the late-in-life entry into what he considers his best job, fatherhood. In addition, there's a lot of discussion on how his well-respected AIDS foundation came to be and the personal experiences that guided him into this very charitable and worthy endeavor.
If you're a fan of Elton John, Me is an essential read, but even if you're not it's a great and enjoyable book that any music fan will enjoy. It was one of the funniest, most interesting, and honest autobiographies I've read in a long time. Even better on a personal level, it inspired me to dig deeper into Elton's music (especially his peak 1970-77 period) which revealed more fantastic songs and albums than the hit singles I already knew so well. Receiving Me in the mail to read was a very unexpected, pleasant, and welcome surprise and I highly recommend this book as one of my favorites of 2019.
(for more great content, please visit my site The Rock and Roll Chemist at www.rnrchemist.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @rocknrollchem)