Category Archives: music

If You Can’t Say Something Nice At Least Be Rude Flamboyantly and With a British Accent

I have been an Elton John/Bernie Taupin fan all my life with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road being my first foray into their music. I permanently borrowed it from my sister in 1973 and still have it on the shelf along with most of the other albums they created together.

I read Elton’s memoir Me last year (a rollicking tour through the life of an entertainer) and treated myself to Bernie’s–Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton & Me–in hardcover during a bookstore buying spree on a recent vacation. I follow Taupin on Instagram so know a bit about his current state of happiness with a lovely wife and daughters. In fact, in the memoir, he comments that it took a long time, but both he and John found happiness in family and home.

I didn’t know much else about him. Rather than a strict chronology, Taupin told stories and, as you might imagine, entranced us with detailed, beautifully crafted prose. It could be over the top sometimes, even florid, but often just wonderful like this description of trail riding near his ranch in California:

Red-tailed hawks gliding on the thermals, solitarily swooping, their flame-like tail feathers catching the sun, their predatory nature intercepted intermittently by blackbirds and crows that dive-bombed them impressively, bravely strafing their aggressive attempts to pick off their young. In a melancholy rain, the murmur of the wind sang softly through the live oaks and drummed the leaves above our heads, the rhythmic tattoo of the heavy late summer drops playing into the fantasy of the fine line drawn between who I once was and who I wanted to be.

Scattershot, p. 322

But, as the heading suggests, my main takeaway was how mean he could be. This, from a man who always seemed so quiet and gentle compared to his flamboyant friend. The book contains more than a few lengthy put downs that sing even more for the figuratively rich language in which they were delivered. It isn’t enough to say that the Playboy Mansion was run down. Here’s Taupin’s description of his visit to the famed estate:

What a dump. Popular folklore might have built it up to be a louche Mecca preeminent in sensual sophistication, but I can assure you it was none of that and a lot less. Like a miniature House of Usher, it was a gray collision of Tudor and Gothic, all faux turrets, battlements, and way too busy in its attempt to be anything more than a kitsch architectural mess…Even glitzed up and lit like Knott’s Berry Farm at night, it wasn’t hard to tell that maintenance was not a priority and that the efficiency of cleaning crews was lacking. The place was like a courtier in the Palace of Versailles, constantly powered and perfumed to mask the unpleasant odor underneath. The place simply had no style or character, the furniture looked old and ugly, the alcoves were murky, and the carpets were balding and frayed.

scattershot, p. 216

Daggers thrown with skilled syntax and, presumably, delivered in a withering British accent. There were several scattered throughout the book, all delivered with the same snooty tone and, in some cases, was funny despite being mean. I suppose one function of memoir is to air some grievances so Taupin is all ready for Festivus this year. That being said, he could be just as profusive with his praise and self-deprecating about his own talent (he is a songwriter, not a poet he assures us several times) and past reckless, irresponsible behaviors and actions.

I just went back and read my review of John’s memoir from 2022, and I said almost exactly the same thing about his book: I was surprised by how mean he was. I wrote in LibraryThing: “What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was the gossipy, b****y side of Elton; he can be downright mean. But he is also funny and often self-deprecating as well as completely honest about his addictions from drugs to sex to shopping as well as his terrible temper.”

I enjoyed the walk down memory lane and can recommend both memoirs. Be warned: There was lots of explicit talk about sex and drugs and, of course, rock and roll in both books.

Thank you

If you are reading this, thank you for being part of my community. I am grateful for you. I am a day late from the official holiday due to technical issues, but maybe that’s okay considering the quagmire of historic fiction that is Thanksgiving. As I wrote last year, I grew up with the Peanuts version.

Last year, I shared Bob Dylan singing Forever Young during The Band’s last concert. This year is the 45th anniversary of that musical extravaganza captured by Martin Scorsese. We lost Robbie Robertson this year so Garth Hudson is the only member left. I watched the movie while I made desserts for our friendsgiving dinner. This year, here is “The Weight”, performed with the Staple Singers:

Old White Man Apologizes

I had just finished Jann Wenner’s memoir when the news of his interview with The New York Times broke. I was six when Rolling Stone was first published and had a print subscription for a long time. I decided to read the book less because I interested in Wenner himself as I was in the time period and culture in which he created the magazine: the music, the people, the events. There were lots of good stories that fostered my own memories.

The memoir was long and seemed to drag at points. Wenner was clearly a proud man who likes being rich and well-known and dropping lots of names. It was very different from Elton John’s funny, often self-deprecating story of his own life that I read last year.

And then, just after I finished the book, the interview dropped where Wenner pushed back when asked why all the “masters” featured in his new book were white men. Women and people of color were not articulate enough; they weren’t the philosophers of rock and roll, according to Wenner. Seriously? The interviewer was shocked and mentioned a long list of musicians like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder, all of whom Wenner brushed aside as not meeting the lofty criteria for his book.

And then came the real ugliness, the view into Wenner’s soul: he guessed he should have picked a woman and a black man so he could have avoided these kinds of questions even though they would not have measured up to all these amazing white men. Oh, FFS.

The rest of the interview isn’t much better: Wenner should be proud of his work, but his pride spills over into arrogance. He seems incapable of self-reflection.

The repercussions were swift. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that he co-founded kicked him off the board immediately, and a literary festival appearance was cancelled. After a day, the inevitable apology was offered. He spoke badly chosen words, he said, and accepted the consequences.

Craig Seymour, writing in The Guardian after the interview and the apology, reviewed the sexist, racist history of Rolling Stone and rock journalism in general, the not-so-secret history that Wenner “let slip” in the interview.

For me, it’s the apology that continues to wrankle. He is sorry he said what he said. Why? He made it clear in the interview that he knew exactly what he was saying. Even doubled down on it when the interviewer pressed him. So, why apologize? Why not be honest about how you feel, that you wrote the book so you got to choose, and you stand by your statements as horrible as they are. Because, I’ll be honest: I don’t think he is sorry.

Musical Memories

We woke to the news that Jimmy Buffett had died. We were fortunate to hear him in concert. My husband introduced me to sailing, and we would listen to Buffett at some point during our excursions. I have read a couple of his fiction books and found them as upbeat as his music. “Pencil Thin Mustache” is one of my all time favorite songs, and I was able to find a live version.

I failed to mark the passing earlier this year of probably our favorite musician: Gordon Lightfoot. We heard him several times over the years and were never disappointed. I love many of his songs but my favorite is “Song for A Winter’s Night,” a quiet love ballad that he originally recorded in 1967.