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.