Elton John’s longtime songwriting partner tells his life story.
Taupin (b. 1950) spent his early years in rural Lincolnshire, England, where his father was a farm manager. Early on, he imprinted on American country music and rockabilly performers and Western movies. After hearing Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” Taupin realized that he “wanted to write stories.” Dropping out of school at age 15, he worked at odd jobs, first at a printing plant, then a poultry farm, while absorbing more American roots music from Yanks stationed at a nearby Royal Air Force base. At age 17, Taupin answered an ad in a music magazine for a songwriter, and he traveled to London and met a piano player named Reg Dwight, later to become famous as Elton John. The two hit it off immediately, although it took a good bit of time for their collaboration to spark an eventual string of hits. Taupin interestingly chronicles their first years working together; when the fame finally arrives, the book turns into a string of encounters with celebrities, interspersed with tales of rock-star excess around the world. While some of the bits are insightful or revealing, there are dozens of variations of these escapades available elsewhere. Only in the last couple of chapters, when Taupin writes about settling down on a California ranch to raise cutting horses and live out his childhood cowboy dreams in rodeo competition, does the book recover some sense of the author as an individual. A late-life venture into visual art adds another dimension to the self-portrait. The author’s main insight about songwriting is that his material comes from observing what goes on around him. “My penchant for observation was a constant,” he writes. “I loved writing, I loved chronicling life, and every moment whether I was cogent, sober, or blitzed, I was forever feeding off my surroundings.”
A feast for fans of celebrity gossip; less interesting for those curious about where the music comes from.