Sympathetic biography focusing on how musical prodigy Reg Dwight surmounted social and personal obstacles to become one of the most formidable singer-songwriters of the post-Beatles era.
Buckley (The Thrill of It All: The Story of Brian Ferry and Roxy Music, 2005, etc.) smartly avoids hagiography, revealing that despite achieving unimaginable wealth and fame, Elton John has only recently slain the demons of his youth. Using previously published and new interviews, the author argues that to understand Elton Hercules John (his legal name since 1972), you must consider how emotionally and psychologically tormented Reg was. This, among other things, helps to explain John’s penchant, early on, for outsized glam-rock outfits and outrageous stage antics. Working chronologically, Buckley traces John’s conquest of the pop charts, providing background on many of his collaborations with lyricist Bernie Taupin—including “Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind” and “Daniel”—between 1970 and 1976. Then as now, John’s working methods could be savage; he’d freely discard Taupin’s lyrics or else rewrite them to fit melodies seemingly crafted on the fly. He was capable of equal harshness on a personal level, discarding friends and lovers with alacrity. Buckley largely attributes his tempestuousness to a 20-year battle with alcohol and drugs. The author generously quotes the artist himself, as he candidly discusses his work, his failed 1980s marriage and denial for many years of his homosexuality. His public friendships with Princess Diana, Gianni Versace and other celebrities are also touched on, as are his workaholic tendencies, charitable work and many lucrative business ventures. Partner David Furnish is credited with curbing many of John’s worst excesses, giving the 60-year-old artist a shot at spiritual and artistic rebirth. Buckley, however, could have more thoroughly considered John’s successes (The Lion King) and failures (Lestat) writing stage and film musicals.
The pop-music icon revealed as never before.