ROCKET MAN by Mark Bego


The Life of Elton John
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Straightforward biography of Sir Elton John, master of rock piano and camp performance.

Part Mona Lisa and part Mad Hatter, John astounded his parents with his child-prodigy skills at the piano at the age of 3 and, early on, took his talents and ran with them. Whether that adds up to his being “the most remarkably beloved rock and pop artist of rock history,” as Bego (Eat Like a Rock Star: More Than 100 Recipes From Rock 'n' Roll's Greatest, 2017, etc.) writes, is surely debatable. The remark is suggestive of the tossed-off way in which the author treats a subject who deserves deeper consideration. It’s inarguable that John turned his skills as a pianist and crowd-pleasing showman to materially impressive ends, earning and spending millions of dollars while working his way through trauma and “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Bego, who has authored biographies of Tina Turner, Cher, Billy Joel, and others, covers all the familiar ground: John’s lifelong musical partnership with Bernie Taupin; the dazzling costumes and improbable acrobatics onstage; the friendships with Lady Diana and, for that matter, Ru Paul; the decades of decadence; the generosity to charity; the dawning realization that his habits, as John put it, had made him “a piano-playing Elvis Presley”; and the willful recovery. An effort to tie the book to the unrelated movie Rocketman yields only the observation that Elton John can now add “cinematic hero” to his resume. Philip Norman’s Elton John (1992), albeit slightly updated in reissue, cuts off three decades ago; even so, it is by far the better book, digging deeper into John’s life and work. Bego’s book is filled with glancing chapter titles (“Glitter and Be Gay”) and painful turns of phrase (“Whatever he does, he does it one hundred and fifty percent, whether it is doing drugs, having wild parties, or alphabetizing his CD collection”). In the end, this biography is an exercise in superficiality, about as muscular as a handshake from Andy Warhol, who “would present his hand like he had just handed you a dead chicken.”

For ardent collectors of Eltoniana only.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64-313313-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019


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