dal Daily Telegraph del 3/8/2005
di Neil McCormick
ELTON, THE INDISCREET
stars were never supposed to be 58-year-olds, were they? "At this age
of mine, you've just got to make a decision about whether you are going
to write for yourself or for the radio," according to Sir Elton John.
"I mean, how many ****ing hits can you have?"
question is rhetorical, an attempt philosophically to brush off the
notion that he should care about such things as chart positions and
radio play any more. After all, these days he is a titled member of the
rock aristocracy, with a hugely successful sideline in musical films
and theatre, and a residency in Las Vegas.
giveaway, though, is the expletive in the middle of the sentence. After
a lifetime immersed in popular music, I don't think Elton is ready to
be consigned to the veterans circuit just yet.
this year, it certainly looked as if he was going the same way as Cliff
Richard and Status Quo, banished from Radio 1, absent from the charts
and increasingly reliant on back catalogue and live performance to
sustain a career.
glowing reviews comparing it to his best work, Elton's 2004 album
Peachtree Road failed to trouble the upper reaches of the charts. "It
is probably one of my lowest-selling albums of all time," he says. "It
was disappointing everywhere in the world, so I have to hold my hands
up and accept that the songs just didn't connect.
proud of Peachtree, but, if I think about it logically, people may have
10 or 12 Elton John albums in their collection already. Do they need
developments suggest the public's appetite for Elton remains strong.
Coming off the back of a sold-out stadium tour and an
attention-grabbing performance at Live8, he reached number one and
number four with consecutive singles.
something like this starts to explode, it does put the fun back in it,"
says Elton, who takes no credit for the single that put him back at the
top. Eminem (with whom Elton shares a mutually respectful relationship,
despite the rapper's penchant for homophobic insults) remixed Tupac
Shakur's Ghetto Gospel, adding a chorus from an obscure 1971 Elton John
track, Indian Sunset.
was a piece of luck, but, when you have been around as long as I have,
things just have a way of happening. It is incredible what Eminem's
actually done, combining melody and great hip hop in an original way.
It is not a lazy piece of work."
record company, Mercury, cannily followed that with Electricity, the
singer-songwriter's original version of a showstopper from his latest
West End musical, Billy Elliot, which went in at number four.
a demo," Elton reveals. "It was never even supposed to be released.
When I am working on musicals, I write songs and we record them and mix
them the next day then move on to the next one, so we have an idea of
what the shape of the show is going to be. I have albums full of songs
from Billy Elliot, The Lion King, The Road to El Dorado, just lying
demo was released as a download single tied into a mobile text message
competition offering the chance to watch Elton perform in Las Vegas,
leading to an enormous response from his fan base. Such was the
controversy in the music industry, there are now moves to change the
course, Elton isn't complaining. Discounting duets and reissues, this
is his highest-charting solo single since 1990. "I think it's
hilarious. I don't know about all the technical stuff. I am a Luddite.
I don't even own a mobile. I just write and record and that's about it."
he writes and records rather a lot. When he rose to fame in the early
'70s, he was in the habit of putting out two albums a year. Recently,
preparing Peachtree Road, Billy Elliot and a new theatrical musical,
Lestat, based on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles (with longtime lyric
writing partner Bernie Taupin), he composed more than 60 songs in one
was one of the most productive periods of my life. Lestat exhausted me.
Once I started, it was like being bitten by a ****ing vampire. I
couldn't stop. I was sucked dry, but I honestly think that is some of
the best work we've ever done.
songs are very complex. It's orchestral work, no electronic music at
all. It's music from the 18th century basically, written by a
show will open in San Francisco in December and move to Broadway in
March. Having been a solo star all his life, Elton also enjoys being
part of a team. "Doing a musical you've got a director, choreographer,
lighting guy, costume person, set creator, conductor. You're all in
there together, and so you've got to leave your ego at the door. Some
songs won't fit no matter how much you love them. You can't stand there
and stamp your feet and say, 'I want that song in!' "
raves about Billy Elliot, which he developed with original screenwriter
Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldry. A gripping piece of political and
emotional theatre, it has been widely hailed as the most powerful
musical of recent years.
time I go and see it, I can't believe I am actually involved in it!" he
laughs. Then, as an indiscreet aside, he adds: "Just between you, me
and the gatepost, I'm not really a lover of musicals!"
are the type of remarks that tend to get Elton into trouble. There was
a recent spat with George Michael, when Elton said he was "wasting his
talent" and suggested a "deep-rooted unhappiness" was to blame. Michael
responded with a catty open letter to Heat magazine, branding Elton a
and I are fine," reports Elton. "We've had dinner, and I've apologised
to him if I hurt his feelings. It was handbags at 50 paces. We like
each other too much to fall out."
spat with Madonna is proving less short-lived, after Elton mocked her
live show at the Q awards, saying anyone who mimes onstage should be
shot. "That one's slightly more difficult," Elton laughs, guiltily. "I
did send her two Christmas cards and they both came back. It was just
one of those off-the-cuff things.
haven't got Tourette's syndrome but I can't censor myself. Why should
I? But let's leave it at that, I don't want it to go any further, for
suspect the truth is that Elton loves all of this, the hurly-burly of
the pop world. He still tries to buy every new release, ticking his
purchases off in a handwritten bumper folder. He enthuses about new
music with the excitement of a genuine fan, eager to share his
discoveries (digital soul singer James Lidell and Irish band Hal are
I like someone, I let them know. I drop them a note, call up their
record company, whatever. It's not about wanting to jump on anyone
else's bandwagon, it's about reaching out."
latest protégé is James Blunt, who is managed by Elton's company 21st
Artists. "He knocked me off the number-one spot, but I am more excited
about him than I am about me. It's gratifying to see somebody come
through by just playing gigs and being nurtured and not by money and
hype. It's like a throwback: it reminds me of what happened to me in
America in 1970."
of today's rising stars who has attracted Elton's attention is the
troubled former Libertine Pete Doherty, who performed a shambolic duet
of T Rex's Children of the Revolution with Elton at Live8. "I thought,
here comes mainstream Elton, what can we do to shake things up a bit? I
think Pete's immensely talented. He came down to Watford and we
rehearsed it and it was absolutely tip-top, perfect.
have to be very discreet what I say, but I just think he was really
nervous on the day. He's a mess, it's really sad. He's so young I don't
think that he's going to listen to anybody. But I don't think the
people around him set a good example, which is a shame. But, you know,
he had his chance to do it and he came on… at least he looked great!"
you can see, Elton's discretion never seems to last very long. When I
ask him what he made of Live8, he groans. "Oh God, here I go. I thought
it was a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest. The thought behind it was
fantastic, but Hyde Park is a charisma-free zone. There was no sense of
occasion and from a musical point, I didn't think there were too many
highlights. I was very pleased to be a part of it, but I didn't think
it was anywhere near as good as the first one. How could it be?"
He checks himself again and tuts. "People are going to think I am a grumpy old sod, aren't they?"