Elton John's house in the south of France, 21 August 2006
Jake Shears: So this issue of their
magazine has a special gay theme. What do you think about that?
Elton John: What do I think about it?
JS: I honestly would not have done
EJ: You wouldn't have an issue on gay
I wouldn't want to have done this if it wasn't for doing it with you,
but my question is: what do you think about the fact that gayness is an
issue in the first place?
EJ: Well, it shouldn't be an issue. Nothing
should be an issue
when it comes to sexuality in the first place, but the fact that they
are doing it is, I think, good. Music is now the one artform [where]
people [feel] comfortable coming out, especially in Britain - not so
much in America; you lead the way there. [With] Antony and the
Johnsons, the Scissor Sisters and Rufus [Wainwright] you have three
major talents that have come out and said: 'We're gay and we don't have
a problem with it and nor should anybody else', which is fabulous. All
three of those acts have made fabulous music, and they are all
different from each other.
JS: Yes. But I feel like with
Antony and Rufus - aside from the fact that they are homos - people
will look back one day, at this time and at the music they are making,
and realise that they are complete voices of this generation,
regardless of their sexuality.
EJ: Absolutely - they are
major voices and major talents. For me, Rufus is in kind of a Gershwin
vein and Antony ... I don't know what kind of vein he's in but it's his
own [laughs] and it's timeless music. If you write great songs with
meaning and emotion, they will last for ever because songs are the key
to everything. Songs will outlast the artist and they will go on for
ever if they are good.
JS: I got the Antony record for my
cousin, Jackie Sue, who is, like, a southern Baptist ... and it speaks
to her. If you said: 'Well, here's this big, weird tranny at a piano
singing songs about wanting to be a girl', she would think it probably
wasn't for her, but in reality there is something there that even she
can relate to.What was it like when you were starting out? When did
you know you had homosexual tendencies?
Maybe at school, although when I was in my band, Bluesology, playing
with Long John Baldry I didn't even realise he was gay and he's the
gayest person I can think of right now. He was outrageous; flamboyant,
camp, funny. I was sexually very immature - I didn't have sex until I
was 23 and that was with a man. I made up for lost time after that in a
hurry. I wish I could have had sex when I was, like, 14, 15 or 16
because that's such an exciting age to have sex.
JS: I came out when I was 15 and I
was a very active teenager in that regard.
Well, I envy you. I grew up in the Fifties and early Sixties, which
were still quite conservative, and I wasn't given any information about
sex or anything like that; it just wasn't done, especially in Britain.
I went out with girls at school because one had to. I didn't experiment
with sex for quite a long time.
JS: When Little Richard and Liberace
came out what when through your mind as a young person?
I didn't think of them as being gay as I didn't know anything about
gayness or homosexuality. I just thought they were flamboyant and
fabulous, and I loved both of them in different ways. There's an
element of both of them in what I do. The piano is such an awkward
instrument and both of those people made the piano look irrelevant
because they were larger than life. When Little Richard used to stand
up and play it was just fabulous, and Liberace had the candlesticks and
the rings and the gift of the gab. The piano's is the most ungainly
rock'n'roll instrument of all time but those two people transcended it,
as did Jerry Lee Lewis. But those two were obviously gay. Now I look
back on it and I was so naive.
JS: So was everybody who
was watching them. With artists like Liberace and Little Richard their
gayness, of course, influenced their aesthetic and their whole
personality, but the sexuality wasn't an issue.
sexuality was so obvious when I look back at Liberace. He looked much
gayer [than Little Richard]. There's a lot of Liberace in me and as a
gay artist as such, but I am an openly gay man. A lot of my audience is
the same kind of audience that Liberace would have had and they didn't
seem to give a shit. I think that's so great.
JS: As a
band I think we've been really lucky in that respect. I think when it
comes down to it people really couldn't care less in a lot of ways.
Especially as you broke first in Britain. I think if you're honest and
open and go for it like with yourselves, Freddie Mercury and a whole
slew of artists, then people love it. We have a society where every hit
maker and TV presenter is gay. When I was young there was a radio show
with Kenneth Williams [Round the Horne] - which was outrageous at the
time - but people loved it. I don't think they realised how outrageous
listening to it was but they loved listening to him. This was in the
Fifties and early Sixties when presenters were so gay and so fabulous.
Also, he spoke in Polari, which was hilarious because it was so camp,
although I didn't realise he was being camp.
JS: I think
that gay people in some ways end up forming a very different sense of
humour to straight people. We all go through similar things and it's a
way of dealing with it ...
EJ: I think British humour is
very cruel, and gay humour is very cruel. I think the two go
hand-in-hand and that's why they mix so well in England. I think that's
why you get so many gay comedians in England that are accepted so well
because British humour is very cruel. I love it. It's my favourite kind
of humour; if it isn't cruel and funny it doesn't really cut the cake
for me. We have a history of that in Britain; of comedians - whether
they are gay or straight - being very cruel.
JS: I think
so; you can go and see a drag queen perform who has the worst jokes in
the world but there is still something really ...
love drag queens and I love going to see them perform because those
people have got so much character and bravery. Such balls! I love
people with balls.
JS: When you get someone like [US
comedian] Justin Bond - who was doing things like burning American
flags on stage - it's very dangerous and really brave. I look around
this summer and the past couple of years and it seems to me that world
politics have really changed the gay movement. We're on the verge of
world war and there are such horrible things happening with religious
EJ: I think religion has always tried
hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite
against gays. But there are so many Christian people I know who are gay
and love their religion ...
JS: My Mom's a Christian and
she loves me; that whole side of my family is Christian and I have no
problem with it. I just feel we need to stop worrying about pro-gay
movements and start worrying about fundamentalist movements. It's not
just about how gay people are treated - it's about how people are
treated in general.
EJ: You suggested that yourselves,
Pet Shop Boys and myself should play a Gay Pride concert in Russia. I
think that's a great idea 'cause in [former Soviet Bloc] countries such
as Poland, Latvia and Russia there is a huge anti-gay movement and a
lot of it is started by the church.
JS: Yeah, it's very
important to do something like that because you've got the opportunity,
being who you are. You can go into a place like [Russia] and at least
put the point across that [we are] paying attention to what is going on
right now and we're watching.
EJ: Exactly. I cannot stand
any kind of racism or religious hatred; there's so much fucking
negativity with people. They used to put gay people in a cupboard but
now they're doing it to [certain] religious people. What we should be
doing as musicians is trying to bring people together. Your idea for a
'Gay Pride' concert in Moscow would be a brilliant idea.
JS: That would be the first Gay Pride
that the Scissors would have done, I'm sure.
I've never done a Gay Pride either - they've always asked me but I've
never actually been here - I've always been away. I did the Euro Pride
and I really enjoyed that but there's a time when you have to step up.
I never stood up to the Aids thing because I was in a drug haze - even
though my friends were dying left, right and centre - I wasn't on the
front line and I should have been. Maybe we should, en masse, go to
Moscow next year, if they'll have us. They might not want us!
JS: Then we'll go anyway.
EJ: We'll stand on the corner - even
if little old ladies attack us!
[Laughs] To play a specifically gay event for me is a backwards step. I
don't want to play gay events because I don't want anybody coming to
the show thinking that they're not part of the group.
EJ: It's like when gay clubs won't
let women in and it's like, 'Come on, we're all supposed to be
together.' I fucking hate it.
I hate it if I'm at a party and see nothing but gay men - I don't want
to be there. If your party doesn't have sexy, wonderful women at it
then it's not a party.
EJ: We've been isolated for so long
it's time [we became integrated].
JS: In Berlin there are lots of gay
clubs with lots of gay men and sexy straight men and women. I find it
much more sexy.
I just find it more human. We should all be together. I've got this
really naive idea of what life should be like - it's an idealistic idea
but it's completely integrated. We can't keep thinking of gay people as
being ostracised; we can't keep thinking of Muslim people as being
[ostracised] because of the fundamentalism that occurs in Islam. Muslim
people have to do something about speaking up about it. We can't judge
a book by its cover.
From my point of view I would ban religion
completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it. I
love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful
stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all
the little stickers and put them in my book. But the reality is that
organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful
lemmings and it's not really compassionate.
The world is near
escalating to World War Three and where are the leaders of each
religion? Why aren't they having a conclave; why aren't they coming
together? I said this after 9/11 and people thought I was nuts: instead
of more violence why isn't there a [meeting of religious leaders]. It's
all got to be dialogue - that's the only way. Get everybody from each
religion together and say 'Listen, this can't go on. Why do we have all
We are all God's people; we have to get along and
the [religious leaders] have to lead the way. If they don't do it, who
else is going to do it? They're not going to do it and it's left to
musicians or to someone else to deal with it. It's like the peace
movement in the Sixties - musicians got through [to people] by getting
out there and doing peace concerts but we don't seem to do them any
more. We seem to be doing fundraisers for Africa and everything like
that but I think peace is really important. If John Lennon were alive
today he'd be leading it with a vengeance.
JS: My Mom gets
so upset at me when I say stuff in the press about anything political
and it drives me crazy because I say to my Mom: 'I can't be on the side
of any sort of war and I'm not going to be.' I am against the war and I
am very vocal about it.
EJ: I am totally against the war
but violence is part of mankind and it's going to happen, but as
musicians I think we've got to step up and say 'come on'.
JS: How did Vietnam affect you when
you were starting out?
When I first when to America it was going on and I remember playing
Kent State University about six weeks after the students were killed
there [in 1970] and it was a really strange feeling - really odd. I
came at the end of it really and my career started right at the end as
Nixon was withdrawing the troops. The first track on our new album is
called 'Postcards from Richard Nixon'.
People don't seem to
protest in the streets any more, they are always blogging on the
internet. They seem to do their protesting online, and that's not good
[enough]. You have got to get out there and be seen and be vocal, and
you've got to do it time and time again. People have become apathetic.
There was a big march in London when Britain decided to join the war
against Iraq and Tony Blair is on record as saying 'The people who
march today will have blood on their hands.' That's returned to bite
him in the ass.
We cannot solve everybody's fucking problems in
the West. What we've done [in Iraq] has sped up an inevitable civil war
after Saddam Hussein left power. I don't know the solution. I just know
that all we can do as musicians - whether gay or straight - is to come
together and promote peace. We have been promoting [anti-poverty] but
when you do a concert sometimes they forget about their emotions:
that's the power of music and sport - they are the two things that can
JS: I think that's a political act.
that is a political act. We just played in Serbia with the Pet Shop
Boys a few weeks ago and the feeling was wild - we were playing for
people who felt like they were coming out of a period of being
oppressed. It was electric. These were people who weren't taking any of
the moment for granted, and you could feel that in the air. It was so
exciting. At one point we climbed up to this tower where Jeff Mills was
DJing and we looked out on this empty moat full of what looked like
100,000 people and the joy that you felt vibrating off this crowd was
like nothing else. It was so inspiring.
EJ: Music has healing power. It has
the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.
JS: We played a show in Ireland last
summer and I had the weirdest experience: this mother, father and son
came backstage ...
EJ: ...and you fucked all of them
JS: No I didn't ...
EJ: (Continues laughing - a bit too
JS: No I didn't - [the son] was 18.
EJ: He was legal ...
They were asking for my autograph and my boyfriend, Chris, was there
and at one point - I can't remember what we were talking about exactly
- I mentioned my boyfriend and they got very indignant and said: 'Not
in front of our son.' I said: 'You're talking to a gay person here and
you're backstage at my concert. It's not an issue and if you have a
problem with it you really shouldn't be here.' I looked at the son
straight in the face and said: 'Homosexuality isn't a crime.'
EJ: What did they do?
I smiled at them and the mother apologised. It totally caught me
off-guard but I found it so alarming that I actually looked at the kid
and said: 'Your father is not right.' It was such a weird moment.
You are very brave; I probably wouldn't have had the balls to do that.
People come to me and I'm a bit like the Queen Mother. I never get
those problems. I don't know what it is with me; people treat me very
reverently. It was the same when Dave [Furnish] and I had our civil
union - I was expecting the odd flour bomb and there wasn't.
and I as a couple seem to be the acceptable face of gayness, and that's
great. I've got to use that power to try and do what I can - or we have
- to try to make the situations in Russia and Poland [better]. I'm off
to Poland in two weeks to say something there because the situation is
not good. If I'm on the board of Amnesty International I can't just sit
back and say nothing. It's not a gay issue; it's a human rights issue.
going to fight for them, whether I do it silently behind the scenes or
vocally so that I get locked up. I can't just sit back; it's not in my
nature any more. I'm nearly 60 years old, after all. I can't sit back
and blindly ignore it, and I won't.