If you had the chance to watch the 2017 action spy comedy Kingsman: The Golden Circle and considered that for one minute that Sir Elton John’s portrayal of cantankerous pop singer with a swearing problem wasn’t essentially him playing himself, I’m afraid you’re up for disappointment. Prone to temper tantrums, penchant for outrageous clothes, awful at taking instructions — all accurate descriptions of the British pop icon, whose recent autobiography Me is an absolutely delightful read of Sir Elton John talking about, well, Sir Elton John. But mere navel-gazing chronicle this is not; Me is a gift to the autobiography genre not just because John’s life is a colourful one to talk about, but he remembers much of it in staggering detail.
Utterly self-deprecating and absolutely hilarious, Me traces John’s life as a child — born Reginald Dwight — in the quiet village of Pinner, England, right up to present day pop/rock icon and family man. Although much of his life story is no secret, this is not a man in the business of withholding his private life. It's great opportunity for fans to properly appreciate, in sequence, the many elements of his personal journey that have made the man. It is unputdownable, this tale of a musically gifted child, member of Bluesology, victim to a drug and alcohol addled existence and, of course, the almost inexplicable friendship with long-term lyricist Bernie Taupin.
Me is charmingly told in John’s own voice, which is a huge testament to the skill of ghost-writer Alexis Petridis, The Guardian’s resident pop critic. He's remarkably truthful about his life, the good and the ugly, and his beguiling honesty is applied just as liberally to other people as it is to himself — he willingly dishes on gossip and comments on contemporaries like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, among many others, with a key narrative his long-running friendly feud with Rod Stewart.
His descriptions of people like Keith Richards (“a monkey with arthritis”) and Madonna (“looks like a fairground stripper”) leave one reeling both with laughter and mild shock, and I especially adore the drag names he and his compatriots gave each other — he was Sharon, Stewart was Phyllis and Mercury was Melina. Indeed, his anecdotes relating to the Queen frontman is my favourite by far, simply because the two share a similar love for flamboyance, and of course, John is a huge supporter of AIDS research — the disease that killed Mercury in 1991.
John is a huge statistics junkie and keeps impeccable records of the music he listened to and the people whose music inspired him. Me becomes an interesting musical reference of the stars that made the music of the day, which lends the book a cerebral air. But if you’re in it just for the entertainment, though, there’s plenty of that too. There was a night he and John Lennon refused to answer the door to Andy Warhol because, as Lennon hissed to John: “Do you want him coming in here taking photos when you’ve got icicles of coke hanging out of your nose?” This is one of many stories that are almost too impossible to be true but because it's Sir Elton John, it absolutely is.
The way he tells it, John’s immeasurable musical talent somehow justifies the excesses — shopping, drugs and alcohol — but he's extremely self-aware of both his abilities and his drawbacks, and holds back nothing in his book. Might this be why the man is so likable, his music so enduring? The honesty acts as a counterbalance to the extravagances, and if there is one message in this book, it is that completely owning your own journey is what matters in the end. Few people would be as willing to admit what John has, or go into the same detail, whether it’s on the breakdown of his relationship with his mother, his failed relationships – including a marriage to a woman – and the way his drug habit affected his career. Indeed, his constant yearning for affection – from his parents, from his romantic partners – is the source of much grief, a reminder that no matter how famous you are, all you really want is to be loved.
By the time I reached the end of Me, Sir Elton John the elder statesman of British pop/rock felt more like Elton the friend, someone I’d known all my life. And perhaps that's true, because I grew up listening to his music and I found it exhilarating to read about songs I knew and anecdotes I’d previously heard put in context. This is also a result of the intimate way Me is written, which makes each reader feel like John was personally addressing them. And while not all pop stars can rid themselves of their demons, John has done just that — a father of two boys together with husband David Furnish, he's now 28 years sober and finally loved the way he’s always wanted.
The film biopic on John’s life, Rocketman, also came out this year, and I'd recommend the book before the movie because one paints the pictures in your head, and the other breathes it to life in all its technicolour glory. And with Sir Elton John, there’s certainly plenty of that to go around.
'Me' is available at Kinokuniya, RM89.92.