Music News

The Diva in Mr. John

Until now, Elton John, Philip Norman's 1992 unauthorized biography of the piano man, has stood as the definitive word (also updated in 2000 as Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography, for those who missed the point). That's the tome where we first learned about "Elton's little moments" — his frequent tantrums about everything from the color of the dressing room to the color of the sky. Such is his temperament that he later got peeved at Norman for including transcripts of what he insists was a "private conversation" about the book in a paperback edition.

No biography gets it all right, and David Buckley, a writer who was admittedly not a huge admirer until he started researching his subject, scores high marks by coming from the place of a new acolyte. Buckley goes into far more detail about a mid-period album like Don't Shoot Me and takes time to point out the odd gem on recent commercially disappointing albums like Peachtree Road or The Captain and the Kid. He picks up a lot of fascinating minutiae that someone who read the Norman book wouldn't know — that lyricist Bernie Taupin wasn't enamored of Elton's outlandish costumes, that Elton wrote "Rocket Man" in eight minutes over breakfast, and that an early attempt at recording the watershed Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album in Jamaica was dashed by neighboring violence.

Buckley spends a lot of time talking to former musicians who were dropped out of Captain Fantastic's orbit without a moment's notice. As a result, Elton: The Biography (Chicago Review Press) paints an unflattering yet all-too-human portrait of an artist who can't relax, is a perfectionist who found technical fault with his most successful backing band, and seemed insecure despite (or, perhaps, because of) his meteoric success. Unlike Norman, Buckley pays as much attention to the past 20 years of Elton's career as he does the first 10. Therein you'll find lotsa juicy bits about Elton's coke binges, battles with British tabloids, his two marriages, and most recently, his public bitch-slapping with Madonna, George Michaels, Robbie Williams, Keith Richards and paparazzi, all carried out while he was "stone cold sober, as a matter of fact!"