Elton John: The Bitch Is Back certainly is an appropriate title for a book purporting to capture: “The passion, the outlandishness, and the complexity of Elton John’s life.”
Sir Elton has lived a few lifetimes in his 62 years, the past 40 of which have been in the public eye. Author Mark Bego spends a few token pages on Elton’s youth, when he was called Reginald Dwight. The seminal event for the young man was his parents’ divorce. Reg embraced his mother and new stepfather immediately, leaving his biological father out in the cold, basically for the rest of his life.
The story picks up steam when he joins a group called Bluesology, who went on to become Long John Baldry’s back-up band. As any music fan knows though, the real break came when he met Bernie Taupin. One of the more interesting revelations in the book was how Elton wrote the music to Bernie’s lyrics. Taupin would hand him the words, and Elton would compose the music right there on the spot. I don’t care what anyone thinks of Elton John, the ability to write like that shows an amazing talent.
The run Elton went on in the early 1970’s was unprecedented. Seven consecutive number one albums, including the very first one to debut at number one on Billboard. The only band that had previously enjoyed such sustained success were The Beatles. Now that is some heady company to be keeping.
Elton’s cocaine and alcohol abuse became big news in the 1980’s, but it had started long before. Bego traces the end of “Elton-mania” to drug use—and serious depression—despite his many triumphs. The Blue Moves LP was aptly titled.
The first two-thirds of The Bitch Is Back concerns itself with what most people consider the “classic” Elton John period, from 1970-76. From there, things go sideways in every manner imaginable. There was his infamous first wedding—to a woman no less—that eventually cost him 45 million dollars.
The drugs continued, his sexual appetites morphed into addiction, and the records became pretty spotty affairs. Elton became close to many of the rich and famous, most notably the Royal Family. But so much of this is either sad tabloid fodder or breathless celebrity gossip. Honestly, the last hundred or so pages of The Bitch Is Back are a bit tedious. For all of his success with The Lion King or Aida, I just miss the fun Elton of “Bennie And The Jets” or as The Pinball Wizard in Tommy.