2 June

Review: The Fantastical Story of Elton Jon, Rock God

by Jon Katz

We know that poverty often makes poor people unhappy, but we sometimes forget that wealth and fame often makes rich people just as unhappy.

As we learn again and again, money don’t buy love or happiness. Elton John paid dearly for his success.

“Rocketman,” the new movie about John’s rise to fame is the somewhat phantasmic story of how the former Reginald Dwight (played by Taron Egerton) became one of the world’s most popular pop singers.

It wasn’t easy. The young Elton was a shy chunky, tormented, closeted gay and lonely British music prodigy (I didn’t know that about that).

After years of the obligatory early-life struggle and rejection (did any big star ever grow up happy?), John blossomed into the internationally camp pop icon and renowned song stylist and the only pop musician to ever be invited to sing at the funeral of a British Royal. He was a favorite of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. I’ll never forget the look on Queen Elizabeth’s face when John sang “Candle In The Wind” in Westminster Abbey.

The movie focuses on John’s spectacular rise in the 70’s, when his sexual identity was hidden from public view as was his deepening addiction to alcohol, cocaine and other drug substances.

The movie is moving testament to self-realization and rebirth. John, who is now 72, hasn’t had a drop of liquor in more than 40 years, is happily married with two young children, was the executive producer of the movie and the author – with long-time lyricist and dear friend Bernie Taupin – of most of the soundtrack.

The instrumental score, which hops back and forth from reality to memory and fantastical recreation, gives special attention to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and was written by Matthew Margeson.

It was confusing at times, and I don’t think the format always did justice to the music.

I didn’t really see John in Egerton, but in the movie, he is sympathetic, and at times, exciting.

John is shown in the original outrageous costumes that helped make  him famous, one review said Egerton in effect plays both the Lady Gaga and the Bradley Cooper parts in “A Star Is Born.”

The movie is a fan film, the lower John sinks into alcoholism and addiction, the greater the recovery really looks.  Even though we know how things turn out, we are hurting for Elton and rooting for him every step of the way.

John has been successful for so long – more than 50 years – that the scope of his talent and the scale of his success seems sometimes to be taken for granted.  he is a creative genius.

Almost all of the songs in the movie were originally recorded within a short time span – about seven years. They are a fraction of the music the John-Taupin (Jamie Bell)  team produced.

John and Taupin turned out to be one of the great creative collaborations in the history of music. Their relationship was not sexual, but their love for one another was deep and lasting, a rare thing in the music industry.

In a way, they are the heart of the movie.

The movie sometimes verges on the familiar dramas of the superstar looking back: the cruel and remote father, the idiosyncratic and selfish mother, the doting and supportive grandmother. John also is shown to suffer greatly at the hands of an especially vicious and calculating early manager, with whom he was in love.

When he finally came out to his narcissistic mother, she said she didn’t mind that he was gay, but that it was too bad, he would never be properly loved.

The move dwelled too long, I thought,  on the disintegrating superstar, he suffered all the more in conjunction with his exploding fame. His growing rage and misery got tiresome.

The film opens with John showing up at an addiction treatment center in full costume after running away from a scheduled performance at Madison Square Garden in New York. He was falling apart and decided to save himself.

The thing about the movie, though, is that you will end up loving John, who suffered plenty for his success, but who had the courage and the decency to get his life back together.

Elton John turned out to be a kind and generous soul,  he has raised more than $450 million to help fight AIDS all over world. It turned out that his mother was wrong, he did find proper love, and when he did, he was able to get his life back.

I enjoyed this movie  and recommend it.


  1. At 65 I remember his early journey well – his marriage (and a romantic song I forget that everyone thought was about women and his wife but likely wasn’t) was a big deal, and for some reason I remember his early years. I wasn’t a big fan but his story was everywhere and he appeared pretty cranked and crazy. I was happy when he moved through to his happier truer self.

    We have forgotten to some degree just how threatening it was for a gay man to come out, losing their livelihood was no small concern. It took Barry Manilow his entire life to own up to it, and he wasn’t exactly a sex god!

  2. Jon, I have not seen the film but did see the trailer and Elton getting out of the covertible in front of the Troubador and the Troubador is still here and when I pass by on the bus it is thrilling! And the fact that Bernie can write the lyrics and Elton the music – Elton says he sits down with the lyrics and the music just comes to him and he has no idea of where it comes from.

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