Today's New York Times has a couple of pages about Elton and Bernie Taupin, including how some of the songs on their new album came about.
The article calls Elton's composing style ''effective'' as well as ''quick and free as Japanese calligraphy,'' and points out that in the 1970s and 1980s, the pair were ''a hit machine.”
And though these songs have become identified with Elton, they actually arise from the meshing of two distinctly different personalities.
“Had we been the same kind of characters I’m not sure it would have survived,” Bernie said in an interview from his home in the Santa Ynez Valley. “We live very, very, very different lifestyles, obviously. I’m very much a recluse, not a social person at all.”
Elton, speaking from Las Vegas, said he learned long ago he has zero talent for writing lyrics, but his friend’s imagery has always had an uncanny way of unlocking melodies in his mind. “It is weird,” said the 66-year-old. “It’s kind of twilight-zonish in a way.”
Taupin is a voracious reader who draws ideas from history and biographies. On The Diving Board, for instance, Ballad of Blind Tom is a stark portrait of Thomas Wiggins, the 19th-century black musical savant and composer who was born a slave, while A Town Called Jubilee recreates a dust-bowl ballad, and Oceans Away is a tribute to World War II soldiers, dedicated to his father, Capt. Robert Taupin.
These are serious compositions for adults, not radio-ready pop hits. “We are not having to write to cater to a certain trend,” Bernie acknowledged. “We’re past that.”
Elton said: “I like miserable songs. What can I tell you?”
The lyricist sent the words for “Diving Board” via e-mail to Elton well in advance of the recording sessions. But Elton said he never reads the lyrics carefully before going into the studio to write.
“I always look forward to getting a new bunch of lyrics from him because I have no idea what I’m going to get,” he said. “There are no conferences about what direction should I go with this record. It’s really down to happenstance and kismet.”
For this album, he said, he rifled through the papers and picked the first one that caught his eye, “Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” which imagines what the Irish writer might have thought on being released from Reading prison. The first line — “Freedom for a scapegoat” — was all he needed to imagine the tripping introduction and a minor melody.
When Liberty Records introduced them in the 1960s, the two men roomed together, first at Elton’s parent’s house, then in an apartment in London. It was in those years that their friendship was forged. Both were lonely: Taupin was far from home and John had left his band Bluesology.
“He became the brother I never had,” Elton stated.
In recent years, the writing partners have interacted more in the studio. Bernie will sit in the control room and listen over a speaker while Elton composes in another room. Once in a while, if a line sounds wrong, he'll propose a change in wording. And when Elton has finished something, he'll often play it for Bernie and ask his opinion. ''That is when we are the most creatively dynamic--that's when we lock it in,'' Taupin declared. ''We have been doing this for over 40 years, so you have a certain mental telepathy working there.''