We're supposed to get through the last hot, humid, melting, bitching dog days of August by looking forward to the Fall music releases...especially the new one from Elton! Think it'll be...as much of a work of genius as the last one from McCartney?
Sad, huh. What do we get out of the latest from guys like these? It's sort of like going to a class reunion, isn't it? You're just relieved the person you remember fondest, and who is still alive, is not going to show up in a wheelchair, or with a face bloated or wrinkled, or unrecognizable in some other way. You do recognize, on each forgettable album, some trace of the person you don't want to forget.
Being honest about it, very few of our heroes…Jagger, Neil Young, Cohen…have put out a new release that hasn't had to come with some kind of apology. "Not bad…considering his age…his voice…the chord changes are so familiar….that he hasn't anything to say…" Like the guy with the toupee at the reunion, the artist doesn't acknowledge his failing. He isn't the man in Randy Newman's brilliant song "I'm Dead But I Don't Know It." And Randy can still hit the target now and then….as can Costello, Dylan etc. Not for a whole album maybe, but a lot more songs than McCartney or Elton John.
"When will I end this bitter game? When will I end this cruel charade? Everything I write all sounds the same. Each record that I'm making is like a record that I've made — Just not as good."
Elton's hyping this one. After years of terrible dirges, and a minor duet album with weird Leon Russell, he says "The Diving Board" is his big risk. He's got to have a HIT, and go back to his roots. He's gotta find some kind of Tumbleweed connection, revive Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and put out YOUR SONG again. One you can relate to, not as nostalgia. Well, I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind, but…the reality check is that it's probably not going to happen. Let's say that Elton has not been rocking for a long time, and his interminable ballads all sound the same as what he did in the 70's, but "not as good."
Mostly, we've been suffering through the sight of a pasty-faced heavy-set gay guy on stage (self-emphasis on gay, as if that's his actual profession). Off stage he's babbling about his baby and his husband, and even his feud with Madonna was boring. So is anyone really looking to Elton John for anything? Maybe some silly tune for a Disney cartoon or a bad Broadway show for the kiddies? There are plenty of hacks who can do that. Randy Newman throws familiar idiot tunes onto movie soundtracks all the time, but at least he can still write a real song with good lyrics once in a while.
Which, at last, brings us to Bernie Taupin. We're told that a big difference here, is that the new album re-unites Elton with the same guy who gave him those 60's hits. But hasn't been able to provide him with hit lyrics in a long, long time. As if Taupin in 1970 was so profound: "If I was a sculptor, but then again, no." Think he's got anything brilliant to say in 2013?
Years ago, I was hanging out in Daryl Hall's apartment, and John Oates was there as well, and we talked about disposable music. And who would know better than those two? The subject got around to Elton John, and one of them said that one reason Elton's music was so disposable, and getting more so with every release, was that it was just some facile melodies. Well, yes, Elton went through a period of knocking out albums that all sounded pleasantly alike, and maybe had, at best, a catchy chorus phrase like "I'm Still Standing." The trouble? "He's not singing anything that matters to him. We don't know what he's thinking."
Taupin's rarely tried to write FOR Elton John. The last time he did, and was at all successful artistically, was "Made in England." Bernie wrote the autobiographical lyrics his friend couldn't put on paper. Including: "I had a quit-me father had a love-me mother...I had Little Richard and that black piano,…that sweet georgia peach and the Boy from Tupelo...well here's my middle finger. I had forty years of pain and nothing to cling to…you can still say homo and everybody laughs…"
Through most of his output for Elton in the 80's and beyond, Bernie's lyrics have been adequate on most tracks, catchy now and then. 1983: "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" a good one on "Too Low for Zero." "Sad Songs Say So Much" sort of good on 1984's "Breaking Hearts," "Wrap Her Up," a serviceable track on 1985's "Ice on Fire." Give him credit for being prolific, having enough stuff to hand Elton to turn into sound-alike ear candy. Let's also not forget that even in Elton's golden late 60's and early 70's, there was a lot of foolishness among the gems. "Rocket Man" is kind of peculiar if you really read the lyrics. How about "Take Me To the Pilot," which sounds fantastic and makes no sense at all? What about "Jamaica Jerk-Off?" A funnier example is "Prestige a Gammon," deliberate nonsense that seems like a foreign language, just to prove that nobody's paying much attention. And really, it's been a long, long time since "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Madman Across the Water." There wasn't anything too memorable on 2004's "Peachtree Road," or 2006's "Captain and the Kid," both advertised as comeback albums. It was after the latter, that Taupin took a long hiatus from his pumpkinheaded friend and contributed words for an album by somebody called Deirdre Hughes.
As we move toward the big release date for this latest John-Taupin comeback, Bernie has so far remained his elusive self. It's been Elton flamboyantly pointing out the obviousness of his metaphor… being on The Diving Board, ready to make a splash, to sink or swim. As if anyone cares. If the album's not too good, so what. His last few weren't much. He has enough fans who will buy the next one anyway.
Taupin? As a commercial artist on his own, he experimented. He tried. He stopped.
In 1971 Bernie issued a spoken word album, with music in the background, called "Taupin." Fine. Now we know what the poet sounds like, but few care to hear poetry recited. Nine years later, he let the world know that he could sing adequately. "He Who Rides the Tiger" was issued in 1980 with music by Dennis Tufano on all 9 tracks. Taupin would not record again until 1987, with "Tribe," music by Martin Page, cameos by Elton John and Martha Davis, each singing on a track. And that was that. At least, under his own name. If you're a devoted fan, you know that he also put out albums in 1996 and 1998 fronting "The Farm Dogs," to explore his fascination with acoustic western roots music.
Out of some odd sense of nostalgia, here's 1980 Bernie singing to a meandering melody, "The Whores of Paris."
Whores are always a fine subject for a song, and Bernie previously wrote the sentimental "Sweet Painted Lady" with its profound couplet, "Getting paid/for being laid." Years later, scented by a Paris locale, Bernie gives us a little more darkness, a few flashes of decent poetry…the whole thing coming across like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" actually…in which a wide-eyed wanna-be comes in contact with images sensual and intellectual and the inspiration sharpens his own senses...somewhat.
From a view of a particular whore (ugh, had to call her "Gigi" huh) Bernie describes various other hookers; his quill quivering wildly in all directions, ink sometimes black and sometimes a little too purple. Sample lines:
With fat commuters full of cheap champagne
Belching tourists feel no pain
When Gigi takes their wallets
Spends their bodies, keeps the change
For sentiment don't touch the Whores of Paris
Just the years and lines of age
That buries them in unmarked graves
Old and spent and never saved….
They use their caution like a whip
We sensed it as they filed their nails, crimson
As the paint upon their lips
Tough enough to rust in jail
Farmers' daughters plucked like corn
From the Camargue to Marseilles
Ideals of the ideal life
Expectant mothers discarded wives
With re-sewn wrists and tear stained eyes
They soon find the shoe fits easy
The francs flow in and the tricks say "please me"
Another lovely thigh says "squeeze me"
Mon cherie, my bed's so busy
Take a Pernod, life's so sleazy
It's not coffee in the air
Just the smell of foreign fingers greasing palms
On the Seine it's Sunday morning
To her it's always evening
Shifting gear to put some German in her arms
Washed in sterile porcelain
She fakes it for the good of his morale
He's tired and worn but she moves on
To rope another stud from her corral
Christmas in the poor house
Unbeknownst to others, Madelaina takes her life
She tipped the scales at forty five
Never saw a decent day
Never made it to the upper echelons of night
Now 63, Taupin mostly stays out of the spotlight, as most lyricists do, and for that the world is thankful. Although the sight of Bernie hauling around some tart half his age, or even looking like a Mafia-pug and having some high priced call girl on a leash would be preferable to the antics of the Elton-and-David show. (The woman in the picture with Bernie, is Peggy Moffitt, in case you care. She's not for sale, though she might look rather like a sweet painted lady.) What Bernie does with his time, mostly, is to study the history of his beloved American West (which we all love more than Kanye West), listen to Marty Robbins albums, and hang out on his California ranch with his horses. In 2010 he pulled a Dylan and started hosting a radio show devoted to "American Roots" music…Willie Dixon, Louvin Brothers…the stuff that Elton fans would loathe. Maybe you can find it on Satellite Radio and learn for yourself how the guy pronounces his last name.
It's also worth mentioning that while Elton's had hits with other lyricists, Bernie's got a few credits without Elton, include an insane asylum concept album with Alice Cooper, "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" (used in "Brokeback Mountain"), "Mendocino County Line" (a co-write with Willie Nelson), "These Dreams," recorded by Heart, and "We Built this City" recorded by…well, let's stop right there. Let's briefly note that while whores prefer money, an added little gift, should you hire one, MIGHT be Jewelry from Bernie Taupin. Not too expensive. Looking a little better than shrubbery. Maybe even up to the standards of Joan Rivers. The samples you see in the photo above...are for sale on Bernie's official website. Copies of his three albums? Nope.
TAUPIN Whores of Paris