“The beauty of not talking about our songs is that it has always left them open to interpretation,” lyricist Bernie Taupin says, sitting next to songwriting partner Elton John on the sofa in a Los Angeles hotel suite.
“That’s the joy of what we do, creating songs that are a door to the imagination. You are free to step in and see whatever you want to see. We just paint the colors and you put it all together.”
This reluctance to interpret his own lyrics is a major reason Taupin has avoided interviews related to new albums for almost two decades. In his own meetings with journalists, John would tell them they’d have to talk to Taupin about the words.
So, why are Taupin and John now talking about the songs they wrote for John’s just-released “Made in England” album?
Why are they explaining that “House,” a song that could be seen as the story of the heartbreaking loss of a loved one, is really a song of paranoia? And why are they explaining that “Blessed,” which sounds like a song of unabashed optimism, really is about unabashed optimism?
Taupin and John say it’s because they are more excited about the new material than any set of songs they’ve written since the ‘70s.
The pair wrote some appealing songs in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but most of their work from those years seemed merely skillful rather than filled with the convincing personal edge of such early gems as “Your Song” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
At the heart of the new “Made in England,” one senses a renewed purpose and passion - songs in which the words and music flow together to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.
Their music, once again, is a shared vision, forged largely by positive developments in their personal lives.
After considerable ups and downs in the ‘80s, Taupin and John are both involved in rewarding relationships and have been greatly touched by the strength of people they’ve met while supporting AIDSrelated causes.
“There’s no doubt that things have come around,” Taupin says.
“In the last 10 years, I think, there has been a gradual rebuilding of a friendship that was always there but that is now based on more understanding. I also think that when I hit 40, I really grew up. I think that has happened to Elton, too. In finding ourselves, I think we found each other again, found a new enthusiasm.”
After years of being the public voice of the team, John enjoys seeing Taupin share some of the attention. When inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year in New York, John called Taupin on stage and gave him the trophy.
One of the strengths of their partnership in the ‘70s was that they were on such a strong wavelength that John would set Taupin’s lyrics to music without even discussing what the lyricist had in mind.
The approach worked so well that John had seven straight No. 1 albums between “Honky Chateau” in 1972 and “Rock of the Westies” in 1975 - albums that held onto the No. 1 spot for a collective 39 weeks.
It was a grinding pace, and it took its toll. By the end of the decade, they needed time apart.
After working briefly with other lyricists, however, John again turned to Taupin - and the hits started flowing again. Yet it wasn’t until about three years ago that they both felt they had regained the ‘70s creative rhythm.
After two divorces, Taupin was happily involved in a new relationship, and John, after years of addiction, had gone through a hospital program.
“I was 100 percent aware what was going on with Elton,” Taupin says.
“But you get to a point where there is nothing you can really do except sort of kneel down and pray that that person is going to come to terms with it.”
“On the selfish side, I had my own demons to deal with some of those years. I had my bouts with everything, all the necessary vices. That’s unimportant. I’m not really big on the survivor quotes. It’s just life.”
It’s a sign of how their lives have intersected again that John picked up right away the sentiments behind “House” even though it is one of the most elusive songs on the new album.
In the song, the narrator sits alone in his room, gazing passively at various possessions. On first listening, it’s easy to assume that the song is an expression of loss and need - that the death of a loved one has made the once-prized possessions seem distant and cold.
Or the song could be about death - with someone looking down at his house and his life.
“Well, those are all valid ways to look at the song,” Taupin says tentatively. It’s really a song about paranoia. It is about feeling comfortable with insignificant objects, the loneliness of wanting to curl up in the corner of a room and say, ‘I am going to stay here because I feel safe.”’
As on the rest of the album, however, there is a glimmer of hope in the song. Despite his gloom, the narrator looks out at the rain and imagines his pain being washed away.
“To me, that line is like the baptism - the re-emergence, the person (in the song),” John says, as Taupin nods this time. “It’s about looking out of the window and then finding the strength to follow through.”
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