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What I Learned From Elton John’s Book, Me

Elton John is someone we all know and love. Since he skyrocketed to stardom in the 70s he has been known as a gay icon and an extremely talented musician. However, his autobiography, Me, reveals a lot of the difficulties in his life behind the scenes. He has dealt with an abusive childhood, addiction and losing lots of important people in his life from tragic accidents, murder, or AIDS. Me shares lots of fantastic stories of stardom, such as throwing oranges at Bob Dylan or calling the Rocket office demanding that they change the weather. However, along the way, John also shares a lot of wisdom in some of his difficult life experiences that I think we all can learn from.  

I don’t think at this point anyone really needs to be told that doing cocaine is a bad idea. If you were at all skeptical about whether cocaine is really that bad, John’s experiences paint a very clear picture.“If you fancy living in a despondent world of unending, delusional bullshit, I really can’t recommend cocaine highly enough.” John first realized he had a problem when he saw himself performing at Ryan White’s funeral, who was the poster child for the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. He realized he looked awful. He had started breaking his unwritten rule of never performing on drugs. He was losing friendships and it was affecting his career. When his latest partner-in-crime, Hugh, checked himself into rehab and suggested he did the same, John was absolutely infuriated. He was unwilling to admit he had a problem. However, this reality check was eventually what he needed to check himself into rehab. From John’s experience, it is clear that admitting you have a problem is hard and asking for help is even harder. However, no matter who you are, you’re never too good to ask for help. 

Rehab was a difficult road for John. For starters, he didn’t have just one addiction. Besides being a cocaine addict, he was also a bulimic and alcoholic. Most rehabilitation facilities only treat one addiction at a time. When he eventually found a rehab center, he checked out six days later. Among other things, John was embarrassed. For years he hadn’t have to do basic adult tasks because he paid others to do it for him. He didn’t even know how to use a washing machine. However, John eventually made it through recovery and felt great. The only problem was that many of his friends in the music industry were still in the same place he was before and they, much like he was before recovery, were not receptive of his advice to check themselves into rehab. This goes to show that while recovery is obviously an amazing thing, expecting to then be able to save everyone else is unrealistic. Some people are too far gone and unwilling to help themselves and it’s something John had to accept. 

I’m not sure I can think of any person more emblematic to the gay community than Elton John. To think at one point in his life he was married to a woman is a little shocking and confusing. How can it be that someone seemingly so secure in their sexuality at that point in their life suddenly turned around and married a woman? However, when explaining his reasoning, I found it to be something actually quite relatable. After meeting and connecting with Renate, he began to worry that maybe the problems in his relationships weren’t his fault and maybe a woman could make him happy in a way a man couldn’t. He worried that he had only spent 14 years sleeping with men because he never found the right woman. While it would take a lot of cocaine to actually believe this kind of convoluted logic, I think anyone one that likes the same sex can relate to these fears. In a society where heterosexuality is the norm, it can be easy to begin to feel insecure when your relationships begin to go badly. I found this part of John’s story to be very powerful because it serves as a reminder that no matter how confident someone seems in their sexuality, they can still have the same doubts and fears as anyone else.  

Something I did not expect to get out of Elton John’s book was about building bridges, not burning them. John has performed in dangerous places for LGBT people and forged friendships with people whom you’d not expect given his sexuality. He is friends with Axl Rose, who has said some questionable things about gay men and written some homophobic lyrics. He is also Eminem’s AA sponsor who has also written homophobic lyrics. Regardless of whether these lyrics were written from their own perspective or from a persona’s, I think this is a powerful choice. While homophobia or any kind of hate shouldn’t be tolerated, I think especially with our current political atmosphere, looking at how John has created friendships with these seemingly problematic people is enlightening. Refusing to communicate or be friendly with people with different views definitely won’t make a difference in their beliefs but openness and communication might.  

Reading Me was an incredibly moving and inspiring experience. I picked up this book mainly look for a Rocketman part two type of experience. I honestly wasn’t expecting to get very much out of it. Elton John has led an amazing and success-filled life but not without many hardships along the way. Me is powerful, inspiring and a book anyone would enjoy reading.

Brittany Huff

Wisconsin '22

Brittany is a sophomore at UW-Madison studying Psychology. In her spare time, she enjoys making vegan baked goods, drinking coffee, watching horror movies, and talking about her cats. You can keep up with her on Instagram (@_brittanyhuff).
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