Below is the transcript from Parkinson's Sept. 16 show, featuring Elton, Bernie and two ''Little Britain'' stars. Among the topics are the excitement Elton still feels when he releases new music; his ''Bette Davis'' moment when he was stuck in traffic with an uncomfortable towering wig for his 50th birthday, and Bernie's tendency to compose lyrics before coming up with a title.
Elton John Transcript
Michael: Welcome, on the show tonight those talented mavericks from the world of comedy, creators of Little Britain, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Also we celebrate one of the great partnerships of popular music, two men who have written the incidental music to our lives over the past forty years, the lyricist Bernie Taupin and we'll meet Bernie later in the programme. The man who writes the music is one of the most charismatic rock stars but much more than that he's one of the great entertainers of our time. Ladies and gentlemen, Elton John. (Applause)
Michael: I think you can safely say you'll be alright for an hour or so here! In good company. Do you, I don't know what this umpteenth record, the forty somethingth album you've made, The Captain and the Kid, this latest one. Does it get any, is the excitement the same, is it going to be a hit is it going to be a flop? Is it the same?
Elton:I think the fear is always there when you make a new record or you write a new song. And if the fear isn't there then the excitement's gone and you should be doing something else. I'll be sixty next year and I haven't lost any of the enthusiasm for music or making music or writing music since Bernie and I first started. And we've been together forty years next year. So every album you make you're holding your breath and hoping that it will come up because you don't really know. You sit at the piano with a bunch of songs and you hope that something good comes out of it. This one was a little different because like Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy which was the predecessor thirty-one years ago. It's autobiographical and it was written in running order and it concerns me so I was heavily involved in the songs and the emotion of the songs so that made it a little easier.
Michael: So, sixty. Does it find you in, I suppose ambitious, but reflective mood?
Elton:I'm in a happy mood. I'm very happy personally, very happy professionally and I get to do different things other than my career. I mean I have the Elton John career but I get to do things like Billy Elliot and I get to do things like write with the Scissor Sisters, which is number one this week and so I've got a very varied life. Life couldn't be better, it's been a long journey to find happiness but I'm really, really happy.
Michael: Is mellow a word we could ever use about you? ( Elton laughs) I mean is it a tantrum-free zone now, Elton John ?
Elton:Um, I don't really have that many tantrums, there was one documented at Taiwan Airport I do believe!
Michael: What were the circumstances?
Elton:Oh we arrived there and we were ambushed by the press who told us they didn't want us in their country and we had to walk about a mile and a half. It was a very unpleasant experience. I didn't know that is was going out live on national television of course! (Laughter) I am a bit of a lightening rod because as you get older you do tend to speak your mind more, you do too.
Elton:And it gets you into trouble or it courts controversy.
Michael: So how is George Michael then?
Elton: George is great. (Laughter) I haven't seen him since Hampstead Heath! (Laughter) No George and I are fine. All that bit when he came on your television, they completely made a complete rubbish out of that. George and I are fine, he came and stayed down at my house last year, we're fine.
Michael: I've always imagined that too that in your retirement what you might do - I know you've talked about having a retirement home and filling it with friends. But I'd imagined that you could fill it with George and Pete Doherty and people like that, problem people.
Elton:I like to help people. I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict so one of the things you have to do if you are sober and in recovery is try and help people who need help and I've done that to several people. It's whether they listen or not that's the thing. You can tell people till you're blue in the face. It's when they're ready, people told me time and time and time again that I was a nightmare. And I was a nightmare, I had a huge problem but I wouldn't listen. There's a line in one of the songs on the new album that says, 'You couldn't tell me I was wrong, you couldn't tell me anything, but if you did I must have lost it on the wind.' And everybody finds, when they're ready for it they find their own way.
Michael: What was that moment with you though? Was there one thing that precipitated it? Was it an event?
Elton:I as confronted by someone who I was in a relationship with. I had also been at the funeral of Ryan White, I'd been there for the last week of his life in Indianapolis and I grew very close to the Ryan White family and I realised then that my life was horrible and how out of balance it was and how ungrateful I was for everything. And it was six months after that that I got sober and it's been sixteen years and they've been some of the happiest years I've had in my life.
Michael: When you look back on that time from where you are now. Are you able to assess what you were and what was happening to you? Are you able to put it in a compartment and is there nothing left of that now?
Elton:There's nothing left of that now. There's a tendency that's always lurking inside you if you're an addict, you tend to want to run away from stuff, to run away and hide things like that. It never goes away completely but looking back on it now I am a completely different person. Let me put it frankly if you take drugs the real person disappears and a monster comes out. And it's not the real person so you take the choice. Some people can take drugs recreationally and it has no effect on them, I have an addictive personality, I can't have one of anything and I certainly couldn't have one line of cocaine or anything. So it became a problem for me and as a result of it I didn't become a very nice person.
Michael: Now you mentioned Billy Elliot. And I've seen the show twice and it's a knockout show. It's going to America soon isn't it?
Michael: But let's first of all talk about, when you saw the movie what was it about that movie that made you think, I want to write a musical about this.
Elton:Well it's a bit like more story or anyone who aims to be in show business or loves music. I sought the approval of my dad and in the end I got it, it took a long time. And that's the story of Billy in the film as well. He wanted the approval of his dad and in the end he's there in the box in the Royal Opera House at the end of the film and it just struck a chord with me and it was very similar circumstances. And I was sitting at the Cannes Film Festival, sobbing in the cinema and had to be escorted out by a few people! (Laughter) And we went upstairs for the party and David said, 'This would make a great musical.' And even though there was great music in the film I thought there was great scope to make it even more political than the movie was.
Michael: Do you still go and see it?
Elton:Oh absolutely because the hardest thing is that the boys change every six months and Liam who was our youngest boy is finishing in October and we now have a black Billy, a Chinese Billy and an American Billy. And so there's a constant infusion of talent and energy into the show. And it's quite extraordinary and we'll take it to America in 2008, we're work-shopping it now for America , we'll change it slightly, we'll improve it. What we want to do is improve it, we're taking it to Australia next year and it will run for a year in Sydney, a year in Melbourne, as is. But for America we're going to beef it up a bit.
Michael: Well for America it will need explaining more won't it. The nuance, the miners, Maggie Thatcher, the north-country thing.
Elton:Well what we're going to have to do, there's a film at the beginning of the show about the miners strike and Herbert Morris and all those people. What we're going to have to do is get rid of that and show Mrs. Thatcher because the bridge and tunnel people will come in and not know who she is. The bridge and tunnel people don't even know where Mexico is! (Laughter)
Michael: Now your sixtieth birthday is coming up. Are you going to celebrate like your fiftieth? I hope not, do you remember that furnace you had to get into?
Elton:Well for my hair.
Michael: You were dressed as Madame La Pompidore or something?
Elton:I wasn't Madame La Pompidore, I was Mademoiselle La Pompidore thank you very much! (Laughter) Cheek! It would have been alright but the driver took the wrong turning. It's only a very short distance from my house in Holland Park to the Hammersmith Palais but he took the wrong turning and it took us an hour and a half and I had this hair that was held on with knitting needles, glue, chewing gum. And I looked like Marge Simpson , every time the van stopped my hair would go boink. (Laughter) And I was in such a state by the time we got there. It was a Bette Davis moment, as I was lowered down from the truck it was like (grimaces and then smiles and waves). (Laughter) Never again. I'm going to be celebrating my sixtieth in New York .
Michael: Excellent. Now tell me about, let's go back to the album. You say it's autobiographical and it starts at the point when you go to America .
Elton:Yes it does. The original album was all about dealing with failure. And this album is about dealing with success. And how hard that was sometimes.
Michael: So it's autobiographical, so what is The Bridge about then?
Elton:Well The Bridge is about having the courage and the will power to carry on. Certain artists, you can really adapt it to any situation in life but this was about our song writing. There had been time when people said, 'they're breaking up' and we hadn't been breaking up and it's the will to go on until you've reached a certain point of excellence and you know you have a great back catalogue and that you're really secure in what you've done. A lot of groups and artists break up because of in-fighting and they don't stay together, a lot of song-writing partnerships don't last. As I say we're forty years, and it's about having the leap of faith, being scared. Fear is what it's all about, the fear of doing something new and different. Trying to find the perfect song, you're never going to find the perfect song, but you still have to have the where with all to try and do it.
Michael: Right well all those areas we'll explore with Bernie later on when he comes on. But first of all, let's hear the song. This is The Bridge, from the album The Captain and the Kid. Ladies and gentlemen, Elton John . (Applause)
Bernie Taupin Transcript
Michael: Let's now celebrate that musical partnership we talked about before the break. One that goes back forty years producing a constant flow of hits. Ladies and gentlemen, the man who writes the words for Elton John 's hits, ladies and gentlemen, Bernie Taupin. (Applause)
Michael: So you've been together forty years eh?
Bernie: I'd just like to say, it's going to be very difficult to do a serious interview with those two sitting there, I'll just have to not look at you.
Matt: Well we'll not look at you either! ( Matt turns away) (Laughter)
Michael: So let's talk about this collaboration. So when you first met it was the mid sixties? It was tin pan alley wasn't it?
Bernie: Sixty-seven actually. I came down from Lincolnshire answering the infamous NME ad from Liberty Records.
Michael: And was there a sense when you met that you were right for each other?
Bernie: I think it was a sense of desperation because each of us had what the other one needed. So I wrote down what I felt were a hotch potch of contemporary lyrics at the time, which were very infused by psychedelia, you know it was the time of Sergeant Pepper and a Lighter Shade of Pale, so I did very pale versions of those kind of lyrics and Elton, to his credit thought that he couldn't come up with those kind of goods and I couldn't come up with a melody so I think it was just experimenting and finding kindred spirits.
Michael: So you've said that sometimes he doesn't understand the lyrics.
Bernie: Well I think that's got a little blown out of proportion. But there was one time that I can't remember the specific song but being on the side of the stage and maybe ten years after we'd written a song and him coming off stage and saying, 'I've just realised what that songs about.' So I suppose that's it in a nutshell.
Michael: Well usually it's the music first and then the words after but in your case it works exactly the opposite way round.
Bernie: I don't know, it just worked. Over the course of the last forty years we have occasionally tried to do it the other way round but for some reason it never really worked as well. There are occasions where he's come up with a melody and I think Sorry Seem To Be the Hardest Word. I think part of the melody came first and the title came to me but you know, generally it's been lyrics first.
Elton: It's great because you never know what you're going to get next. You're not slaving over, what shall we write next? I'm sitting there not knowing what bunch of lyrics I'm gonna get unless we're doing something for a musical or like with Captain and the Kid it's autobiographical so you know there's going to be a certain concept there which involves you. I never know what I'm going to get.
Michael: And when you get it does the tune immediately start in your head?
Elton: No it doesn't start until I get into the studio. I mean Bernie's become much more musical, he's made his own albums, he's toured with his own band so now he comes to me with a set of lyrics and says, 'I have an idea that this should be like this or that.' So it's got a bit more sophisticated over the years. But we still haven't written a song in the same room, ever.
Matt: Have you ever met before?!
David: Do you discuss the theme of the album?
Bernie: Well I was going to say, over the years there's been a lot of urban myths about certain songs that we've written and the way that we write. And one of them is that I write, I send him the lyrics and that's it. But that is wrong, I think it gives people the wrong idea. And especially now, ever since Songs From the West Coast I think we've reinvented the way that we write and I will actually go to Elton with a body of work and we will sit down and I won't give him melodic ideas but I will say, I see this as sort of Ray Charles' or 'Maybe this is a little like Every Breath You Take kind of thing.'
Elton: For example, The Bridge which I did earlier on, he said, 'This has got to be simple, just piano and voice.' And he's absolutely right, I mean except for the choral bit in the middle I did it piano and voice and he was dead on with that and it couldn't have been done any other way, it's such a beautiful lyric.
Michael: It's interesting the way that you diverged even while you've collaborated for all these years. I mean you've lived the life of a cowboy, you have a ranch and you embraced that kind of lifestyle.
Bernie: It's sort of the difference between the original album and this album. Somebody asked me what's the difference between your character on the original album and this one? And I said, well I've become what, on the original album, I wanted to be.
Elton: It's been an amazing life. We haven't had any stand-up screaming rows. We've both led completely different lives, the way we like to lead our lives. We're both different in certain ways but we're certainly... He was the brother that I never had and when he came down from Lincolnshire and we did live in my parents' flat and we shared a tiny room, in bunkbeds and we'd listen to our cds on headphones.
Bernie: On vinyl.
Elton: Yeah, but we'd pay on the Littlewoods club book on HP, we paid for it each week. Americans say, 'What is that sauce?' No, it's hire purchase. But it's an amazing relationship between two people that aren't really a lot alike.
Bernie: Well I think that's our saving grace. I think if we were two peas in a pod, as it says in Tinderbox, about rubbing up together, we knew when it was time to take a break from each other, which we did for a short period of time. And I think we just knew that it was inherent in us to know OK we've gone, we were at a point where we couldn't top what we'd done. And I think if we didn't take a break it would have imploded.
Elton: Are you listening fellas? (To Matt and David )
Michael: Well I was gonna say.
Elton: It's similar, they are a definite partnership and you have to give. The great thing you said was while David was off swimming you went to do filming. You have to give each other the freedom to do, give them artistic license. You cannot say you work with me and you work with me only. That is the end.
David: That's why we didn't try and swim the Channel together! (Laughter)
Michael: But how do you deal with these tensions?
David: Well it's slightly different for us because we're both performers so we've both got slightly bigger egos than Bernie who has probably not got such a big ego as Sir Elton ! (Laughter)
Bernie: I wouldn't necessarily count on that!
Michael: But can you imagine yourself in forty years time in this partnership?
Matt: Well I personally think that we've been through so much together that I hope we will be.
David: I don't! (Laughter) No we only had one argument while we toured because as part of the show I have to kiss Matt, quite passionately, and it's a beautiful moment. And I hadn't shaved.
Matt: And I was getting a rash!
David: And so we argued about that. Do you ever had that kind of argument?!
Elton: Funnily enough we've never kissed.
David: You've never kissed on the lips.
Elton: Never no. People tried to think it was that kind of relationship but it never was.
David: Even for fun?
Elton: No that's not Bernie 's idea of fun!
Matt: But when we started working together I was doing a lot of work with Vic and Bob and David was doing a lot of serious acting and a lot of writing. He used to write for Ant and Dec.
Michael: Did you, in their heyday?
David: Well no, in their early days when they weren't very successful! (Laughter) They did a show on BBC. Yeah it's a lovely thing when you have that chemistry with someone.
Elton: And sharing it with someone, that's the lovely thing. That's the thing for me, that we've shared something, if I'd have done it on my own I wouldn't have lasted so long because it's not as enjoyable and it's a lonely road. And when you've got someone, even if they're thousands of miles away, who you can depend on and you can trust for an honest opinion, who you can share it with, it makes it all so much more worthwhile.
Michael: Well you mentioned Tinderbox that Elton 's going to sing. And so what part of the relationship does this deal with, what is this about?
Bernie: Well funnily enough Tinderbox deals with the lead into what The Bridge becomes. Tinderbox is about the point that we were just talking about where there was a point in our careers in the mid seventies, after the Captain Fantastic album went straight to number one and it was the first album to do that and then we followed that with two more albums that did the same and Elton was one of the first people to play stadiums and you know you couldn't go anywhere without hearing Elton, Elton, Elton. And it becomes really frightening and there's the metaphor for being in each other's lives and I hadn't really developed a life because I was on the road with him year after year.
Matt: Sorry to interrupt but did you ever write a lyric that you poured your heart and soul into and then he performed it dressed as Donald Duck?
Bernie: Well exactly I'm sure that he'd tell you that that was something that never impressed me! (Laughter)
Michael: We'll talk some more and Elton will now perform Tinderbox.
( Elton performs Tinderbox) (Applause)