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Elton John, Lonely at the Top: Rolling Stone's 1976 Cover Story

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Neither will he. After a dignified solo piano concert ("possibly in tails") at the Edinburgh Cultural Festival September 17th, he says, he will resettle his house in Windsor, near London, and get down to a full plate. As he polishes off Blue Moves, a double album for November release, he will produce an album for Kiki Dee. He and lyricist Bernie Taupin. are putting together a fulllength cartoon feature of their autobiographical Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and there is talk of his playing the title role in a projected film version of Candide, the recent Broadway musical. And he will be looking after the Watford Hornets Soccer Club of which he is a fan and the proud director.

I remind him that five years ago he said nobody stays on top more than three years, and that he planned to quit working hard while he was ahead.

Are you at that point?
"Yes, there has been a peaking. Every artist comes to the same crossroads and they either cross it or they don't, and if they do they're going to come to another crossroads. I'm at that second one as far as recordings go, and hopefully I can cross it with Blue Moves. It's got a few surprises. Melodically I attribute it to the Elton John album. Lots of slow, romantic songs. and jazzy-type tinges in there. Three instrumental. But who knows, I'm not worried. That's the fun of it."

Have you included disco pop like "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"?
"No, no way. That's a complete one-off single. I was messing around in the studio one day on the electric piano and came up with the title line. I made a hasty phone call to Barbados and said, 'Write a duet,' and Taupin nearly died 'cause he'd never done one. It's very hard anyway."

Bernie and Elton wrote the current Number One single under the names "Ann Orson" and "Carte Blanche," with Elton for the first time doing part of the lyrics.

"I'd like to branch out into words. I never had the emotion in me to get it to sound right, but I think it's beginning to come. I used to be terribly 'moon' and 'June.' I've encouraged Bernie to work with other composers too, why not?"

There was a decline in sales of his last two albums. Elton, the marketing man: "Fantastic did about 2.8 million [units sold]. Rock of the Westies about 1.9 million. Here and There, the live album — a total fuckin' disaster — was to finish off a contract and it's done better than it deserved to, oh, about 860,000 copies. I think a lot of people liked the old band — Nigel and Dee really had their fans — but I don't regret Westies one instant. Fantastic was an easy thing to market and was selling well. Westies came out very soon afterward; but I knew I was taking a bit of a gamble and it was like, oh, here comes another Elton John album! [laughs] So soon. A lot of critics said it didn't have much depth to it and probably it doesn't have much depth to it. I kinda like it. Greatest Hits is on the charts still. I think it's 5 million now.

"'Bennie and the Jets' did about 2.8 million, and there's very few singles selling 2 million. 'Philadelphia Freedom' did 1.7, I think. Those two crossed over R & B..."

Talk of album grosses gives me a sense of déjà vu — it's something to do with this room we're sitting in. What is it? Elton is hunched forward, elbows to knees, feeling much better now, talking into the mike as funny little likenesses of his face watch us from a dozen gewgaws around the room. They are handmade gifts sent by fans, propped up on the mantle and tabletops: Elton smiling in oil and in tempera, Elton singing in Crayola and needlepoint, Elton carved in — then it comes to me. I'd been here in Suite 1005 before, a few times during the period David Bowie came to America for his Diamond Dogs tour and camped out in these six rooms leased by Main-Man, his production company, for one year at $60,000.

MainMan's mysterious chairman, Tony De Fries (whom Bowie later broke with amid injunctions and lawsuits), liked to sit at the windows on Fifth Avenue, enthroned behind a fake Louis XIV table, phoning transatlantic and spouting his grosses. Cherry Vanilla, the porn poetess, liked the floor by the fireplace. Mick Jagger supposedly liked the Plaza across the street but he and Bowie sat where Elton now sits and giggled about him, about "Fat Reg," the session musician they knew of from the early days in London. Currently, Bowie appears to be trying to start up a feud in Playboy, admitting in an interview that he had referred to Elton as "the Liberace, the token queen of rock." Says Bowie, "I consider myself responsible for a whole new school of pretensions — they know who they are. Don't you, Elton?"

Elton: "He was obviously a little high when he did it. David's one of those people of the moment. I mean, what is the fashion this week? What's it going to be next week? His insults to me go by the board. I think he's a silly boy."

What's a "new school of pretensions"?
"I've no idea. God, I mean, I happened before he ever happened. Bowie's a little crazed, I think. I didn't understand half the things he came out with. Heavy things about 'the rock scene,' y'know? Boring shit.

"I first met David when I took him out to dinner when he was Ziggy Stardust. We had a nice time, y'know? He was with Angie and I was with Tony King, who's now with Rocket Records. And all I remember is his horrible manager walking in with half the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and they all had dinner and left me to pay the bill. I had the feeling then that David was in for a hard time. [Meaningful glance]

"The only other time we met was at Dino Martin's party when I was with John Lennon and David was so stoned that I don't think he remembers. He was out of it completely. I don't think I've seen him since. We really can't say we have a feud going, although he obviously doesn't like me very much. I'm not being bitchy, I just think ..."

A stout chambermaid had come silently into the room and stood over the coffee table, taking her time buffing empty ashtrays. Noticing this, Elton stopped in midsentence and grinned, then cocked his head in a way that said, "Get her? Eavesdropping on el rock & roll star, eh?"

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