Bernie Taupin Talks Rock Hall Induction and Being in the Spotlight: ‘I’m Not Exactly Howard Hughes’
When Elton John was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, he brought his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin onstage and handed him his award. “I feel cheating standing up here because without Bernie, there wouldn’t have been any Elton John at all,” he said. “And I would like him to come up and I would like to give this to him.”
This fall, nearly 30 years later, Taupin will finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame on his own, in a class rounded out by Sheryl Crow, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson, Missy Elliott, Rage Against the Machine, George Michael, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, Link Wray, DJ Kool Herc, and Don Cornelius. When we ask Taupin if he’ll reverse history and hand his award to John this time, the 72-year-old lyricist erupts in laughter. “I never thought about that!” he says. “Um …no!”
First of all, congratulations.
Well, thank you. There were rumblings of it weeks ago, but then Jody Gerson from Universal was the one that actually called and told me. I know she’d been going to bat for me. [There’s] actually a bunch of people I should give credit to: obviously, John Sykes, David Furnish, and Elton himself. I think he wrote a letter of commendation [laughs].
So it wasn’t 100 perceny surprising, but I was flattered that apparently a lot of people involved in the voting were surprised that I wasn’t already in there. That was maybe one of the reasons that I hadn’t been considered before. I don’t know how the mechanics of that whole thing work, and I’d probably rather not know. I’m just happy that it’s happened, and at my age, I don’t get terribly excited about things. “Excited” is not a word I tend to use too much, but I’m very appreciative of the whole thing. It’s nice to be in a club with so many legends and so much history.
It’s a major oversight that you weren’t already in, but I know you’re a low-key guy. Is this something you even wanted?
It’s funny. You can be very cynical about awards and say all the cliché things like, “Oh, I don’t care about them,” but then you see all of your contemporaries in there, you go, “Well, it’d be kind of nice to be part of that organization.” So I’m thankful for that. When you are in the same club as Little Richard and Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, you can’t complain.
Let’s talk about your class this year. It’s a pretty wide-ranging field, from Rage Against the Machine to Missy Elliott. How do you feel about them?
I’m happy that I’m in this year, because I think it is an incredibly diverse group. Sheryl and Willie. I love that the Spinners are in. Link Wray is fantastic. Diversity is great. People have pointed fingers at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but along with any other organizations — like the Grammys or the Academy Awards — we can all use diversity. Especially with the Hall of Fame. I’m glad that women are getting a much bigger shout-out, because I think if anybody has been marginalized in the Hall of Fame, it’s definitely women. Not so much artists of color, because all of the great classic soul, R&B artists, and blues artists, they’ve all been honored. How many women are in this time?
There’s four: Kate, Sheryl, Missy, and Chaka Khan.
Right, Chaka is finally in. I read that she’s been up for nomination several times. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it. I love that Al Kooper’s been recognized. I remember when Al and I were first coming up and first came to the states. Al Kooper was a giant, and it seems like now people of a certain age group don’t even know who he is. A bit like Leon Russell. So it’s great in my book that these people are now recognized.
Along with Al, I feel like Link Wray is also unknown to this generation.
I love Link Wray. The fact that “Rumble” was banned in its day … it wasn’t played on the radio because people thought it was a sexually deviant form of music. That’s one you can ask Pete Townshend about. Pete’s a huge Link Wray fan, so I think they should get Pete to induct him. But that’s just my take on it.
What about Kate Bush? Are you a fan?
I’m thrilled that Kate Bush got in. I was a little afraid that she wouldn’t make the cut, simply because I don’t think people are aware of her groundbreaking credibility in the way that they do in Europe. And I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the whole resurgence of “Running Up That Hill” and Stranger Things, which I’ve never seen in my life. But you can’t escape that kind of media frenzy. I’m happy that everybody’s in, but there’s a special place in my heart for the fact that Kate Bush has got in.
As a songwriter, what’s your opinion on Warren Zevon being consistently snubbed?
Yeah, that’s a little strange. I don’t know how many times he’s been up for nomination, but it seems odd, simply because he’s got a lot of strong support, like David Letterman. I’ve got no answer for it, really. It’s mysterious. But that happens over the years. You go, “Whoa, wait a second. Are you telling me that so-and-so is not in there?” I think that’s the same thing that happened with me. I can’t imagine him not making the cut in the next couple of years. It would seem obscene if he didn’t.
During Elton’s acceptance speech in 1994, he brought you onstage and handed you his award. Did you know he was going to do that?
No, I had no idea. I was just there to support him and be there for him. It was a complete surprise. And the fact that he gave me the award was an even bigger surprise and caused a lot of consternation in certain circles for many years because people just assumed, “Well, why do we need to induct him? He’s already gotten the award.”
You literally took the award home, right?
Yeah, I did. And in fact, I’ve still got it, and they replaced it years later. But again, as I say, certain parties assumed that I had his award, so I didn’t need one myself. But that’s all in the past, so I won’t hold grudges. Just a little bit, maybe.
Do you think Elton will induct you?
Oh, I can’t even get into that because I don’t know his schedule. In fact, I’m due to have a conference call with a couple of people today, so I can’t go on record and commit to that because I don’t know. He is a busy guy. If he doesn’t, I’m sure there’s plenty of people I know that would jump at the chance.
Have you been to other Rock Hall ceremonies besides Elton’s?
I was there when the Beatles got inducted [in 1988]. I remember when Mike Love went off. I’ve been to the ones that happened before it was televised and the public was invited, which was a whole different kind of atmosphere. In some ways, I kind of preferred it, because it made it more like a private club. But I can see you have to move with the times. Obviously with social media being what it is now, it would be impossible to keep it the way it was.
Will it be weird for you to be in the spotlight? That’s usually not your thing.
[Laughs] Well, let’s wait and see. I mean, I’ve been onstage at the Academy Awards. I’ve been onstage at the Songwriters Hall of Fame three times — twice inducted for different things and to induct Willie Dixon [in 2015]. So I’m OK in the spotlight. But I don’t want to spend too much time there. I don’t like living in a fishbowl by any means, but I’m not exactly Howard Hughes or Greta Garbo.
Tell me about your upcoming memoir, Scattershot.
I’m just in the process of signing 6,000 inserts. I’m sitting next to a huge box of galleys here, so it’s nice to get it and actually look at it and see it in real book form. I’m absolutely thrilled with it. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. If I died tomorrow, I’d be happy that I left this behind.
I think the first words of the book are something like, “I never planned to write an A to Z autobiography,” which it definitely isn’t. It’s linear to a point. But then just as the title of the book says, it goes all over the place geographically and in time. I couldn’t adhere to doing it in the traditional way. So it’s not your normal rock slog through somebody’s life. It’s definitely very different and I think it’ll surprise a lot of people.
Elton’s tour ends in July. Are you going to be at the last show?
No, because it’s in Scandinavia. They’re in Germany now. And at one point, I thought of maybe going over for the Glastonbury thing, but that’s a lot of work for me, and I’ve got so much on my plate here with the book and other things that I’m working on. So I don’t know if I’m going to be able to.
Are you going to make a new album with him after the tour?
Yeah, we’re definitely going to do that. We’ve got some plans laid that can’t really be discussed right now because they’re not finalized and solidified yet, but I think the best I can say is yes, we’re definitely going to be going in the studio by the end of the year.
He’s also said he wants to do a residency where he plays his rare songs. Have you guys talked about that?
Yeah, briefly. I think that’s a great idea. I think the misconception … people keep saying this, and I think it’s an incredibly stupid question to ask. They say, “Oh, but is he going to just take a year off and then go back on the road and say, ‘I’m going to do a final, final tour?'” Well, I think if you have any sort of intelligence at all, you’re going to know that that would be absolutely suicidal on his part. People would just rake him over the coals and crucify him if he did that. So to make it short and final, he is not going to go on the road again. He’s not going to tour.
But having said that, that doesn’t mean that he won’t possibly do a residency in London or possibly New York or L.A., where he can be with his family. He really wants to contribute to see his sons grow up. And I understand that completely, because I’m completely in tune with that. He can perform, just not the grueling agenda of going on the road geographically. It’s brutal. He’s getting older. The idea of sitting down and doing a residency, but letting people know you’re not going to hear “Crocodile Rock” or “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” You’re going to hear “I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)” or “Amoreena.” I think it would be incredibly liberating for him. He’s a born showman, but as long as it appeals to his family life, it’s possibly predictable.
I would really love anything from Tumbleweed Connection.
Wouldn’t we all?