Bernie Taupin Breaks Down His Massive Lyric Manuscript Auction - Rolling Stone
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Bernie Taupin Breaks Down His Massive Lyric Manuscript Auction

The lyricist also talks about Elton’s farewell tour, their future plans and writing “We Built This City” for Starship

Songwriter/artist Bernie Taupin on September 15, 2016 in Los Angeles.Songwriter/artist Bernie Taupin on September 15, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Elton John's lyricist Bernie Taupin explains why he's auctioning off a large part of his lyric manuscripts.

Barry King/Getty Images

UPDATE: Bernie Taupin’s manuscript of lyrics sold at auction this weekend, with Taupin’s original working lyrics for “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” ($17,500), hand-painted lyrics to “Tiny Dancer” ($16,000) and the working lyrics to “Candle in the Wind 1997” ($10,000) among the lot’s items receiving the highest bids.

Bernie Taupin isn’t a sentimental person. For the past five decades, the Elton John lyricist had been writing lyrics on random sheets of paper and then throwing the manuscripts into a large oaken chest once they were fleshed out as demos. Original drafts of hits like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “I’m Still Standing” rested haphazardly on top of wonderful obscurities like “Rotten Peaches” and “Talking Old Soldiers,” and never once did Taupin even bother to browse through his massive collection to see what had survived and what had fallen through the cracks. “I felt no need to maintain the collection,” he says. “Going through everything was too massive to even consider.”

But a little over a year ago, Taupin and his wife Heather decided to sell their enormous ranch in Santa Ynez, California and downsize to a smaller property that would be easier to manage. It felt like a good time to part ways with not just his collection of lyric manuscripts, but also boxes of gold records, award statues, guitars and other mementos from his long life in the spotlight. Most of them have been collecting dust in boxes for years since he’s not the kind of guy to turn his home into a shrine to himself. “I could have rented some storage space, but what happens then is like Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he says. “It just gets pushed into a cubbyhole and it stays there and sometime in the future your kids dig it out and they go ‘What do we do with it? There’s so much of it.'”

Bernie Taupin's Icons & Idols: Rock "n" Roll auction booklet.

Bernie Taupin’s Icons & Idols: Rock “n” Roll auction booklet. Photo: Julien’s Auctions

Julien's Auctions

Instead, he decided to reach out to Julien’s Auctions so the items could be owned by people that will appreciate them. The Personal Property of Bernie Taupin auction will take place November 9th at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York and online at “I’m not nostalgic so I’d rather put it out there and let the people that have followed us for over 50 years have them,” he says. “Those people are going to cherish it a lot more than I did. And obviously, I wanted some of the proceeds to go to Elton’s foundations and some of the proceeds to go to the Wounded Warrior Project.”

He’s well-aware that cynics out there will think this auction is actually a sign that he’s broke, but he just laughs when that idea is brought up. “You’re powerless in this day and age to contradict anybody,” he says. “Did they say that about Bob Dylan when he sold his stuff? How about Neil Young? Ringo Starr? All these people have had massive auctions that were much bigger than this. I guess then that we’re all broke!” (Taupin owns half the publishing on nearly every single famous Elton John song outside of the Lion King soundtrack, guaranteeing him a substantial yearly income.)

Bernie Taupin's lyrics for "I'm Still Standing", up for auction. Photo: Julien's Auctions

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “I’m Still Standing,” up for auction. Photo: Julien’s Auctions

Julien's Auctions

Right now, Taupin is seated in the basement of the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square going through the auction catalog. Nearly every page brings out a memory. It begins with some of his earliest lyric manuscripts, like “Slow Fade To Burn” and “The Year of the Teddy Bear.” Many of them have handwritten annotations by Elton. “These to me are very, very important because while some of them are incredibly immature and childish, there’s a certain naiveté to them that I find endearing,” he says, “especially the ones that have Elton’s annotations on the sides.”

Taupin didn’t hold back many things from the auction house, but he couldn’t part with “Scarecrow,” the first song he ever wrote with Elton. “That was really important to me,” he says. “Much more to me than any of the big hits.” (The song was referenced in “Curtains,” a song they wrote for Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in 1975. “I used to know this old scarecrow/He was my song/My joy and sorrow.” Those lines also appear in “Scarecrow.”)

When you flip through a few more pages, you get to more famous tunes like “The King Must Die,” “Bad Side of the Moon” and “High Flying Bird.” At this point he was writing them by hand rather than the typewriter from the early days. By Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, many of the lyrics are written at an odd angle down the page. “When I write, I play chords with a guitar,” he says. “So the pad is always at the side like that since I’m basically writing sideways.”

Bernie Taupin's handwritten lyrics, up for auction.

Bernie Taupin’s handwritten lyrics, up for auction. Photo Julien’s Auctions

Not all of the songs were written for Elton. Taupin also dug out the manuscripts for Heart’s “These Dreams” and Starship’s “We Built This City.” The latter has been named as one of the worst songs of all time. “It’s been a good little money-earner,” says Taupin. “So I’m not going to knock it. The original demo was a very dark song about how the clubs in L.A. were closing and this was my statement about it. Peter Wolf took it into the study and made it into this pop anthem. Hey, good luck to him. That was great. Thank you very much.”

Near the end of the catalog you come across more eclectic items like a couple of rodeo trophies, an engraved lighter, a money clip and a set of knives. (They don’t call him the Brown Dirt Cowboy for nothing.) There’s also the leather chair he used when writing most of his songs over the past 25 years and vintage tan boots that he wore steadily over the past five decades. “Those boots are really interesting,” he says. “I bought them around 1969 in the town near where I was born and I wore them until a couple of years ago. They literally fit me to this day.”

One reason he decided to auction off the items now is because Elton just kicked off his farewell tour and he thought the two events would create a nice synergy. Taupin was in the audience on opening night in Allentown, Pennsylvania and he’s also seen the show in New York and Philadelphia. “Our family has made a very definitive commitment to be at as many shows as possible,” he says. “I want my kids to experience this since they never will be able to again. I want them to be there in the moment. He might do a residency somewhere when it ends, but this is absolutely the last tour.”

Bernie Taupin's lyrics for "Candle In The Wind", up for auction. Photo Julien's Auctions

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “Candle In The Wind,” up for auction. Photo: Julien’s Auctions

Julien's Auctions

That doesn’t mean that the duo won’t continue to write songs together. Just last week, Taupin wrote new lyrics for a song to play over the end credits of the upcoming Elton John biopic Rocket Man that they plan on recording in the next month. “Making music is just what we do,” he says. “I can’t understand why someone like Billy Joel stopped. It just makes no sense to me, but that is his business and I respect his wishes. But we just have to do it. It’s a God-given blessing that enables us to still be able to create. We’re going to take advantage of it as long as we can.”

In This Article: Bernie Taupin, Elton John


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