There are many reasons for Elton John fans to check out the upcoming movie Rocketman. The fantasy musical is a wonderful showcase for the music that John created with Bernie Taupin during the past 50 years, and Taron Egerton does a magnificent job singing everything from “Your Song” to “Amoreena” and “Crocodile Rock.” The film tells the story of Elton’s life from his days as a child piano prodigy to his commercial breakthrough in 1970 all the way to his life-changing stint in rehab 20 years later.
But fans that walk into the theater hoping to see history as it actually happened will be extremely disappointed. As Rocketman director Dexter Holland explained to Rolling Stone, that wasn’t what he cared about when he created the film. “What I care about,” he says, “is capturing the moment cinematically and musically.”
That means that Elton John performs “Crocodile Rock” at his legendary Troubadour 1970 show even though the song wouldn’t be written for another two years. He also sings a bit of 1983’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” when he auditions for a music publisher in 1967, creates “Border Song” three years before it actually happened, marries Renate Blauel years before the event took place, and so on and so forth. It would be easy for a fact-checker to dissect nearly every scene in the movie, but that would really be missing the point. There are countless Elton John books and documentaries to consult if you just want to learn history. Rocketman is about creating a cinematic experience that captures the emotional arc of Elton’s saga.
That said, it’s worth looking at what actually happened when Elton and Bernie first met. As the movie shows, they were paired up by music publisher Ray Williams of Liberty Records after they both responded to an ad looking for new talent. But it took them three grueling years before they started producing the sort of songs that made them one of the most successful songwriting duos in music history. The first song they teamed up on was “Scarecrow,” which you can hear right here. When Taupin looked back on their early days on the Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy song “Curtains,” he began with a reference to the song: “I used to know this old Scarecrow/He was my song/My joy and sorrow.”
Last last year, Taupin parted with many of his original lyric manuscripts as part of a giant auction at Julien’s. He had no trouble giving up “I’m Still Still Standing,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “Rotten Peaches,” but when he came across his original draft of “Scarecrow” he simply couldn’t let it go. “That was really important to me,” he said. “Much more to me than any of the big hits.”