Bernie. He always seem to get possibly the good end of the deal, getting a nice little earner form the old lyrics game and being able to do with his life as he wants. A proper job some might say! Working on his ranch, being able to walk down the street and still have the satisfaction and knowledge of having put pen to paper to some of the great ones. In the early days he had the fringe benefits of the rock star lifestyle, without the hard work involved of actually performing each night. Being able to travel with Elton on tour and see the world gave us some insights from him in he early days and later on. Sick City being one of the most telling, more about it in another post. But like all travelling roadshows at the time, the pitfalls were there. They being the trail blazers of that new found lifestyle, the jest rock star swinging into each city and becoming that metropolis's god for a day. Or for however long they were there for. None of us know what that's like until you experience it...I haven't and I don't know many, if any, that have either. Unless some very famous people are reading this...so we don't know how we'd react if we became part of that world. But you can be sure we'd change...for better or worse is a moot point. Joe Walsh may have had tongue in cheek when he said Life's Been Good in 1978, but there was a lot of truth in what he said...
'It's tough to handle
This fortune and fame
Everybody's so different
I' haven't changed'
But Bernie certainly did change. As of course did Elton. The 1976 tour essentially ended as a circus. Elton more into acting the showman and completely neglecting the basics, piano, voice and song. Bernie had become a more than regular drinker and use of other such naughty things. Along with the White Lady...but the basic and fundamental relationship was under strain and had to be put on hold. The songwriting aspect was going askew, June and Moon as the later example suggest was now a lyrical possibility. Albeit temporarily, but still a break nonetheless.
Perspective arises here a lot on this blog, looking at something with the narrative of being there and then looking back on the same subject is fascinating. Do the rose tints shade the truth? Well not when Bernie is around...the two songs I've singled out from purely a lyrical point are I Cry At Night (1978) and Tinderbox (2006). Both dealing with that late '76 till mid '79 when the writing partnership resumed at full pelt. Bernie at this point having his belly full of the contemporary rocker, Ego being his less than cryptic message to them all. This vacant like an empty shell period when Elton and Bernie worked with their different writing partners was both needed and ultimately a long term bonus. But the personal toll the lifestyle took on Bernie is evident. Marriage run aground on the rocks and all hands lost. The 'Lipstick Lies' surely a less than coded way of detailing Mrs. Taupins untruths. He all alone...the rock and roll bandwagon's wheels had come off. We can only imagine how that sudden stop after a decade felt. Whether it be by choice or by outside influences, the impact of the lights on and then suddenly going out was frightening. The future as uncertain as your way out of the darkness. What to do next, if there's even a next. Needless to say, the separating of the roads briefly took place. From each other and the whole lifestyle package. The pressure cooker of a dome they existed in was reaching exploding point. But as we know the smell of the greasepaint and the heat of the light's drew them back, at least Elton to the stage anyway. Bernie from thereon in taking less opublci backseat, the limelight's all yours Elton I'm sure he would have said. Elton's solo performance of this song is stark, cold as the content but hot in the sincerity he gives to Bernie's lyrics. When he sings about Bernie's experiences, they're not a million miles from his own...
Tinderbox looks back to 30 years earlier. From the elder, wiser viewpoint. But has the story changed or the way it's told? No. No spin. No twisting of the facts. It's there in plain English
'We were coasting on a winning streak
We were kings until the power failed'
Bernie told us how he felt in 1977/78, that's the reason why in the lines above. The sudden impact at terminal velocity. The recognition by both parties that the 'Tinderbox' that they both existed in, the inverse of a biodome, because it was full of poison and wrong influences which ultimately would have rendered the partnership a corpse if they hadn't backed off. Almost as far away as possible, Mexico and Saville Row being more than a Stone's Throw from each other. The lyric is brutally honest, both are of course. The feeling at the time and the feelings later are both the same. Time put the break into perspective, but when I Cry At Night was penned that future was unwritten. When Tinderbox was written the past had unfolded. But the feelings and emotions felt by Bernie at the time hadn't dulled or become any more romantic. Not that they were in any way romantic in the first place...because if they hadn't these final lines wouldn't have been an unfilled prophecy, they'd have been a statement. Of fact...
'We've gotta climb out of the other one's pocket
Or we're gonna burn out on this beautiful rocket'
Elton's melody is the perfect backdrop to the lyrics, not a mournful or doom laden line. The actual moment he is singing about is a crisis, in both songs. The earlier song is an immediate one, even the writer doesn't know the outcome. But in Tinderbox Elton knows the ending...because he was in it...so he can rightly feel that he's (and Bernie) have triumphed in coming out. They could see the signs, they didn't have to read the tea leaves and the tarots, and were able to take evasive action. Otherwise if they hadn't done so, it would have ended there and then. 'Things are gonna have to change' in order to ensure the music 'goes on breathing'....