Taupin’s Timely Tome ‘Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton, and Me’

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 26, 2023
Scattershot hits its mark with tales of music, wild characters, and unforgettable moments

Bernie Taupin, Sir Elton John’s lifelong lyrical collaborator, steps out from the 22nd row to share his account of the 55-years-and-counting creative relationship between the duo, and just about everything else in his adventurous life. Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton, and Me is much more than a companion piece to 2019’s biopic Rocketman,or John’s autobiography Me, Taupin’s memoir moves at his own pace in chronicling moments major and minor in his life and career – from wild, drunken parties in Hollywood, to coming up with the concepts and words for such indelible hits as “Rocket Man,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Your Song,” and “I’m Still Standing,” to working with cut horses as a cowboy in Santa Ynez. 

Praise for the book has been effusive. Pete Townshend called it “Orgasmic… Divine… a name-dropper fan’s delight,” while Cameron Crowe termed Scattershot, “miraculous… hilarious and so emotionally true… like a letter from a cherished friend.”

Scattershot is being published on the eve of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”turning 50 in October, and Taupin’s belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame set for November (Elton is expected to do the honors in person). Taupin will sign copies at Chaucer’s Books, where he frequently shops, on September 26.

Below are excerpts of our interview over the phone last weekend. 

Q. I imagine you wrote the book at home in Santa Ynez Valley. What it’s like living there?

A. I’m so entrenched in the local world, I love the culture there. I first moved there because I wanted to cowboy, and I did for over a decade. I was a serious non-pro cutter and I loved the people I was involved with because they didn’t give a crap who I was. All that mattered to them was if I could ride. I love being around people like that. I can exist in any framework of any kind of individuals and different sorts of types of people. I’ve interacted with everybody in my life, and I’ve drawn inspiration from all of them. 

Why did you write the book? Is it just about sharing your stories, correcting the record, or something else? 

The book started by accident when I wrote a piece for fashion magazine Bazaar, which they loved. They asked for more, so I kept writing prose pieces about some of my adventures. The lightbulb went on and I realized that I was writing a book. I got incredibly immersed in it, because it wasn’t a linear autobiography, the stereotypical memoir that goes from A to Z. I just traveled all over different times in my life. I worked on it for two to five hours a day for two years, just writing until I felt I’d come to a conclusion… I loved every minute of it. 

You were very open about your thoughts, experiences, and opinions.

When you get into this business, your life is already an open book. People are going to find things out one way or another. Unfortunately, sometimes they get things wrong or misinterpret. So the book is a bit of setting the record straight.

You call out quite a few other people. Was there any hesitation and has there been any blowback?

Not as of now, but the book only came out a few days ago. But it’s like water off a duck’s back. I couldn’t care less. If I call somebody a bully in the book, it’s because they were a bully. I also made a concerted effort to praise people that I feel were wonderful individuals, great humanitarians and interesting, funny characters that made my life more interesting… Too many people pussyfoot around the truth. The thing is, we can all be unpleasant. But these people that I call out were continually unpleasant. So I have no qualms. 

The one thing you don’t share much about for the most part is the background of the songs, how and why you wrote them. Was that a matter of keeping things private for yourself or that you didn’t want to disillusion people from having their own experiences? 

There are a few backstories, but I also didn’t want it to be more a manual than a memoir… I do prefer to keep that close to my vest and let people come up with their own ideas of what the song means to them personally. That’s the beauty of songs: You write them and put them out there and then they belong to everyone else. I quote what Lou Reed said about songwriting: “Just because I wrote them doesn’t mean I know what they’re about.”

How did your songwriting for Elton change over the years? I know you weren’t a musician when you first teamed up, but did you eventually think about where he might go with your words, what type of melody or style? 

The short answer is he doesn’t tread on my toes and I don’t tread on his. We’ve had that understanding since Day One. I do have my own notions now because I play chords on the guitar and come up with my own ideas of melodic structure for the lyrics. But I also know once I hand it over it’s going to end up completely different. Back in the early ‘70s, obviously, when I gave him “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” I knew it wasn’t going to be a ballad, just as “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” wasn’t going to be full tilt Chuck Berry rock. 

Do you ever even share your musical ideas or just hand him the words?

No, not at all. Never. That’s purely for my own benefit to enable me to construct something that I feel has a good rhythmic pulse. 

Your songs for Elton vary from literary and descriptive to very conversational. How do you know the right tone or find the balance? 

I don’t know, but I don’t question it because it muddies the waters and confuses things. I’ve always written exactly what’s on my mind and what comes out of my cinematic brain that records everything I see every single day. I’m a storyteller, a chronicler, and a cinematographer – lyricist, poet, songwriter aren’t identities that I’m comfortable with. Our canon is littered with mostly unsavory characters, not a lot of love songs. We make mini movies.

You have a lot of songs that were never set to music. 

It doesn’t matter. Elton and I are both productive. I’ve got hundreds of lyrics that were never made into songs, but I don’t want to be digging into my past work. I believe what I’m going to write tomorrow is going to be the best thing. 

So what’s on your bucket list? What haven’t you done? 

I want to make one last great record with Elton. We can achieve that because we’re pulling together all of the elements right now.  


You might also be interested in...