Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Test of Time

By Cheryl Oreglia 

I recently had the privilege of viewing the new Elton John film, Rocketman, currently in theaters. I think we can all agree he is an extraordinary artist, but as a culture we have a tendency to love or hate creative types, especially the ones who live on the edge like Reginald Kenneth Dwight (birth name). Elton says, “I'm not everybody's cup of tea. But sometimes criticism can be hurtful. Be respectful. I'm a good piano player, I can sing well, I write good songs. If you don't like it, fair enough. But give me a break.” Sound advice when evaluating the impact of someone's work. 

Like many of us he struggled to define his identity, but he had to do it in the public eye, which is all the more confusing. Elton said, “I never thought of myself as being handsome or good-looking or whatever. I always felt like an outsider.” But his stage presence was so magnetizing, I believe it scared him in a way, and his solution was to numb the shit out of himself with drugs and alcohol. Those substances almost took his life. What a waste that would have been.
“I was more ashamed that I couldn't work the washing machine than the fact that I was taking drugs.” Elton John
Maybe we search for our own answers in the lives of celebrities? We admire their irreverent lifestyle but also fear that kind of vulnerability? I privately cheered him on as he overcame his addiction to drugs and alcohol, then celebrated the fact that he has remained sober going on 28 years, bravo Elton John. 

I think everyone is creative, we write our own lives by the way we live day in and day out, deciding what we will, and will not present to the world. Imagine if that discretion was taken away from you because of fame?

Elton John has a gift and I admire the bravery, or maybe it's the generosity, with which he offers it to the world. I suppose what attracts me the most to his music, is not only his outrageous talent and stage presence, but his ability to show us who he really is. It takes enormous courage to reveal ourselves fully to one another. This is what makes relationships so difficult. Sometimes we hold the most important parts back, choosing never to disclose our true selves, but not so with Elton John. 

I love observing how creativity leeks out of people in the most extraordinary ways, such as a cook garnishing a plate with an elaborate insignia made with sauce, the gardener who trims a boring hedge into the shape of a fallen star, or the teacher who provides creative and empowering curriculum so her students not on learn but thrive. It seems to be more about how you do things than what you actually do?

As writers we are charged with writing our truth, maybe it doesn't work for everyone, but writing from your deepest most authentic self is what matters. Bernie Taupin is the songwriter for Elton John, he's written some of his most famous lyrics, including such songs as "Rocket Man", "Levon", "Crocodile Rock", "Honky Cat", "Tiny Dancer", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", , "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", and 1970's "Your Song", their first hit. 

In one of the early scenes Taupin is sitting at Elton’s mother’s breakfast table, intently scribbling lyrics onto a sheet of paper. He hands it to Elton (“It’s got tea on it,” Elton complains) and heads upstairs to take a shower. As Taupin is contemplating a shave, Elton has dressed the words with the perfect melody, flawlessly finishing the piece. Collaboration at its best. The song, of course, is John’s eventual smash hit Your Song.

Your Song was written in the early days of their partnership, John and Taupin were just beginning to realize their complimentary skills as song writers. “Your Song was one of the first songs we wrote when we really got locked into writing and when we had really honed our craft after writing all the sort of early bits and pieces that never surfaced,” says Taupin in a recent interview. 

The lyrics might sound naive, because Taupin was only 17 when he wrote them, and was inexperienced when it came to romantic love. So he imagined what it might be like and put it to paper. "It's got to be one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music," he told Music Connection in 1989. "But I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time. That was exactly what I was feeling. I was 17 years old and it was coming from someone whose outlook on love or experience with love was totally new and naïve," claims Taupin.

I suppose that is what we're all hoping to do as writers, that our work will stand up to the test of time, because it's exactly what we were feeling at the time, our truth as we only we can see it, and write it. Nancy Slonim Aronie says, "creativity is the process of souls expressing themselves, it has nothing to do with selling, or reviews, or results, or commercial success. It has everything to do with taking charge, being honest, experimenting with what feels right. This brainstorming of the gut will nourish your innards." 

What do you do as writers to nourish your innards? Share some thoughts on your experience with the creative process and how you maintain your authentic voice.

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 

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