(3 of 3)
In 1976, John became one of the few brave souls to emerge from the huge gay show-biz underground into the glare of publicity and opprobrium. If he suffered a bit less for his declaration than other entertainers might have, it's because his appeal is not primarily sexual; the glitter and sartorial outrage conceal an ordinary, football-loving guy with an extraordinary love of the limelight. For all the tabloid titters, England realizes this; it has virtually made John its official Ambassador of Fun. He has performed for all branches of the Royal Family, and is a favorite dancing partner of Princess Diana. But John says he doesn't enjoy going to most parties anymore "because people are off their face. I stand there holding my glass of water and realize that I used to be like that, or worse. I'd be in my room doing drugs instead of getting up in the mornings. There was a whole beautiful world I missed."
But there was still the performing. "I sustained my success because I was always pretty good live," John says modestly about his high-wire, haywire stage shows. "But I wasn't very happy with some of the work I did. How could I be? I wasn't there half the time, mentally or physically. All I cared about was coming offstage and finding out where the cocaine was. The first five years of my career weren't like that; you could see the innocence, the spark in my eyes."
You can still see it--and, on Made in England, hear it. The album is a declaration of renewal from an old master who will always have a lot of the kid in him. "Maybe I can't recapture that old energy," he says. "But I can recapture the spirit of that energy. I have a lot left in me. Rubinstein was playing brilliantly at 80; Picasso didn't stop. Why should I?"
All right, he's no Rubinstein, no Picasso. But even a Rocket Man can have a long trajectory. Bank on it: Elton will forever keep pumping the piano and cranking out the hits. Still standing. Still playing your song.
--Reported by Barry Hillenbrand/Old Windsor and David E. Thigpen/New York