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Reclaiming a `Fantastic' era

Elton John and Bernie Taupin's `The Captain & the Kid' puts the '70s in a new light, celebrating friendship and survival with artistic freedom.

October 08, 2006|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

Toasting one's past can often sound pretentious, but there's a humility and warmth in these tunes that make you want to join in raising a glass.

As youngsters, city-boy John and country-lad Taupin were loners. They found comfort and inspiration in the arts but in different ways: John was absorbed by music, especially early rock and Motown. He began playing the piano when he was 5. Taupin was pulled toward literature and poetry.

When the two met, they found not only friendship but a way to pursue their goals. John had tried to write lyrics but wasn't pleased with the results. Taupin couldn't imagine writing the music as well as the words. So the pairing was perfect.

"You've got to remember how young we were when we started working together," Taupin said when asked about the split in the late '70s. "Because we were both loners, we were pretty much solely dependent on each other. We didn't have a large group of friends. Everything we did, we did together. When Elton went on the road, I was instinctively part of it. I really had no choice. I really didn't have a home. I hadn't formed a life.

"It wasn't until after 'Captain Fantastic' that we both sort of formed our own lives. I basically ended up going back a full 360 to the countryside, which is where I was from in England, only I did it in America. I have my office, my studio where I paint and a gym. I love the solitude."

At his hotel, John too reflected on the friendship and the music.

"I think we were both extremely hurt and jealous that we were writing with others for a while," he said. "But we were savvy enough to know that if we didn't let each other write with other people, then the relationship would end. You can't shackle somebody down."

It was nearing time for John (whose birth name is Reginald Dwight) to head to the airport, but he paused for one more question: What's the difference between Captain Fantastic and simply the Captain?

"Captain Fantastic was the luckiest man in the world, appreciating everything that was happening to him, but not having much beyond that," John said. "Being Elton was all-encompassing, there was no time for Reg. But there wasn't a lot underneath the stardom. It was a bit like a souffle. Now I am far more grounded. I have balance in my life, and a person in my life, David, that is a 50-50 relationship, someone who has his own point of view and protects me and loves me, and I do the same for him.

"It was a different journey for Bernie, but he's also much happier. He has found his soul mate, and he has a lifestyle that is very comfortable and rewarding. Maybe that's the right word for both of us: We are finally comfortable in our own skins."

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