Elton John “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy”

More over-the-top presentation, this one, from 1975, opens like a double record, with some insane color photos inside. The outrageous 1970s dress-up photo of Elton and the band is especially good. I love the one of Bernie Taupin, too, with no shirt and taken through like a foot of gauze. The other side of the album cover (where there isn’t a record) holds TWO 8 by 11 inch full color 16 PAGE booklets! One is lyrics and photos, and the other is a “scrapbook” with clippings, articles, photos, and a cartoon history of Elton and Bernie that is pretty much rubbish.

What’s funny about all this biographical info, though, is that this record is like another version of the Elton John history. It’s presented pretty much like a movie, actually– and it’s really pretty compelling– I got caught up in it, and the story the album tells, in a kind of seemingly fictionalized, metaphorical, poetic form– really rings true. I was surprised how much I got involved with this one– mostly because it begins and ends well.

“Captain Fantastic” is a good song, starting slowly and building nicely– and it sets up the story of Elton and Bernie, two guys who couldn’t be more opposite, who met and became partners (and the rest is history).  “The Tower of Babel” is pretty powerful, and got me thinking that I’ve been underestimating BT’s lyric writing. Then a couple of dull songs, and the side ends with one of my favorites, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” The official story is that this song is about Elton deciding not to get married to this woman he was seeing, but I don’t buy that. It sounds to me like it’s about a time when Elton and Bernie were living together, writing songs, and obviously in love. Along with the lyrics there is a picture of the flat where they live. Lines like “sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair” seem to refer more to Elton than a woman. I see this story not as a man (EJ) who is trying to “come out,” but almost sucked into a hetero life, but as a charismatic monster (EJ) who has given BT a voice, and they are almost one person, and the straight BT who has been sucked into EJ’s world, finally has to reject it (and not necessarily because he isn’t gay, but because he’s being eaten alive). “I’m strangled by your haunted social scene/just a pawn outplayed by a dominating queen/it’s four o’clock in the morning damnit/listen to me good/I’m sleeping with myself tonight.”

It’s a strange thing, one man writing songs for another man to sing. But with something like all the heavy drinking songs, I suppose they both drank a lot– but it was Elton who it nearly destroyed. (BT may or may not have struggled with alcoholism as well, but with EJ it was public.) But I can’t believe that every lyric that BT wrote for EJ to sing was about EJ’s persona– and especially on this record. This is like Bernie Taupin’s record. This is about their friendship, their power, their love affair, and finally their breakup (though they continued to work together– but I get a feeling that not so closely).

Side two is a lot of crap (though one song called “Writing” is interesting in that it’s about writing), until the last two songs, which are beautiful. “We All Fall In Love Sometimes”– what does it mean? It is so melancholy– which is odd– why would that sentiment be melancholy unless it was a goodbye to someone else. And then the last song, “Curtains,” is like a continuation of the previous, and this is the end of the movie, and it’s the end of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. But of course it isn’t. It should have been. If this record was accompanied by the story of these two men’s love affair and breakup, and then if they had never worked together again, this would be one of the most tragically romantic records of all time. It still is, but you have to wade through all the lies and construct your own story. And maybe, like it did for me, as a creative participant, that makes it even better.

2 Responses to “Elton John “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy””

  1. August 29, 2007 at 11:32 am

    wow, absolutely krazy.. I don’t know this album at all except for “Someone Saved My Life” as a single — you sure know a lot about EJ and BT that I didn’t at all know! I had no idea they’d ever had any kind of love affair! Not that I’m surprised I guess, but still. Anyhow, this is a fascinating review of this album, I must say, and maybe one of my favorite ones you’ve written here so far!

  2. September 3, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Well, I don’t KNOW that, of course, that they had a love affair. The official story is something else, but the official story is rather boring. I would much rather try to interpret the lyrics and make THAT my history, my personal version, because why not? It’s not like I’m going to be hanging out with Elton John anytime soon. Though I wouldn’t mind. He sounds like a fun guy.

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