David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 190: Elton John (I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues)

October 11, 2022

Is there any triter phrase in the English language than "I love you more than life itself"? It always seemed to me that anyone who has uttered this line had yet to face a life vs. other stare-down.

And, yet, one of the finest lyricists of the 20th century got away with this, although he did add "I simply love you more than life itself." Granted Bernie Taupin and Elton John were writing more duds than hits by 1983's Too Low For Zero, but Taupin is still the man who gave us such achingly beautiful lines as

  • "So keep well, keep well old friend/and have another drink on me/just ignore all the others/you got your memories" -- "Talking Old Soldiers" (Simple, direct, and an insight into old age that belies the average 20 year old, the age Taupin was when the song was recorded; who knows how young he was when he wrote it?)

  • "Maybe you'll get a replacement/there's plenty like me to be found/mongrels who ain't got a penny/sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground" -- "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (I always thought this was Bernie speaking directly to high flying Elton.)

  • "And I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford/I'm low as a paid assassin is/You know I'm cold as a hired sword" -- "I Feel Like A Bullet" (Taupin's obsession with the American west finally recognizing it for the cold barren landscape it was.)

Yet, by 1983, Taupin was providing such run-of-the-mill lyrics as "laughing like children/living like lovers/rolling like thunder under the covers." What had happened?  Well, apparently he was missing his loved one (his wife), which can make the steeliest of us wax poetic. Time forced apart can be difficult whether we're 16 or 60, and that line smolders in the embers of separated passion.

With Elton's classic 1970s band (Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson) back together for the first time in years, supported by the nifty harmonica work of Stevie Wonder, the song sparkles as a great pop song about the pains of love in the way that pop music should.  Elton's keyboard jaunts along and the rest of the band provide the distinct background vocals that helped make Elton the biggest star in the world around 1974. For John/Taupin as a writing team, it was their biggest hit since 1976's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word."  

With all of this context, Taupin's lyrics resonate as sweet, transparently honest, and true for all of us who have spent time apart from the person we love. The way we pretend we are doing o.k. hoping "it won't be long before you and me run/to the place in our heart where we hide." The quieter idle times when we "just stare into space/picture my face in your hands," knowing that "time on my hands/should be time spent with you."

Because it is pop music, the place where melancholy meets melody, that line "I simply love you more than I love life itself" no longer seems hyperbole, no longer stale, no longer ridiculous. I hope Bernie appreciates it all these years later, and how could he not as he and Elton continue to collect some massive royalty checks.

And then Songfacts, and I make no pretenses about the reliability of the source, since it fails to identify its source, quotes Taupin as hating that line in retrospect, finding it rather hackneyed: "It's kind of a crass sentiment and totally false." Damn it, Bernie. You big party-pooper.

I no longer picture you and Elton like this:

But, instead, picture this duo: 


"I Guess That' Why They Call It The Blues." Elton John. Too Low For Zero, Geffen, 1983. Link here.

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