Elton John’s “Rocketman” closer, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” is a joyous, infectious, summary song about love and redemption, which perfectly captures the merging of his amazing “Captain Fantastic” life with the surreal portrayal by Taron Egerton in the musical fantasy biopic. It’s also the Oscar favorite for Best Original Song (John won his first Oscar for writing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” for “The Lion King” along with lyricist Tim Rice).
“We wanted an uptempo song to capture the spirit at the end of the film,” said John by email. “It had to sit perfectly alongside ‘I’m Still Standing’ [the anthem-like hit from ’83] and lyrically refer to my recovery from drugs and alcohol, and the personal redemption that has come with it. I always wanted it to be a duet with Taron. That way the song builds a bridge between Taron playing me and the real me.”
As always, it began with the lyrics. And when John turned to Bernie Taupin, his long-time collaborator of more than 50 years (portrayed by Jamie Bell in “Rocketman”), there was no need for any discussion. “When I initially wrote it, I wasn’t aware of it being a duet,” said Taupin by email about his first Oscar nomination. “I simply wrote it from Elton’s point of view, and Taron coming aboard just made it that little bit more special.
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“It made sense because they are both coming from the Elton perspective, albeit Taron being the actor portraying him. There was no real conversation about content…it was left up to me, but the idea of it having it have a theme about love and redemption was a no-brainer given the movie’s conclusion.”
Still, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” is lyrically more complex than the more boastful “I’m Still Standing”:
“A heart has many secrets, so I’m told
Through the years, a theory can grow cold
I’m up to be the king, it’s gotten clear
The voice inside my head is the one I hear….”
“I really didn’t rely on any content from the movie in order to write the lyrics,” Taupin added. “I simply summed up what was obvious, and, as usual, made it a little more cryptic than straightforward. Nothing about the lyric was challenging… it was a very easy and simple process.”
His favorite lyric, though, invoked Superman:
“The peaceful days that followed hollow nights
A kiss or touch could feel like Kryptonite
Praise the Saints that hung up on my wall
For trust is left in lovers after all….“
“[It] is a telling line and getting Kryptonite into a song about redemption is somewhat fun!” Taupin said. And yet the way it evolved musically took Taupin by surprise: “Funnily enough, when I originally wrote it, I was writing it as a very simple Tom Waits kind of slow waltz shuffle, but Elton, as is his penchant, took it in a totally opposite direction,” he said.
For John, their collaboration has always been a mysterious alchemy — the attraction of opposites and a synergistic melding of the personal with the universal. John absorbs the lyrics into his musical consciousness and out comes a melody within 15 minutes or so. The audience witnesses this during the “Your Song” scene from “Rocketman.”
“Like most songs I have written, the melody came to me right away,” John said. “Bernie’s lyrics are always like a bolt of lightning for me, full of cinematic and thematic inspiration. The melody just pours out of me when I’m enlightened by his poetic words. I immediately saw the lyrics as a Motown-style song. It needed to be joyous! I then checked out the tempo of ‘Come See About Me’ by The Supremes for inspiration and built the melody from there.”
Although John has done duets before (beginning with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Kiki Dee in ’76), the experience with Egerton and producer Giles Martin (son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin) was a transcendent one. “We all met up at Air Studios in Hampstead in North London,” he said. “It was very emotional and nostalgic for me as Giles Martin’s father, George, founded Air Studios.
“In my early jobbing musician days in the 1960s, I used to get regular session work (and luncheon vouchers!) from George Martin’s assistants Shirley Burns and Carol Weston at Air London. It’s like we had gone full circle from my founding days as a jobbing musician, to recording ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’ with Giles and Taron after having shot ‘Rocketman.’ Taron and I both recorded our vocals in the same session. We all laughed a lot and loved the way our voices melded together. It really felt like a celebration.”
As did “Rocketman,” which coincided last year with John’s ongoing “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour and the publication of his memoir, “Me” (Henry Holt). “Even though it was a musical fantasy, ‘Rocketman’ perfectly captures the true spirit of the first half of my life,” he said. “It was eerie seeing Taron play ‘Elton John.’ I felt like I was watching myself.
“I’m thrilled the way the film has been received. So many of my fellow musicians and performing artists have been touched by ‘Rocketman’s’ authenticity and have reached out to tell me how much they related to it. Pete Townsend and Joni Mitchell attended our special outdoor orchestral screening at The Greek Theatre and were so moved by the film. Michael Stipe [of R.E.M.] told me it was the first film that really captured the spirit of what it feels like to perform live in front of an audience.”