John’s seeking earned him fame and financial success and love from millions of fans, but it wasn’t enough for his emotionally starved heart.
To me, a sign of a good movie is one that makes me cry at least three or four times. I sobbed during Rocketman. And apparently Sir Elton did the same.
In a piece he wrote the week before the movie came out, he said, “I was in the cinema for about 15 minutes before I started crying…really sobbing, in that loud unguarded emotionally destroyed way that makes people turn around and look at you with alarmed expressions.”
I never realized how much I connected with Elton John until now.
The movie opens with John (played by Taron Egerton) decked out in an orange sequined satanic-like costume with magnificent horns and wings, striding down the hall of a treatment center. He barges into an AA meeting, the same 12-step group that helped get me sober. He then spouts the familiar introduction, “I’m Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic,” followed by a list of his other addictions: cocaine, weed, sex, prescription drugs, bulimia, and shopping.
I’ve seen lots of movies about addicted personalities, but this is my new favorite. It just so happens that Elton and I not only belong to that same addiction club, but we also got sober the same year.
As vastly different as our lives have been—and I sense I’ll get some heat for this—we seem to have a lot in common, as many addicts do. We both came from an era rife with emotionally stilted fathers and discontented mothers. His dad was a quiet, reserved man, as was mine, while his mom was more outgoing. His mother seemed to despise his dad for his uncommunicative ways; their unhappy relationship was replicated in my own damaged family.
The scene at his Middlesex dinner table was painfully familiar and often the same one we had at my home in New Jersey. Angry parents and their innocent children, all who just wanted love. Unfortunately, the baggage that occupied the table was never addressed in a reasonable way. This was one part of the film that resonated deeply with me, making me (and Elton) sob. While my parents stayed miserably together, his split up, with a poignant scene of his father leaving the family without giving his son a hug. It’s an image many of us who grew up with addiction can relate to.
In a 2011 interview, John said of his dad, “He left us, remarried and had another family, and by all accounts was a great Dad to them. It wasn’t children, it was me.”
My mom once told me, in the heat of an argument we had when I was 12, that my dad never liked me. She said he never picked me up as a baby and didn’t come home at night until I was in bed. This type of emotional abuse plays unconsciously on a still-developing brain and leaves lasting psychic wounds. When I finally found the numbing qualities of booze and drugs, I searched for a father figure in the men I pursued. I sensed it was the same for Elton.
As children, we all seek attention and validation, and when we don’t receive it from our parents, we’ll find other—frequently destructive—ways to get it. John’s seeking earned him fame and financial success and love from millions of fans, but it wasn’t enough for his emotionally starved heart.
After the scene of young Reginald (Elton John was born Reginald Dwight) dancing with an ensemble in the cul-de-sac where he lived, he’s mostly portrayed as a shy, somewhat lonely child. Though extremely gifted, he doubted himself at every turn. As a child, I was so shy I’d hide in corners at family gatherings. And I still tend to doubt myself today. Our parents knew little of propping their children up and confidence was hard to come by, which made the insecurity-relieving properties of drugs and alcohol even more appealing. Like Elton, I discovered the buffering effects of substances as I forged my way into a terrifying world.
The movie’s use of the 12-step meeting as a story-telling vehicle was effective, with Elton gradually losing bits of the devil costume and the persona he used as a mask as he rambles on about family, revealing more of his wounded self each time, which I also did in early meetings. One of the ways we heal is by telling our stories, by venting and listening to others tell theirs. Identifying with someone else’s pain helps us to heal our own, releasing some of the shame that comes with things we did to ourselves and others while we were using.
Aside from the sad childhood memories, the part that brought the most tears for me was hearing still-Reggie Dwight play the beginnings of what became “Your Song,” the first Taupin and John hit and the piece that my Almost Cher impersonator friend, Helene, sang to me on my birthday while kneeling at my feet. She sang just for me, and for those moments provided some of the love I missed as a child.
As the movie ends, we find out recovery’s been good to Sir Elton, as it has been for me.
We’ve both forgiven our parents and have been sober for 29 years. And yes, we’re both still standing.