The first half of Me, the new memoir from pop icon Elton John, reads almost like a CliffsNotes version of the singer’s recent biopic, Rocketman. Nearly every beat in the film is recounted within the book, often with a bit greater detail and/or insight from John. It’s this latter quality that helps give more life and depth to the creatively imagined celluloid version, particularly given John’s candor. He thinks nothing of taking himself down a peg or five throughout, marveling at the bitchy persona he adopted at the height of his commercial success and calling a spade a spade with regard to his unnecessarily outlandish and often questionable behavior. From his drug use to his personal confusion surrounding his sexual identity, nothing is spared from his rather acidic pen. In dealing with each, he uses an almost conversational tone that helps lend a certain degree of levity to otherwise dicey subjects (addiction, both sexual and substance-based, suicide and more).

This is all scattered throughout a genuinely enthusiastic recounting of the years on which his reputation as a king of pop was established. The exploration of his and his band’s work ethic in the early-‘70s is nothing short of awe-inspiring (seven albums between 1970 and 1973, nearly all of them undisputed classics) and the excitement surrounding his rise and subsequent fall is exhilarating when recounted in the first-person. It’s here that Me has a leg up on previous Elton John biographies in that we get John’s own recollections after the fact, offering up a clear-eyed view of what it was like to be at the center of that creative and commercial storm. With the benefit of hindsight and age-acquired wisdom, John gets to examine his unprecedented success during that time in a manner lacking in biographies that relied on period interviews with the singer, many of which find him high on his own hubris (among other things).

As with the record-buying public, John seems to lose interest in his recording career as he reaches the end of the 1970s, moving instead more into his troubled personal life. It’s here that his candor and often brutal honesty make for some of the most compelling passages in the book as he delves into his spiraling drug and alcohol habit and the toll it took on his personal and professional relationships, as well as his lack of ambition in terms of putting out music that would match his commercial and critical peaks of the previous decades. Having almost fully succumbed to his addictions, John here finds himself on what appears to be a collision course with the inevitable. But it’s through a series of happenstances that he manages to turn his life around, refocus on both his music and, more importantly, philanthropic efforts, the latter of which would come to define his public persona in the waning years of the 20th century and into the 21st.

From his work with AIDS charities in the wake of his meeting Ryan White to his battles with the press as they sought to sully his name, the late-‘80s and ‘90s saw the energy and effort John previously reserved for his music diverted into all manner of social endeavors, all of which saw him transcending his status as mere pop star. It’s here that John begins coming into his own as the out-and-proud icon and champion of social causes that will likely be as much a part of his legacy as his unimpeachably great ’70s catalog. And, understandably, he spends the book’s chapters post-late-‘80s focusing on these achievements as being the defining moments of his life.

Those looking for any sort of gossip-worthy insight into his marriage to Renate Blauel will find themselves wanting as he plainly states his amicable relation with his ex-wife and unwavering desire to keep it that way. It’s a small but powerful statement that helps illustrate the quality of his character and unwavering devotion to those whom he holds most dear. The same holds true for longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, about whom John has nary a nasty word to say. Nor should he, really, as the pair have long maintained an almost supernatural ability to work together despite their inherent differences both personally and professionally. As shown in Rocketman, John and Taupin’s relationship was and remains akin to that of brothers with a deep love and respect shared between the two. This comes through loud and clear throughout Me, with John constantly singing (often literally) the praises of his longtime partner.

In short, Me shows that, if there is any villain in the Elton John story, it is John himself. From his myriad attempts at self-sabotage to his notorious temper to his neediness and (previous) inability to show any sort of restraint, John is constantly and matter-of-factly taking the piss out of himself. It’s this willingness to take an objective view of his life both in and out of the spotlight that helps to make Me a definitive statement of sorts with regard to John’s life. That he’s willing to address nearly any and all controversies surrounding his life—his explanation of his legal feuds with a handful of British tabloids are particularly insightful—allows John to essentially have the final say in the story of his life.

Of course, there are elements that have been largely whitewashed or overlooked—his legal troubles with former manager/lover John Reid are granted a somewhat deferential approach—but he, by and large, refuses to pull any punches with regard to himself. Anyone intimately familiar with the details of John’s life likely won’t find anything new or insightful here, but it’s always nice to hear the oft-told tales straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. And now that he’s embarking on his extended farewell tour, Me is a fitting written companion to his seemingly never-ending series of shows celebrating his life and music.

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