I picked up a collection of Ray Bradbury stories the other day for another project (specifically to have The Fog Horn and A Sound of Thunder) and realised that I hadn’t ever read it. I was vaguely aware that the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song of (almost) the same name was based on the story but not much beyond that.
Both the song and story feature a man who pilots an interplanetary rocket as a routine job that takes him away from his family for large stretches of time. However, the song places the perspective with the pilot (the titular rocket man) but the story focuses on the feelings and experiences of the pilot’s son.
Bradbury is such a powerful writer. Even though the sci-fi trappings of the story are of the gee-whiz 1950s style shiny technology, the story itself is focused on emotional connections and that signature Bradbury sense of the past and memory.
In the recent bio-pic of Elton John’s early life and career (also titled Rocketman) the story naturally looks at memory and emotion. In particular Elton John’s relationship with his parents. His childhood isn’t that of the character in Bradbury’s story but there a significant parallels – specifically John’s father is in the Royal Air Force and is absent for long periods. The long periods of absence causing significant tensions within the family.
But rather like the wider use of the song lyrics and themes in the film, the parallels between Elton John’s songs and the trajectory of his life is misleading. The lyrics are Bernie Taupin’s not John’s, even if it is Elton John’s performance and music that give them the emotional heft. Are the parallels just coincidence then or was Taupin adding commentary on his friend’s own childhood experiences? If so, why shift perspective to the pilot rather than the family? I think the safe assumption is coincidence.