The Rocket Man versus Rocketman

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.

4 responses to “The Rocket Man versus Rocketman”

  1. I saw the film just this weekend. While the matching of lyrics to events in Elton’s life may be “misleading” in some sense, I suspect there may be some atisitic licenses/authenticity argument for that. E.g. I’m pretty confident that when Elton John himself was signing Rocketman throughout his wildest years, the lyrics about being “high’ and therefore seperated from family (emotionally if not by actually space) would have made sense to someone severelly into substance abuse and the fast lane lifestyle at the time.

    We do this ourselves as consumers of music – we connect to things. We hear a song about someone’s personal experience, often of a very specific event/time/relationship etc and relate it to our own experience.This is one of the reasons why so many popular songs have a great deal of ambiguity in them – the writter is clever enough to know that by making the lyrics more ambiguous its easier to get more people to enjoy it.

    Singing “I want something else, to get me through this semi-charmed kind of life” sells more thant “I’m really hanging out for methamphetamine”

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      • Maybe Bernie will give a few interviews now that’s his profile has been raised a bit more. Coincidence is a likely candidate but there’s probably some good stories to tell about why Bernie decided to pass on certain songs to Elton.

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