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Blue jean baby. L.A. lady. Seamstress for the band. Sound familiar? That “Tiny Dancer” is Maxine Taupin, who admittedly was never a seamstress for Elton John and his band, but was the inspiration behind her then-husband Bernie Taupin’s lyrics.
“When I was younger, I loved ballet,” Taupin tells THR in her second-ever interview. “And when we were touring and Elton and I were shopping, we would often go to tourist stores and he would buy these little round patches that I would sew on his denim jacket and his jeans. But that was the extent of my sewing.”
Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman in fact pays homage to the style, as Taron Egerton (playing the singer) dons the specific denim ensemble during the film’s “Tiny Dancer” sequence. “I thought that was great because it was representational of the time period. That was a lot of fun.”
Taupin recalls the iconic song as the only one Bernie had kept secret from her during their relationship. “How it would work was, Bernie would sequester himself in his study, write the lyrics, show them to me and ask what I thought of them, and then we’d drive them down to Elton in London,” she says.
“But I’d never seen the lyrics to ‘Tiny Dancer.’ Bernie gave them to Elton. We showed up at Trident Studios and it was just the engineer, Elton, Bernie and myself and they played that song. They looked at me and Bernie said, ‘We wrote this for you.’ It was just an out of body experience.”
Taupin, who met the songwriting duo on the Sunset Strip in August 1970, will be auctioning off the handwritten lyric sheets to six of their most beloved songs, which she has kept in her personal possession over the years: “The Border Song,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The auction will be run via Bonham’s in Los Angeles on Dec. 9.
“These songs are treasures. I think Bernie and Elton are two of the most gifted and wonderful songwriters. We’re lucky to have them,” she says. “But it’s time to offer [the items] up to someone who wants to have these pieces of musical history and enjoy them as I have through the years. And what better time than the year of Elton John!”
In light of the release of John’s autobiography, Me, and the Paramount fantasy musical, Taupin is pleased that five of the six songs in the auction were in the film. “It’s exciting. I loved the fantasy elements and the way they used music in the film.”
After viewing the film at a screening in Los Angeles, Taupin does acknowledge the movie felt different from her memories. “I did find the movie heart-wrenching. My experience with Elton during the years I was married to Bernie was different than what was represented. Elton’s generosity is well known, and there was so much laughter and joy, which was not shown in the movie. But that was a choice that everybody made and I respect that choice.”
Taupin, who was married to Bernie from 1971 to 1976, originally met the twosome because their drummer, Nigel Olsson, needed a hair dryer. “It really is a destiny story,” she says. John’s manager, Ray Williams, was dating her friend Janis Malouf’s sister at the time who was unavailable to run a hair dryer over to their hotel because she was in Greece with Cher. So Taupin and Malouf responded to the call themselves.
After making the delivery, they went downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and found John and Bernie sitting in a corner. “We had never seen or heard of them. Bernie and I just started talking and Elton was very, very shy. He was only wearing a rectangular shaped, dark, dark brown lens pair of eyeglasses. He was not wearing his signature wild eyeglasses that he wears today and has worn as time has gone on.”
Malouf and Taupin agreed to drive the group to Palm Springs, and that’s when the relationship began. “I wound up sitting with Bernie in one of the cars that I was driving and we talked all the way back from Palm Springs. But that was still before the Troubadour. Bernie took me to see Little Richard at the Whisky and after that asked if I would be his date to go to the opening show at the Troubadour and consequently every show afterwards.”
Taupin describes the energy in the room the night of John’s legendary Troubadour show as electrifying. “Listening to the album I expected a quiet, soulful ballad, singer-songwriter performance,” she remembers. “There were songs on the album that were more uptempo, but I don’t think anyone in the audience expected Elton to kick away the piano stool and start playing like Jerry Lee Lewis.”
As she has rarely done interviews, Taupin wants to correct the misunderstanding that she influenced John’s style. “I have turned everything down because I’m writing a book that’s almost finished. But I did not help him develop his style. He is the master of his own style genius,” she says.
But John was a very different dresser early on, reserved yet with a flair for wearing boots with wings on them, as memory serves Taupin. “He’d be wearing a boiler suit or a T-shirt with stars on it. You could see the beginning of the style that was going to evolve to what we see today.”
There was one store he would frequent in London whose marquee designer was named Mr. Freedom. “Elton always knew what it was he wanted to wear onstage. I’d go shopping with him to that store. He was a wonderful designer Elton bought a lot of clothes from. I believe it was on King’s Road. That’s where a lot of his early style came from,” she says.
Same goes for the origins of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. “Again, a master of his creative genius. Whenever Bernie asked me what I thought of his songs, I loved them so much I never suggested any changes,” says Taupin, who does recognize there are obvious songs written about the ending of their relationship as well, like “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” “Tonight” and “Between Seventeen and Twenty.”
But on occasion, Taupin did suggest titles, like “Harmony” and “Love Lies Bleeding,” and one of her retorts became a hit song. “Everyone knows ‘The Bitch Is Back’ came from something I said,” she says with a laugh.
“When Elton came back from one particular tour, Bernie and I went over to visit him. He was telling us about what went on, how exhausted he was and this happened and this didn’t and just on and on and on. I looked over at Bernie and rolled my eyes and said, ‘Oh, the bitch is back.’ And we all just started laughing hysterically.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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