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At the top of every hour the clock in Elton John's dressing room at Caesars Palace breaks wind. And every hour, the farting clock makes John laugh. The British superstar has every reason to smile. His Las Vegas run, in which he alternates with Celine Dion in Caesars's 4,100-seat Colosseum, has been extended from 75 shows during a three-year period to 225 shows during a five-year span ending in 2008. Every show of The Red Piano has been a sellout. A U.K. tour this summer drew almost 400,000 people.
His latest musical, an adaptation of the movie Billy Elliot written by John and Lee Hall, opened to largely rave reviews in London's West End, and there's talk of bringing it to Broadway. John has wrapped Lestat, the first musical he and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin have written together. The play, based on Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat series, will debut in December at San Francisco's Curran Theater before heading to Broadway in spring 2006.
And there are plenty of other projects in the works, including a development deal with Touchstone Television for a sitcom about a rock star and his entourage and an exclusive November 9 Starbucks release of the CD Elton's Christmas Party, with part of the proceeds earmarked for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Q: Your last album, 2004's Peachtree Road (Rocket/Universal), received some of the best reviews of your career, and yet it sold only 300,000 copies in the United States, making it one of your worst performers. How frustrating is that for you?
A: It is frustrating.... I'm not storming around saying, "Why isn't my fucking record doing better than this?" I just had to look at it and say, "Was it a shit record?" And it wasn't, it was the best I could do. I'm 58 now, and my time in the sun, as it were, is gone. I have to accept that. Was I disappointed? Yeah, because I put my heart and soul into it.... [Universal Records] tried to persuade [me] to do a Motown album or a standards album, and I wouldn't do it. I said [no] because I still want to write songs. I still feel as if I've got something else to offer without going down that route.
Q: Were you insulted when they asked you?
A: Yeah. It's like, "That's what you think of me, is it?"
Q: You and Bernie Taupin are writing a sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy called Captain Fantastic and the Kid. The first edition, released in 1975, covered your first 30 years; the second will cover the subsequent 30 years and will come out March 20, 2007, five days before your 60th birthday. Are you and Bernie already working on it?
A: I'm starting writing and recording it in Atlanta in January. It was Merck's [Sanctuary Group CEO Merck Mercuriadis, who tends to the creative side of John's career] idea, because he said, "You're always saying how Bernie has become the Brown Dirt Cowboy"--he lives on a ranch in Santa Ynez [Calif.,] and I'm this guy who plays concert after concert, buying art, buying photographs, living a very lavish lifestyle. I've become Captain Fantastic. We would have been together then about 40 years by the time it comes out. One of the things I'm most proud of in my life is the relationship I've had with Bernie.
Q: Is it true you buy the new album releases every week at Tower Records when you are home in Atlanta?
A: I go in there at 9:30 on Tuesday morning, before it opens, before they put the fucking things [out where] I can't find them. They're all on the cart, and I can go through them, one by one, because I know what I want. It's one of my things I look forward to every week. Those guys open up and [have] a cup of coffee there now, and it's just brilliant.
Q: Would you tour with Billy Joel again?
A: Yeah, I would, because I love him dearly. My greatest wish is for Billy Joel to have a number 1 album and get his confidence back. That would make me so happy. We've never been rivals; we've always been friends. Part of my Captain Fantastic's next 30 years include Billy Joel. And it would be great to do a duet.
Q: You have extended the Vegas run for The Red Piano show by another two years. It obviously agrees with you.
A: [Before Caesars] I'd never stayed the night here. I don't go out [much, but] you do get stir crazy. So I'll go see what's in the shops now. [John's operations manager] Bob Halley and I got chased through the mall. We were laughing so hard. Bob said, "We're being chased by 60-year-old women," and I said, "Bob, we are 60." We have nothing but good things to say about here.
Q: You go out of your way to support new artists. Why?
A: The first five years of my career we played with people that were our stone-cold idols, and everyone treated us so well. That's why I try and give a hand out to young people, because people did that to me. I remember phoning Fountains of Wayne when Utopia Parkway came out. They thought it wasn't me on the phone, but it was. I just wanted to say, "This is such a great album." It's important to let people know that.
Q: Is writing easy for you?
A: Yeah. I wrote 60 songs in a year (for Peachtree Road, Billy Elliot, and Lestat). One of the songs for Lestat is called "Paris," a conversational song in three parts. It's the longest song I ever took to write--three and a half hours. I thought I was going to go nuts. I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown.
Q: You have a sitcom in development. What can you tell us about that?
A: It's called Him and Us. It's basically about the entourage around a star called Max Flash who have to put up with this bastard. Max Flash is based on me, Mick, Bowie, Rod, all these outrageously behaving rock stars.
Q: How do you find the time for all these projects?
A: You know, I'm 15 years sober today. That's changed my life. The energy that I used to spend doing drugs and everything, I spend doing great things, like getting up in the morning, going to Tower Records, trying to find new acts, trying to promote them. I have the most fantastic life. I really love it so much. (Melinda Newman, via Reuters)