Elton John Proves He Can Turn any Text into a Song: Watch Him Improvise with Lines from Henrik Ibsen’s Play, Peer Gynt

I’m not a lyric writer. I get all my inspi­ra­tion from look­ing at the writ­ten page. — Elton John

Inspi­ra­tion is one thing. Act­ing on it is anoth­er. Sir Elton’s out­put seems to go beyond his mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of tal­ent, work eth­ic, and train­ing. He claims to have tak­en all of 30 min­utes to com­plete “Your Song.” In his 2005 appear­ance on Inside the Actor’s Stu­dio, excerpt­ed above, he passed his genius off as some­thing akin to a par­ty trick, call­ing on the audi­ence to pass up a book—any book—as source mate­r­i­al for an ins­ta-song.

Giv­en the num­ber of stu­dent actors in the audi­ence, it’s real­ly not so sur­pris­ing that the first vol­ume to hit the stage was Hen­rik Ibsen’s 1867 verse play Peer Gynt.

Magi­cians height­en the dra­ma by demand­ing absolute silence pri­or to a dif­fi­cult trick.

John swings the oth­er way. The result­ing impro­vised tune is all the more impres­sive for his off the cuff, raunchy text-based pat­ter. It’s hard to imag­ine Ibsen play­ing so fast and loose with lines like:

Every­thing spites me with a vengeance

Sky and water and those wicked moun­tains

Fog pour­ing out of the sky to con­found him

The water hurl­ing in to drown him

The moun­tains point­ing their rocks to fall-

And those peo­ple, all of them out for the kill!

Oh no, not to die!

I mustn’t lose him. The lout!

Why’s the dev­il have to tease him?

What might Metal­li­ca or Iron Maid­en have con­jured from such mate­r­i­al? In John’s hands, it becomes a lush, emo­tion­al­ly charged bal­lad, the moun­tains and fog apt metaphors.

In his book Inside Inside, host James Lip­ton names this as one of “the two most astound­ing impro­vi­sa­tions in the his­to­ry of Inside the Actors Stu­dio.” The oth­er was Robin Williams mak­ing mer­ry with a pink pash­mi­na shawl.

In a 2012 inter­view with NPR, John went into the nature of his col­lab­o­ra­tion with his long­time word man, Bernie Taupin. Unlike oth­er lyri­cists, Taupin does not think in terms of verse and cho­rus, leav­ing it to John to free the song from a wall of text:

It’s just a blank—well, not a blank, but it’s a piece of paper. In the old days, it was hand­writ­ten. Then it got typed. Then it got faxed. Now it gets emailed. And it’s no sug­ges­tions, noth­ing. And we’ve nev­er writ­ten in the same room. I don’t know if peo­ple know that. But he gives me the lyric, and I go away and write the song, and then come back and play it to him. And I’ve nev­er lost the enjoy­ment or the thrill of play­ing him the song that I’ve just writ­ten to his lyric.

If you’d like to fin­ish what John start­ed by fur­ther musi­cal­iz­ing Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, the com­plete script can be read here. Or lis­ten to the 1946 radio adap­ta­tion star­ring Ralph Richard­son as Peer Gynt and Lau­rence Olivi­er as the Troll King and a but­ton-moul­der, below. Also above, you can watch John turn instruc­tions for using an oven (yes, that dai­ly appli­ance) into song.

via metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Elton John Sings His Clas­sic Hit ‘Your Song’ Through the Years

Tom Pet­ty Takes You Inside His Song­writ­ing Craft

Enjoy a Blue­grass Per­for­mance of Elton John’s 1972 Hit, “Rock­et Man”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the sec­ond install­ment of Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain at The Tank. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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