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Elton John: Old Songs, Old Friends, New Perspectives

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Elton John has been writing music since the 1960s, and between then and now, he has had enough life experience to reach some remarkable conclusions.

"I certainly, if I'm being honest with you, don't think you write as good a song on cocaine as you do when you're normal," he tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

John's new memoir, Love Is the Cure, details how he misspent much of the 1970s and '80s. He says he abused drugs such as cocaine and alcohol, and even suffered from bulimia. But John says his struggles with addiction have made him stronger.

"I think now I'm a much better singer, and I pay much more lip service to the lyrics, and even when I sing songs that I've sung a thousand times, they seem new to me," John says. "I think the experience that I went through has not only helped me as a person, but it's also helped me as a musician and a singer."

John says one of the songs with which he has reacquainted himself is "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," which he wrote during a period of turbulent romances in the '70s.

"I was always having ridiculous, short relationships with people because I took hostages in the relationship. They had to come with me, they had to travel with me, and after six months they hated my guts because they had no reason to live," he says. "I'd taken their identity away from them."

Now, John says, the song makes him think of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf.

"I sing it now in a different light, and it's more like an Edith Piaf song for me now than it was in those days," he says. "It has an accordion in it, and it always reminded me for a French song, and every time I sing it now I feel like Edith Piaf — although I'm taller."

John says he still enjoys working not only with old songs, but also with old friends. He and Bernie Taupin have been writing music together for almost half a century, but John says their relationship has never been better.

"I'm not a lyric writer — I get all my inspiration from looking at the written page," John says. "[Bernie Taupin] gives me the lyric, and I go away and write the song, 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."

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