For 45 years pop star Elton John has left the writing to lyricists such as Bernie Taupin, Gary Osborne and Tim Rice. A cursory examination of the few songs with his own lyrics, such as 1978's "Flintstone Boy," strongly suggests he made the right decision.
Similarly, John, 65, might have been better served had he employed a ghostwriter to draft his good-intentioned memoir. "Love Is the Cure" isn't a tell-all or about his music career. He mentions 1974's "Caribou" only because during sessions for the album he first tried cocaine, a drug that would almost kill him during a 16-year habit.
He weaves stories of his own addictions into a greater narrative on AIDS. "This is a disease that must be cured not by a miraculous vaccine but by changing hearts and minds, and through a collective effort to break down social barriers and to build bridges of compassion," he writes.
His short book, heavy on facts, figures and anecdotes, reads more like a well-researched term paper than a biography. Much of it lacks the voice longtime fans expect to hear from the outspoken singer-songwriter and activist whose Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised and donated more than $275 million to fight the disease worldwide.
That voice — compassionate and touching in such songs as "Candle in the Wind" and nasty and off-putting when publicly lashing out against fellow pop stars — is stifled amid oft-repeated phrases and words, such as "stigma." Tighter editing would have helped.
John's passion certainly isn't in question; "Love Is the Cure" is heartbreaking. He opens with the story of Ryan White, an Indiana teenager ostracized by his hometown and school because he had contracted the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion in the mid-1980s, when ignorance was rampant.
"Like millions of people, when I read about Ryan ... (I) was incensed," John writes. "More than that, I was overcome with the desire to do something for him and his family. It turned out, in the end, the Whites would do far more for me than I ever did for them."
At the same time he was a godsend to the White family, John realized his own life was in a death spiral. By 1990, the year White died, John finally got clean.
John's familiar temper comes out when he writes about a frustrating experience he had trying to reach Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 after Scott's administration cut funds from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Florida's surgeon-general, Dr. Frank Farmer, responded by welcoming the musician to the state to perform a concert series, since such a fundraising endeavor would be "a huge hit!"
John blew his top. "It was as condescending as it was completely idiotic," he writes. "The American state of Florida, with its $69.1 billion annual budget, was proposing to outsource its AIDS efforts to a British musician. What a ludicrous idea."
Perhaps a definitive Elton John biography will one day be written, for which this material will serve as several important chapters. But John's "Love Is the Cure" is still worth checking out for its noble goal: a resounding message of hope.
'Love Is the Cure'
By Elton John
Little, Brown, 256 pages, $27.99