BWW Book Reviews: LOVE IS THE CURE: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS by Elton John
AIDS, Elton John, Elton John AIDS Foundation, EJAF
"I'm a story teller..."
A lot of musicians have written books lately: Pete Townsend, Neil Young, Patti Smith, among others. They tend to be memoirs filled with tales of past debaucheries and feuds, creative process and awards. But Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS by Elton John is a very different kind of celebrity tell-all.
"So many have been taken from me by this disease - sixty, seventy, eighty, I honestly don't know how many. I'd rather not count. But I never want to forget them."
There are no weak apologies, no excuses made for his past behavior and the damage done to himself and others from his addictions. He is as surprised as anyone that he came out of the 80's HIV-negative. And he has devoted a good part of his life to making up for his inaction and indifference while his friends were dying.
John's addictions and how he came out of them do not get a lot of play in the book. There are no salacious details of the excesses of his life - cocaine, alcohol, sex, food - only that they were killing him. We saw a lot of it play out in public anyway, so backstage stories are unnecessary.
He gives full credit whenever credit is due: to his friends - living and dead - and colleagues for helping save his life and chart his course.
I've read the book and listened to the audio version, and I urge you to listen to Elton John's reading of his book (a bonus dvd of photos is included). The passion in his voice tightens and softens according to the story he's telling. There are moments of sarcasm and rage, separated by the deep grief he still feels over his friend, Ryan White (the 11-year old boy in Kokomo, Indiana who contracted AIDS from contaminated blood products) and gratitude for all his friendships. You expect him to break out into song at any moment; at least I was hoping he would.
But listening prevents you from easily skipping the most horrifying stories - not about his addictions, but about AIDS. It is at this point that Elton John's book becomes something very different: required reading for every adult. Some of the stories are from the early days: politicians suggesting that those with AIDS be tattooed and quarantined in internment camps; funeral homes refusing to handle the bodies of those who died from AIDS; Ryan White's grave being vandalized numerous times.
Most of us have heard these stories - or remember them - and while they spark a memory, we believe they are in the past. After all, we've made great strides in the US, both in testing and treatment.
But today, thirty-plus years into the pandemic, new horror stories are coming to light. A superstition in South Africa holds that having sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS, so women, children, even infants are at risk for rape: an act of sexual violence not widely considered a crime in that country. Not surprisingly, four million South Africans are HIV-positive.