Friday February 1, 2013
He is Elton
Review by BERVIN CHEONG
This is not a story of a celebrity on a mission. It is a story of someone who has lived through and engaged with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He just happens to be Elton John.
Love Is The Cure
Author: Elton John
Publisher: Little, Brown, 265 pages
LOVE Is The Cure is a different sort of an autobiography from Elton John. Found within the pages of the book are not – as a reader would probably expect of a bio – first-hand musings telling of Elton’s rise to musical stardom, but instead a personal take on the realities of the AIDS epidemic and how they inspired the singer-songwriter to dedicate his life to fighting the disease.
The first half of the book is a deeply emotional narrative. It explains the circumstances that helped Elton onto a path of recovery from his downward spiral of drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, eating disorders and alcoholism in the 1980s. He writes movingly of the turning point when he realised he needed to clean himself up by willingly going into rehab.
He also explains how he befriended Ryan White, a teenaged AIDS victim and, in the 1980s, the face of HIV/AIDS support campaigns in the United States; according to Elton, that friendship spurred him to start the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1993. While Ryan died in 1990 at 18 and didn’t witness the foundation’s success in bringing much-needed unity to the battle against HIV/AIDS, he obviously remains very much in Elton’s thoughts, as he’s mentioned throughout the book.
The second half of Love Is The Cure details the foundation’s efforts to reach out to HIV/AIDS victims in countries all over the world. Elton names fellow celebrities, like the late Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor, as friends from whom he has drawn strength and who he has worked with in his battle against this disease.
But this is no mere name-dropping bio; Elton also gives us hard facts about the disease, painting a grim picture of how countries such as France, India, South Africa, Thailand, and the Ukraine have reacted – or not, for that matter – to the needs of people living with HIV within their borders.
I found Elton’s writing to be frank and devoid of an agenda. It seems that he is telling it as it is – not as a rock star, but just by drawing on his personal experiences as an average human being with failings as common as they are perceived to be. While Elton never contracted HIV, he states frankly that it is no small miracle that he hasn’t.
Elton also writes about how HIV/AIDS has been perceived over the years, how when it was first discovered in the 1980s it was largely dismissed as a “homosexual” disease, which led to decades of ignorance, misinformation and stigmatization.
Nowadays, of course, much more is understood about the AIDS virus and it has been proven that it does not discriminate based on sexuality or gender – yet the stigma surrounding the disease and its victims has not lessened much. This, of course, says a lot about the heart of the matter: the social implications of HIV/AIDS.
To quote Elton in Love Is The Cure: “AIDS takes advantage of more than our biological weaknesses. It takes advantage of our social weaknesses.”
Which is why he feels that if all parties – whether governments, private companies or individuals – could just shed their prejudices and short-sightedness, the end of HIV/AIDS is not impossible.
After all, thanks to advances in medicine, people who are HIV positive can live for many years with the virus nowadays.
If you’re looking for a book that will take you through the life of someone who has devoted countless hours to the cause of combating AIDS, then this is the read for you. This is not a story of a celebrity on a mission. It is a story of a man who has lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A man that just happens to be Elton John.