I like reading autobiographies. It always seems that someone else’s life is more interesting than my own. The last couple I’ve enjoyed were by Elton John and Edward Snowdon.
The first revelation was that Elton John is actually quite funny. I had a suspicion that the book “Me” was dictated from audio conversations and ghost-written, and indeed it does appear that GQ’s former music editor Alexis Petridis did the honours. That said, both Alex and Elton have produced a thoroughly entertaining book that is funny, sad, and does not hold back anything. If you’ve seen Rocketman then you’ll be familiar with parts of the story, but the book tells the whole tale without fast forwarding or missing out the later chapters. He may have “been a cunt since 1975” but he’s not anymore and he’s making amends.
The second revelation is that Elton John is still alive. The sheer amount of cocaine and alcohol the man consumed, the number of partners he had sex with during the AIDS outbreak, his insane temper tantrums and his struggles will bulimia make you appreciate he’s got an iron constitution (and is bloody lucky).
All-in-all it’s a happy ending for both Elton and the reader.
This is in contrast with Edward Snowdon’s “Permanent Record”. Snowdon’s revelations send shivers down your spine. If you’ve ever thought (as I have) that your political views may have been singled out at some point by the security services then you can rest easy. In fact everyone’s views, political or not, have been captured by the NSA. Not just the loony-lefties like me, but everyone. If you’ve got a computer with an operating system from Microsoft (check), or a Google email (check), have purchased anything from Amazon (check) or entered any details into an Oracle database (hell, I worked for them for 17 years!) then you’re in the system. The fact that it’s a crime is irrelevant. It’s happened.
It doesn’t mean that they’ve taken an interest in you just yet, but they have collected your data, just in case you do something in the future. Just as the Wayback Machine can show you what a website looked like back in the day, they can recall all your digital history and just like Minority Report your “pre-crimes” will be planned out if you do become a person of interest.
How do you become a person of interest?? According to Snowden if you type in XKEYSCORE into a browser then “then congrats: you’re in the system, a victim of your own curiosity”. To be honest you’re probably in the system just associating with me.
What gets me is how Snowden decided to sacrifice everything to be the whistleblower on these crimes. He gave up his country, his family, his girlfriend. Everything, just so we could all know the truth. I know I couldn’t do that. My wife is my rock, the only solid piece of ground in a society built on shifting sand. I could not afford to leave that rock behind.
As it turns out Snowden’s girlfriend followed his to Russia, where he is now exiled, and they are now married. I’m not sure it’s quite a happy ending, but it’s as close as you might expect given the circumstances.
Maybe one day I will write my autobiography. I’m still not sure Gateshead in the 1970’s is quite as cool as you might think!