Billy Joel (1998)
“…if I only knew me from “Tell Her About It” and “Uptown Girl” and “Just the Way You Are,” I might not like Billy Joel either.”
Not many pop stars are honest or insightful enough to acknowledge their haters point of view. Billy Joel did and that’s one reason I dug talking to him.
Here’s another: When you interview Billy Joel, you get a lot of material to work with. A lot. Because Joel doesn’t give short answers. He’s a talker. Or as Elaine on “Seinfeld” would say, “a long talker.”
I spoke with Joel four times in 15 years. Our conversations were always over the phone and never brief, always an hour or more. Joel obviously enjoyed the interview process, but more than that, I think he was also seeking to understand himself.
In 1998, at the time of this interview, Joel was 49 years old and in a period of transition, unsure of where he was headed. It had been five years since the release of his last album, 1993’s “River of Dreams” (and he has not released another pop album since). Despite not having new material nor a new album to promote, Joel was about to embark the next day on a major tour (which included three late fall dates in Boston at the Fleet Center). He mused that it might be his last large-scale rock tour, though that certainly did not turn out to be the case. But on the day we spoke, Joel was surrounded by uncertainty, not sure if he wanted to write more pop and rock songs, not sure of how the classical music he was writing would be received, not sure of his future as an artist and performer.
Aside from his 2001 album of instrumental classical pieces, “Fantasies & Delusions: Music for Solo Piano,” Joel has not released a collection of new music in more than 20 years. Yet he keeps performing – compelled, I believe, by the same need to communicate that kept him on the phone talking away to me.
From his home in East Hampton, Long Island, New York
September 29, 1998
Why did you decide to tour now without having a new album to promote? Do you need the money? Or do you love being in the spotlight?
I like playing. I don’t like the travel that much, the schlepping, the flying, the staying in strange places. I had made a commitment to the musicians and the crew people who work with me last year to tour this year. They put out that greatest hits album and we were touring with that release early in the year, then we did a couple of tours with Elton [John] overseas, in Japan and Australia. After the Japanese part, which was in May, I think, I came back and got sick, I developed an upper respiratory infection. I went off to Europe to tour with Elton and didn’t really realize how serious this was, I just thought it was a cold. Being a dumb, macho guy, I said, “Eh, I’ve played sick before, no problem.” I went out and proceeded to lose my voice. We did three shows, two Dublins and a Glasgow, and I had nothing. It was kinda scary actually, it never happened to me before. I’ve gotten sick, I’ve had laryngitis, or a sore throat…I didn’t really start treating it with an antibiotic until I’d already shot my voice. The tour was booked for June, all over Europe with Elton. I called him up and said, “Can we reschedule?” and he said no, he had other dates already planned and a whole series of things lined up. So that precluded me being able to get back to Europe. So basically I’ve been home writing. I was originally going to tour again in September, but the advice I got from the throat guys was you gotta have your voice back as long as it was gone before you work again. So it was gone for two months, so since then I’ve had it back for two months.
Essentially this is a continuation of a tour that started early this year. Some dates have been rescheduled because of the September-October rescheduling, some are a continuation, it’s a whole magillah. I had committed to tour this year and all the people who usually work with me had planned on that. So it’s partially because I had a commitment to them and partly I wanted to finish what I started, and partly because I don’t know if I’m going to tour again after this. I keep talking about that. I’m trying to avoid the farewell grand announcement. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Like The Who. They announce their farewell tour and three years later they’re back. It’s like, “Didn’t I pay through the nose to see them go away?” I guess what I’m saying is I’m going to finish touring the way I’ve been touring, which is these long, staying away from home for a long period of time tours. And then if I do play again it will just be these little pop up appearances here and there. Hopefully it won’t be at some local dinner theater, but who knows? [laughs]
I don’t have the need to be in front of people, having an audience love me. That went away a long time ago. I enjoy playing and we have great audiences. We got a lot younger audience over the last couple of albums. Kids who were little kids when “We Didn’t Start the Fire” came out are now teens. It’s just a great audience. I just don’t want to disappear without giving them notice. It’s like I may not be doing this much longer so I’m going to give it one more shot. But it’s not the big farewell announcement, it’s the end of touring.
Is it true that you’ve been spending a lot of time at home writing classical music?
I’ve been writing classical music for the last four years now. Piano pieces. Not atonal, 20th century classical music, more like mid-19th century romantic, melodic classical music in the genre of Schumann or Brahms or Chopin or even Rachmaninoff, although I can’t dare compare myself to them as pianists because my left hand is a complete limp fish. It’s sometimes reminiscent of that kind of stuff, because that’s the stuff I like. I think almost all songwriters from my school of songwriting all harken back to the middle of the 19th century, ultra melodic, ultra romantic music. And if you really go back far enough the grandfather of the whole thing was probably Schubert, because he specialized in song forms.
You’re only writing piano pieces?
Mostly piano pieces. Some are purely piano pieces and some can be written and arranged for piano and orchestra. Not a concerto, but a suite possibly. And some of the pieces are orchestral fragments. I started writing some themes, some motifs, based on a book called “Men’s Lives” by Peter Matthiessen. It came out a little more than ten years ago. It deals with the commercial fisherman out here on the eastern end of Long Island, how it was a disappearing way of life. The government is kind of strangling them and the sport clubs are putting them out of business. I can very much relate to those guys. I used to oyster, I used to be an oysterman in Oyster Bay, believe it or not. It was kind of a Long Islanders birthright to go over to the bays and pull clams out the water, to go shellfishing. We used to cut school and go clamming, that’s how we used to make money to augment whatever income we had. Due to pollution, hell, now you’d be competing with a guy who needs to make a living at it. So I read that book and it was a subject that was close to my heart. I moved out here to the east end of Long Island, one town away from where your hero, Yastrzemski, he grew up in Bridgehampton, and I’m the next town east from that. The funny thing is, out here, before there was cable, which is fairly recent out here, there was only New England TV reception. You’d get Hartford and Providence, so everybody out here was a Red Sox fan. There’s not a whole lot of Yankees fans out here. There wasn’t a whole lot of singing and carrying on out here when the Yankees won the World Series last month, it’s more New England here than it is New York. I started writing these themes, kind of nautical themes based on Long Island history, the settling in 1600. It’s interesting. The original settlers on Long Island were refugees from the Plymouth Bay Puritan colony, which I kind of like because, jeezus, people came to Long Island because there was no living with you people [laughs]. They came here to get away from people who came from England to get away. So I kind of like that whole aspect of our history. We were a little more free thinking, free spirited here.
So this music based on “Men’s Lives” might turn into a larger, symphonic work?
Yes, it could. There was supposed to be a movie loosely based on the book but nothing ever happened. I just went along and wrote pieces, motifs, based on the idea of the building of the region, the farmers and the fisherman. There’s an 1800s section, a 1700s sections, it’s all based on the history of the area. I call these fragments “The Scrimshaw Pieces,” because essentially this area was built on the bones of whales. But I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I need to have it orchestrated, arranged for orchestra, but that’s a pretty ambitious thing to do. What I’m really hoping to do at this point is build a large volume of compositions of smaller pieces. I want to write a lot more of these piano pieces and put my toe in that way. I don’t know if I’m going to be the one recording this stuff even ‘cause I’m not that good a pianist. I’m great at rock and roll, but I suck at classical.
[A recording of Joel’s classical solo piano pieces, “Fantasies & Delusions,” performed by Richard Joo, was released in late September, 2001 – 17 days after 9/11.]
Is there any plan for presenting this stuff to the public?
No, not really. I don’t have a big driving ambition to bring this stuff out to the world yet. I’m sure there are classical critics who are going to carve it up with a knife and a fork, but that’s not going to stop me from having it presented. I guess what I’m going to have to do is get more written so I have a pretty extensive repertoire. At the end of the year, I’m going to be finished with this part of the tour. And I’m not even sure if I’m going to tour after the end of this year. That may be it. And then really concentrating on working with a classical pianist to hone these things and then have these things presented by a hired gun, a pistolero. I’m sure Columbia would prefer that I recorded it because they could present it a lot easier with my name.
I’m kind of playing it by ear. We’re going to break at the holidays, December. I’m not really obligated at all to tour after the end of this year. I want to see how it feels out there. If for some reason or other I’m reborn to being 16 again, maybe I will add some more dates. But if it keeps going the way I feel like it’s going to end up….I think I’ve been on the road 30 years. I’m getting to the point where I feel like I’ve been here, done that, played this, played that. I don’t have any new rock and roll music, I don’t have any new pop songs. Essentially, I’m playing the same music I’ve been playing for dozens of years. So I ain’t getting any younger. And I’ve had a wonderful run. It’s been a terrific amount of time in the big leagues and there are a lot of rookies coming up. They should have their day in the sun. I don’t need to hog the limelight. Like I said, I’m not somebody who needs the love of an audience to feel like I’m worth anything. But I do love the synergy of an audience when we’re playing live, and the noise they make, there’s nothing like that in the world. But I’ve got to grow as an artist. And if I continue to tour my fear is I’ll just end up being a parody of myself.
You were conducting an internet poll in your recent shows asking your fans what you should play. Is that something you plan to continue?
No, we pretty much got a good idea what people were looking to hear when they come to a show. I wasn’t necessarily going to base the whole set on that. I just wanted to make sure we were going to cover some of the bases because it’s a pain in the ass to go to a show for most people. They can’t get tickets. There’s always this larceny with these ticket outlets and scalpers, which is another thing I’m sick of as far as the touring industry goes, the piggybacking and the larceny and the greed. I’m trying to keep my ticket prices low, under $40, which still sounds expensive to me. But compared to other ticket prices we’re really low. Everybody is trying to convince me to go higher and higher. “Oh, you got to make the price higher.” I said why? “Because it’s so easy for the scalpers to get tickets.” I said that’s a ridiculous reason to give it to the customer. But that’s part of what makes it difficult to go to shows anymore, just the pain in the ass factor of getting tickets. Then you have to drive there in the traffic. Then you have to try to get to your seat and there are people throwing ugly tee shirts in your face. And then who knows who you’re going to end up sitting next to and what they ingested for the evening. And then you can be in a section where you don’t see that well or the speaker is right next to your ear. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. So what are we going to do? How do they refer to it? Oh, they should challenge the audience more. They’ve been challenged enough already. This is show biz. A certain aspect of it should be entertainment.
So what are you playing?
The balance of the set works in three parts. The first part is we gotta include some of the chestnuts and warhorses that people came to see. And that goes back to my own aesthetic, because I went to see Led Zeppelin once, who I loved, and they didn’t do one song that I knew. They did this long blues jam. I was really pissed off. I swore if I ever got to a point where I had a repertoire, I wouldn’t do that to people. So part of the show consists of doing things people are familiar with.
The other part would be doing songs we just enjoying doing, songs we feel like doing to get our own rocks off. And then the balance of the whole thing, we would do songs that would work with the other two kinds of songs. It’s a third of what the audience wants, a third of what we want, and a third of what we feel will balance out the set.
What’s an example of a song the band loves to play that the audience doesn’t love?
A song like “Storm Front,” which was not really a well known song. But it’s got a great groove and in a way it’s a challenge for the band to play it because the slower you play it the better it feels. It’s got this [sings riff] – almost like “Sledgehammer,” the Peter Gabriel song. It’s got this great funk. And it’s got this fine line. If you play it too fast, it doesn’t have that real good grind funk. If you play it too slow, it falls apart. But if you play it just right, it’s like you’re going on this great ride. I’m not saying we’ll do that song, but something like that. At the end of the song, sometimes the audience just gives us an, “Okay, now give us something we know.”
Are there songs the fans voted for that surprised you?
There were more songs than I thought there were going to be that weren’t hit singles, like “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” or “Captain Jack.” Which I like. I like that the audience doesn’t want one hit single after another. Because I don’t think the hit singles represent the sum and substance of all the work that I’ve done. A greatest hits album is just that, it’s greatest hits, not everything I’ve written. In fact, most people would be unfamiliar with most of my work. I’ve put out something like 16 albums. There’s only one or two singles off each album that have gotten a lot of airplay.
How many performances of your classical compositions have been done so far? I know they played something at Tanglewood.
That was the fall of ‘97, something like that, at Tanglewood for NPR. That was pretty cool. It was broadcast on the National Public Radio program [Performance Today]. They’ve since broadcast it a number of times. I think there were even some reviews. Of course it was a benefit so nobody slaughtered it. They were kind. And I think the pianist who played the pieces, this Russian woman [Yuliya Gorenman], one or two other times played them at performances in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The pieces were very well received. So there has been some exposure, but no recordings, nothing in a city like Boston or New York.
Paul McCartney, who doesn’t read music, says he uses helpers and computers when he composes orchestral music. What’s your process?
It’s really the same process as when I write songs. I know how to read music, but I don’t know how to sight read like I used to. And I don’t sit down and do every little piece of notation. What I do is I record it. I come up with an idea, a motif, a theme, and I begin to develop it. I play it one way, I play it another way. I do a variation on it, some kind of offsetting motif to get away from it that will lead me someplace else. It’s really extending a melodic idea to see where it goes. The problem with pop music and rock and roll, it’s very conservative. You’re not allowed to write more than a certain amount of words per verse and then you’ve got to get back to the beginning of the verse to start the second verse or else you’ll lose the listener. And then you’ve got to have a chorus and a hook and it’s all got to be done in a certain amount of time and it’s got to fit a radio format. It’s very confining. There’s an orthodoxy to it. After a while it becomes very frustrating.
I started writing this kind of music ‘cause I’ve always loved classical music. I love the idea of let’s see where this melody goes. Let’s follow this thing. I started writing what began as a song, based on a four note motif. The title was “We Say Goodbye.” That’s as far as I got lyrically. I was writing about when my daughter visits me and then she leaves. Because I’m a divorced father and divorced fathers are treated like second-class parents by this system as far as I’m concerned. We get visitations. And I get this terrible empty feeling every time my daughter leaves. I started to write this music based on the words “we say goodbye.” [He sings:] We say goodbye and then I watch as you leave. [Speaking:] And then the melody descended and descended, and then the chords which started in a major key began to diminish and became minor. I said, wait a minute. I don’t need words. This music is saying it on its own. The music was conveying the emotion very well. And I kept going with it. There are four different sections in this piano piece which basically pick up this four note motif, which is how a lot of classical music is written. Look at Beethoven’s Fifth [He sings: dah dah dah dah]. He takes that four note motif and turns it inside out and upside down, but it’s essentially a repetition of a four note motif. But being Beethoven, it’s titanic the way he does it. I just did it in a small way. But it got me to continue writing those kinds of pieces. That’s really what led me to do this. Suddenly I have no need for words. I almost feel freed, like composers of the world unite. Throw off the chains of lyrics!
Would you get involved in orchestrating and arranging something like the “Scrimshaw Pieces”?
Oh absolutely. I’ve done orchestrations before on some of the songs I’ve recorded. I’ll hire an arranger because that’s how it’s done in pop music, He gets all the orchestra guys together and you’ll sit down with him and go through the piece, discuss what kind of coloration you want. I’m pretty familiar with the colors of the orchestra, the strings and brass. I wouldn’t necessarily write every note down. Not every composer does.
Do you write with a computer?
I don’t even know how to turn a computer on. I’m computer illiterate. Actually my daughter taught me how to turn it on, but I don’t know how to turn it off. But it’s not a process where I have other people involved or use a computer to write for me. I do it the old fashioned way. I sit down at a piano and write.
What did you think of Paul McCartney’s “Standing Stone”? [McCartney’s second full-length classical work (after 1991’s “Liverpool Oratorio”), it received its first performance and CD release in late 1997.]
I thought it was very ambitious. There are sections of it I like a lot. Some of it sounds like it was written by committee. And some of it is extremely melodic. It’s very ambitious, I have to give him credit for diving in the pool all the way. I would be scared to death to do it. I’m going to put in a toe at a time. But he’s taking a great risk, but I admire him for that, taking the risk alone. What do I think personally? Like I said, parts I really like, parts I don’t know if it’s actually Paul or not, I can’t tell. I don’t hear his voice all the way through it, let’s put it that way.
Is the idea of composing film music appealing?
I thought about it. It’s a good medium. There are some really good film scores. John Williams. Elmer Bernstein. It would be a good challenge. I did the “Scrimshaw Pieces” with the idea that the book would be produced as a movie, but I don’t know if I like it being somebody else’s idea and them coming to me saying, “We need some music here, some music there,” like somebody else writing the characters and the story. I usually write my music coming from my own experience, my own emotional need to communicate, from my own mood. It’s difficult trying to interpret somebody else’s moods. That’s where I might have a problem. Movies also, the director has the final say how the music gets used. They dip your volume, edit you, move you around. I don’t like music being used in a secondary nature for anything, which is one of the reasons I don’t like videos – the emphasis is on the visuals and the music is secondary. But a good music soundtrack can really make a movie, so it is possible. If I was really inspired by what I saw I could consider it. But right now I’m interested in writing my own music.
Is this classical music pursuit a certainty or do you think you might you change your mind?
Some of it has already been on the radio and been presented to a Tanglewood audience. I’m not hiding it under a bushel. What I’ve got to do is write enough so that I’ve got a substantive repertoire. Keep in mind that I’ve just started, even though it’s been four years since I started writing. I only have what I consider the eight finished piano pieces. Now eight pieces in four years isn’t a lot, but that’s because I’m very demanding on myself. I’d rather have less pieces that were good than more that weren’t. I’m just starting. When I first started writing pop songs I wasn’t very good at it. I stunk. I’m glad nobody ever heard my first attempts at writing songs. Now I’m just starting to write this stuff, so I want to be damned sure that I’ve lived with it for a while before I put it out. Because it is a different a genre. I’m expecting a certain amount of criticism because it’s going to be called very derivative. And it is. It is derivative of 19th century romantic music. That’s the stuff that I like. But if I feel good about it, I really don’t care. Do I feel urgently compelled to present this to the public? No, I don’t. To tell you the truth, I’m enjoying the composing of it. That’s what I’m really having a great time with.
Remember the movie “Tucker” [directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Jeff Bridges as car designer Preston Tucker]? There was a scene in the movie that really stuck with me. He gets a call from Howard Hughes to go visit Howard Hughes. He goes to Utah, I guess to visit, and they’re looking at the plane, the Spruce Goose, and Howard Hughes is complaining, “Why do they call it the Spruce Goose? I don’t think that’s funny.” And then he says to Tucker, “Y’know, everybody wants to know if this thing is gonna fly.” He goes, “I know it will fly. But that’s not important. What’s important is the idea.” Not that I want to compare myself to a nut like Howard Hughes, but I totally agree with that statement. It’s not important if it works or not. What’s important is the idea. The origin of creativity, the moment of conception is a gas. I’ve been doing this for four years now. It’s not like I made an intellectual decision to write this stuff, it just happened naturally. And I’ve been enjoying it so much and it’s coming along so nicely and I really think it’s good. As an artist, I have to go with that. I just got to go with the flow. People will hear it. I’m in no big hurry to get it out there. It’s not like I’m going to make any money with it. David Letterman said, “You’re doing classical music? Then I guess you have enough money.” It’s not like I’m ready to jump into the music wars in a different milieu, I just want to build up my repertoire. If people are doubting that I’m doing anything, that’s their problem.
Have you written any pop songs in the last four years?
I haven’t written one song. I started one. I had an idea for a melody. I couldn’t think of what to write lyrically. I wrote this really high blown, pompous , pretentious lyric – the melody was nice, it was classical in nature, almost like a Procol Harum thing, very stately – and I started writing this stream of consciousness imagery about walking around in Paris, seeing the ghosts of my past, going toward the carnival lights. I don’t know where it came from. It all culminated in this phrase, “I walked along the Champs-Elysées.” Now I always like saying that, whenever I’m in Paris, “Hey let’s go to the Champs-Elysées.” It just sounds good. But I don’t even speak French, I just like being able to say some of those words. I wrote the title down. I really didn’t have all the lyrics. And I gave the band some chord charts and I wrote “The Champs-Elysées” along the top. My guitar player, Tommy Byrnes, who is a very irreverent guy, like my drummer, he looks at the chord sheets and goes, “What’s the name of this one? The Champ’s Eyelashes?” From then on, no matter what I did, the song will forever be known as “The Champ’s Eyelashes.” And it might as well be called that, because the lyrics were so bad and I realized I wasn’t even feeling what I was writing lyrically, I was more into the music. And I haven’t written any songs.
Some of it may have to do with the woman I’ve been going out with the last couple of years [Carolyn Beegan; they broke up in 2000]. She’s a painter, an artist. She paints abstract painting and paintings which are surrealistic, paintings which are not necessarily literal. And I don’t always understand what it is she’s painting. I don’t always understand why she’s painted what she’s painted, but she has absolutely no need to explain what she’s doing to me. So I don’t have to know. I realized this is a great concept, to be able to write in abstractions, to be able to compose something which isn’t so easily definable, something which isn’t so damn literal. I know what I’m feeling, I know what I’m saying, I know what I mean, and if somebody wants to interpret it a different way, that’s fine. If somebody doesn’t like it, hey, that’s fine too. I don’t want people to think my girlfriend is Yoko Ono and I’m not going to write anymore. It’s not her fault. But I admire her not being so literal and that’s what I want to do.
But might a song just pop into your head and you’ll start writing again, just like that?
Hey, if I wake up and I have a song in my head I’m not going to not write it, I would go with it. That’s the way I’ve always been with songs. I get an idea for a song, usually from a dream, I’ll get up and start writing it. I’ll be compelled to write it. But if I’m going to write songs ‘cause it’s a habit or it’s expected of me or it’s contractual, that’s no reason to write songs. They have to be inspired, they have to be real, they have to come from somewhere inside me. As I’ve gotten older, my moods, my emotions, my thoughts, are not as cut and dried. And that’s okay. I’m becoming more comfortable with the abstract and the complex. In some ways I’m simpler, in some ways more complex. I’m finding the music I’m writing now conveys the mood much more than words would. I think words sometimes would throw the whole thing out of whack. But if I get an idea for a song and it has words, I’m gonna write it. Gershwin wrote classical music and then went back to writing pop songs.
You’ve taken your share of critical knocks over the years. How do you reconcile such criticism of your work with the adoration of your fans? How do you resolve the contradiction?
I think that the whole war I had with critics was just some critics. I think I brought a lot more attention to bad reviews than would have been paid otherwise, because there was an equal amount of positive reviews. But I blew it out of proportion by being a hothead and getting into a war with people. I realize as I’ve gotten older that everybody’s allowed to have their opinion. It’s okay. It’s also the realization that there may be some people who only know me from the singles. And I realized if I only knew me from “Tell Her About It” and “Uptown Girl” and “Just the Way You Are,” I might not like Billy Joel either. And I’ve written a lot more than that. Most of my work is under the tip of the iceberg. If I’ve rubbed people the wrong way because of the success or the type of hit single, they may have just become set in concrete as far as their opinion of me. It doesn’t mean that they’re right. Music is very subjective. Some people can’t stand Beethoven. Some people only like modern music. It’s a very subjective thing. I say live and let live.
You’re a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee this year. Is getting in something you care about?
I was nominated last year and I didn’t get it. It was a non-event. [Joel’s induction into the Hall of Fame came two weeks after this interview.] A lot of people were mad on my behalf. I wasn’t bugged by it, but a lot of people who are fans were miffed. There was all this stuff on the computer and I got a lot of mail about how I was treated badly. But it was gratifying to know I got nominated. That was cool. If it happens, then I am going to get excited, because most of my life has been rock and roll. I made my bones in rock and roll. A lot of people think of me as the Piano Man, like I worked in a piano bar all my life. I only did that for six months. All those other years I was in rock and roll bands. When I became a pop artist I went out with a rock and roll band and I’ve been touring for 30 years now. I’m very close to that music and I’ll always love it.
What do you think of the remastered versions of your old albums that Columbia has been putting out?
It’s not new. They’re all used cars. I think they’re good used cars and if there’s a new paint job they can give them – which is essentially what this remastering is….when they did those original CD pressings they didn’t do that remastering, so these sound a lot better, a lot clearer to me. When I listen to them I can hear mistakes that were made that I think were really great mistakes. It makes me remember why we picked that particular take. There’s one song, I think it’s on “Nylon Curtain,” called “A Room of Our Own.” On the end of the recording, the drummer completely loses his place and starts playing the beat backward. I remember this like it was yesterday. We all threw him a look, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.” We were shaking our heads, keep going, it’s working, don’t stop, and I hadn’t heard that for awhile. [Shortly after the 3:00 mark in the clip below you can hear what Joel is talking about.] Little things like that are a lot clearer. But some people don’t like the clarity. But god, I hated all that hiss and crackle and pop.
[Note: Here Joel started talking about how an old record by someone like Frankie Lymon sounds great on jukebox, but not on a super audio system, remarks I did not transcribe knowing they would never make it into my story.] But we were always trying to get rid of the hiss. But other than that, it’s basically used cars. But this is Sony’s idea, not mine. They’re probably desperate to market anything. I haven’t given them anything in five years.
[Joel continued talking for several more minutes but I didn’t transcribe this part of the conversation, which returned to the subject of his forthcoming tour, ground we had already covered. Joel wondered aloud again about whether or not this would be his farewell tour, saying “I am assuming it’s a possibility.” Then he went into a riff about how he might stage his farewell performance in the manner of Andy Kaufman (a fellow Long Island native). He pictured himself on stage sitting on a couch in a living room in a bulletproof glass enclosure. He’d watch TV for a while. He’d get up a make himself a sandwich. He’d sit down and watch more TV and carry on in this fashion as the crowd grew increasingly impatient and started to go crazy. Only then would he pick up a microphone and say, “I just said I’d be here. I didn’t say I’m going to play. And they’ll know it’s my farewell tour.”
Joel never followed through on this fantasy. He continued to tour frequently until 2010 and still performs live concerts. He has become “the fourth Madison Square Garden franchise” (joining the Knicks, the Rangers and the Liberty), and intends to perform one concert a month there until not even he knows when.
Apart from two stray singles in 2007 (“All My Life” and “Christmas in Fallujah”) and a handful of guest appearances with other artists, Billy Joel has not recorded any new pop material since 1993.]