For someone that hasn’t really released brand-new music in more than 20 years, Billy Joel is having actually an epic third act. He has spent much of his life in battle: versus his ex-wives, against booze, bad managers and also bankruptcy, and versus critics who’ve thought about him as well uncool because that rock ’n’ roll. Legendary village Voice doubter Robert Christgau derided him together “a force of nature and bad taste.”
Today, in ~ 65, Billy Joel is in the middle of an unmatched residency in ~ Madison Square Garden. His monthly shows gross him more than $2 million each. He has sold more than 150 million albums and also has to be inducted into the Rock and also Roll hall of Fame and the Songwriters hall of Fame. In 2013, that was among the recipients in ~ the Kennedy facility Honors. A Hicksville native, he has been taken into consideration the poet laureate of lengthy Island for decades.
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Yet he’s constantly felt a failure where it many counts: love.
“None of those human being in the arena screaming her name really know you,” Joel tells writer Fred Schruers in the new book “Billy Joel: The critical Biography.” (Joel, who sat because that 100 hours of interviews, ultimately withdrew indigenous the job over fears it would certainly be as well revelatory.)
“You simply need one — one person out that millions — to know and accept and love you because that being, well, simply the method you room . . . I watch old folks walking under the street that look like they’ve been with each other 50 years, and also there’s something really touching around it — the they’ve lasted for this reason long. I provided to wonder: just how come i don’t have actually that? I have the right to dream about it, think around it, write music and also lyrics and sing about it. I deserve to even shot to achieve it again, and often have.”
His three tortured marriages — and also the music they’ve inspired — room testament to that.
The SharkBilly Joel and also Elizabeth WeberWireImage
Joel met his an initial wife in 1970, v his friend and also bandmate Jon Small. Elizabeth Weber was married come Small, and they had a infant son, Sean — yet Joel was knocked out. “She wasn’t prefer a lot of the other girls ns knew at the time who had actually taken residence ec and also cooking classes,” that told Schruers. “She to be . . . Intelligent and also not fear to speak she mind, but could likewise be seductive. Almost like a European-type — not a usual American girl.”
When tiny discovered the affair, Weber left castle both, disappearing for weeks. Joel ended up being suicidal. He was 21, broke, friendless, loveless and “crashing in ~ my mom’s place again, which is abject failure.”
Not lengthy after Weber took off, Joel overdosed top top Nembutal, then called little to apologize. Alarmed, little raced to Joel’s mom’s residence in Hicksville and found Joel top top the floor. “The next thing i remember, ns woke increase in the hospital and also learned that they had pumped my stomach,” Joel said Schruers. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, great, ns couldn’t also do this right.’ it was another failure.”
A few weeks later, Joel do the efforts again, this time drink furniture polish. Another family member found him, and also this time, Joel confirm himself right into a psychological hospital, where he stayed for three weeks. He had actually an epiphany: “The human being I was locked up v were never going to be able to overcome their problems, whereas mine were all self-made,” he told Schruers. “I deserve to fix this, i thought.”
He started writing again. Never ever much right into drugs, the self-medicated through booze and also cigarettes. After lot agonizing back-and-forth, the got in addition to Weber, who had shrewd business sense and also agreed to regulate him. Castle married in September 1973. “She’s gained a Way” and also “She’s constantly a Woman” were inspired by her, yet many roughly Joel to be concerned: They discovered Weber controlling, manipulative, rude and also far an ext enthralled through the rock n’ roll way of living than Joel.He wrote “Just the means You Are” as her date of birth gift, and also after he play it because that her, she said, “Do I gain the publishing, too?”One year, he wrote “Just the way You Are” together her date of birth gift, and after he played it because that her, she said, “Do I get the publishing, too?” She wasn’t kidding.
As his wife, Weber was entitled come 50 percent of Joel’s worth and was additionally taking a reduced of his earnings as manager. She brought her brother, Frank, right into the fold, and also Joel feeling deep unease. His following record — and its eponymous fight single, “The Stranger” — were also inspired through her.
In 1982, they filed because that divorce, but Joel hoped to reconcile. That agreed come buy her every little thing she wanted — a $4 million town residence on the Upper east Side, an Alfa Romeo — but then he had actually a motorcycle accident, smashing both his hands. While in the hospital, doped increase on pain pills and also contemplating what future he might have together a musician, Weber concerned visit, contract in hand. Joel recalls her questioning him come sign everything he had over to her.
“I may have actually acted choose an idiot a time or two, yet I’m no a finish idiot,” Joel told Schruers. “That really eliminated it best there and then.”
Frank Weber sided through Joel in the divorce. Years later, Joel would uncover Frank had siphoned practically $30 million the his earnings, and in 1989, Joel sue him for the plus $60 million in punitive damages.
Frank outwitted Joel by filing because that bankruptcy, and in 1990, Joel cleared up out of court.
“I hooked up with the Borgias!” Joel told Schruers. “What a household to pick.”
The SupermodelBilly Joel and Christie BrinkleyGetty Images
Following the 1982 break-up with Elizabeth, Joel went to St. Bart’s for the holidays. He uncovered a piano bar and began playing; a couple of moments later, come his wonderment, Elle Macpherson, then just 19, and also Christie Brinkley, 28, were standing in ~ either next of the 33-year-old — together with an undiscovered Whitney Houston.
They were all vying for Joel’s attention, Brinkley speak Schruers. “Whitney says, ‘I can sing!’ Meanwhile, Elle’s draped herself on the piano prefer Michelle Pfeiffer
Back in new York, Brinkley and Macpherson competed for Joel, that was life in a penthouse apartment overlooking central Park. His doorman, a struggling actor named Nick Turturro, would certainly rank every the ladies Billy carried home. “Usually, he’d hold up eight, nine, 10 fingers,” Joel called Schruers. Brinkley was the just one to get 10 fingers twice.
The very first night Joel gained Brinkley to come residence with him, “I was trying come act cool, however somewhere inside me the child from Hicksville to be going, ‘Yesssssss!’ ” as soon as the elevator door opened to his apartment, over there stood Macpherson. “Even as component of me thought, ‘Oh, God, no,’ another component of me to be going, ‘Holy crap, if my friends might see me now.’ ”
Christie likes come joke that the end of the marital relationship . . . Order the end of my songwriting career… at least, i think that a joke.-Billy JoelBrinkley was unruffled. She left, Macpherson stayed, yet Joel was in love through Brinkley. Lock married in 1985, and also the album “An chaste Man” was a love letter come her. Castle conceived their daughter, Alexa Ray, on your wedding night.
Yet Joel’s financial dilemmas meant he had actually to tourism nonstop to recoup his money, and the marriage suffered tremendously. The breaking point came in 1993. After ~ a present at Nassau Coliseum, Joel choose to remain at a adjacent hotel rather than make the 90-minute journey home, and also Brinkley to be told by among Joel’s band members the he was having an affair. (Joel denies it.) through the end of the year, castle knew the marriage was end — and also it significant the critical year Joel would worry a new album.
“Christie likes to joke the the end of the marital relationship . . . Spelled the finish of my songwriting career,” Joel said Schruers. “At least, ns think that a joke.”
The social Climber
By 2002, Joel was again deeply depressed and drinking heavily. He was touring with Elton John, and one night had actually an onstage meltdown in ~ the Garden, randomly shouting the end famous battle sites: “Bunker Hill! Antietam!” (In 2011, man publicly castigated Joel top top his drinking. Your relationship has never really recovered.)
Between 2002 and 2004, Joel had actually three car accidents on lengthy Island, once smashing into a house. He later on blamed poor street lighting, local wildlife, his poorly built Citroën and 9/11. The checked right into rehab however never bought into it. “The reality is, I like to drink,” Joel told Schruers. “Sometimes too much.”
The one bright spot was Katie Lee, a college girl from Ohio who he had picked increase in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel. After ~ graduating, she moved into Joel’s residence in the Hamptons, and in 2004, castle married. Joel to be 55, Lee 23 — just four years older than his daughter, Alexa.
They moved right into a $4 million loft in Tribeca. Just months into the marriage, Joel remained in rehab again.
After a insignificant at Betty Ford, Lee — it s her an aspiring culinary star — motivated him come get back out top top the road, and also he began playing live again. In 2008, while touring v Elton John, Joel kept seeing picture of Lee at premieres and gallery openings — and also one in particular, of she dancing very closely with one more man at arts Basel in Miami.
“Those picture looked bad,” Lee called Schruers. She refuse an affair.
As the marriage unraveled, Joel hosted out hope. That told Lee he wanted to go to a therapist. She began talking around furniture. “I realized, ‘It’s no going come happen. We’re end . . . Just don’t send me messages, don’t leave me cute small phone calls, nothing tease me, nothing f- -k v me, just end it. ’Cause i’m an old guy now, a delicate man. Don’t perform that come an old guy.’ ”
They divorced in 2009. Today, Joel resides in Oyster Bay with his girlfriend of 5 years, a 33-year-old previous hedge funder. He is in no rush to marry again, but, ever the romantic, remains on great terms with all his exes, also Weber. His philosophy, say every one of them, is come look for the great in people, believe in it, and shot again.
“You can have every the money in the world, you deserve to have mansions, you can have properties, you have the right to have yachts, you deserve to have limousines, you can have motorcycles,” the told Schruers. But without love, “it doesn’t typical a goddamn thing.”
In the biography, Joel likewise reveals the inspiration for some of his most renowned songs:“Piano Man” (1973)
In 1972, Joel took turn off to L.A. — he was trying come extricate self from a shady monitoring deal, and also was recommend to go off the grid. He wound up playing piano in ~ The executive Room top top Wilshire Boulevard, and to dull his misery imagine he was prefer Steve boy name or bill Murray ~ above “SNL,” playing the part of a lounge lizard. He performed under the name Bill Martin; the “Bill” in the song is him, and there really was a john the bartender, and also tipping patrons would regularly ask, “What space you doing here?” — discovering this guy was much too talented for the room.
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“New York State of Mind” (1976)
Joel had been living in L.A. For 3 years and was done v it. He recalled a day pilgrimage upstate, and being knocked out by the Hudson Valley’s “full-foliage glory.” Joel and his an initial wife rented a home near West Point, and as shortly as he finished touring, the boarded a Greyhound bus and also stared the end the window. “On that ride, I started writing the song,” he said. “I to be so glad to be back home, feeling, ‘This is whereby I belong.’”
“Movin’ out (Anthony’s Song)” (1977)
“At the time, I simply pictured part lady yelling the end of the house, ‘Anthony! Anthony!’ and I was thinking about a boy who’s to be living at home and also getting a the majority of pressure native his family members to carry out what they want him to do, and this is a guy who desires to go his own way,” Joel called Schruers. “He isn’t buying right into the upward mobility thing.”
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (1977)
Musically inspired by the 16-minute B-side pastiche on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” this is Joel’s many narratively dense and detailed song — the prom king and queen’s courtship, marriage, and divorce said in seven minutes and also 37 seconds. “I want to check out the eternal question about the anointed kids we every knew: everything happened to them? If you optimal too early, if you the warm lick in high school, the a great bet she gonna bomb out pretty early,” Joel told Schruers. “I had an idea . . . About a couple that meets after ~ a lengthy time — okay, a bottle of red, a party of white. It is it — castle in your old Italian restaurant. Progressively it all came together.”
“Big Shot” (1979)
Joel said Schruers the the track was around his unease with fame and brand-new York nightlife at the time. “I hated that whole coked-out, disco-drenched brand-new York club scene in the late ’70s . . . It simply seemed trashy, the entirety Studio 54 schtick of going right into the earlier room and doing coke, or hanging out v Liza Minelli and also Halston — that scene had actually nothing to perform with rock and also roll.” Joel additionally told Howard Stern the it was about Bianca Jagger, who he found a total pain in the ass — and also imagined the Mick did, too.
Joel always writes the melody first, climate the lyrics. For this one, he believed of writing around Levittown, whereby he thrived up, however quickly hit a wall. “What to be there to write about Levittown?” the asked Schruers. “That the candy keep was understocked?” but then he thought of Allentown, and also the working-class main Pennsylvanians ruined by Vietnam and also Reaganomics. “I empathize with world who have challenge finding occupational or continuing to be in a job,” Joel said Schruers. “I put over time inking typewriter ribbons in a factory, and also my God, that mind-numbing, a Dickensian presence . . . I remember what that feels choose to execute a meaningless hard day’s work-related for a low wage.”
“And So it Goes” (1989)
Inspired by a whirlwind affair with Elle Macpherson in the beforehand ’80s. Joel to be a bona fide star in his early 30s; she to be a 19-year-old around to come to be a superstar herself, and also Joel knew she’d soon be gone. “Almost every chord has actually a dissonant keep in mind in it,” Joel speak Schruers, “which come me to be conveying what’s just beneath the words: a type of pessimism and resignation, because I knew the wasn’t yes, really going to work-related out.”