Saturday, June 1, 2013

Billy Joel: 'Elton is Like a Mom to Me'

A.G.: Did you have any ambivalence about touring with Elton? You were kind of pigeonholed as a pop star who plays piano the same way that he was.


B.J.: No. That was when I first started out. Elton was already established, and I came a few years after him, so there were inevitable comparisons. There weren’t that many piano players around — Leon Russell, me, Lee Michaels, one or two other guys. I met Elton in the ’70s in Amsterdam, and it was a mutual-admiration society: he liked me, I liked him and said some day we should tour together. It was left on the back burner for a good 20 years, and then one day I just said: “Why don’t we do this thing with Elton? It should be fun.” And it was, and we did it for 16 years. There’s going to be comparisons — “Oh, who’s better, Elton or Billy?” Who cares?

A.G.: Are you cool with Elton now? Basically he said that you’re not writing new songs out of fear or laziness.

B.J.: That’s his opinion. I don’t do it because I don’t wanna. He tends to shoot off his mouth — he shoots from the hip. I think his heart is in the right place. Maybe he’s trying to motivate me, to get me mad or something. He’s kind of like a mom.

A.G.: He actually kind of looks like a mom.

B.J.: Yeah, he’s got mom hair.

A.G.: Was he angry? He seemed to suggest you dropped out of shows that you had committed to doing with him.

B.J.: There was a misunderstanding — this is my theory, and I haven’t spoken to him directly about it yet. I think his booking agent told Elton that I was going to continue touring with him, and they were already counting the money to do the stadiums. But I never agreed to do it. I finished every date that I had agreed to do. When Elton heard that I wasn’t going to play, he got very bugged, very disappointed and very angry maybe.

A.G.: He also said that you hadn’t really been serious about rehab, because you went to a place where they allowed you to watch television, while he went to a place that made him scrub floors.

B.J.: He doesn’t know anything about my private life. I stayed at his house once in France. He’s a very friendly, charming man, a nice fun guy, but we really never spent much time personally together. He doesn’t really know that much about me, so I let a lot of that slide. I’d work with him again, sure.

A.G.: He’s right that you’ve written almost no pop songs since your last album, 1993’s “River of Dreams.” Why did you stop?

B.J.: I never stopped writing music. I’m still writing music — piano pieces, orchestral music, dramatic pieces — but they could become songs. Some of them are like hymns that I just don’t have words for, but I might.

- New York Times

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