Disclaimer: This web-site, in no way, has any direct
affiliation with: Billy Joel,
Sony Music, Joel Songs,
Inc., Maritime Music, Inc.,
or any other Billy Joel
related entity on the internet.
"Billy Joel Tried To Kill Himself - And It Was His Lucky Break"
By: Alan Smith
"Piano Man" Billy Joel hates to write songs, never thought he could land a beauty like Christie Brinkley - and tried to kill himself in a Laundromat in a place called Hicksville.
Those are the revelations of his ex-manager and longtime friend, painter Ruby Mazur, in a blockbuster exclusive Enquirer interview.
"He was 17 when I first met him," recalled Mazur, who created the memorable mouth-and-tongue logo for the Rolling Stones."
"He was this fat kid with stubby fingers and frizzy hair who couldn't get a girl. He stood in for the piano player of a band called The Hassles when their regular player OD'd."
"He started playing regularly with The Hassles and began singing too. It was in my dad's disco in Plainview, Long Island, and my brother and I started managing him."
"We became best friends. We were so close he even moved in with our family in Massapequa. He had his own room."
"One night in 1969, when he was 21, he got dropped by his girlfriend and tried to kill himself. He did it in a Laundromat in - would you believe - Hicksville, Long Island."
"He took a huge mess of pills, downers and everything - and threw up all over the dryers!"
"A bunch of us took him to the hospital. I brought him home at 3am."
"At that point I gave up managing him but we stayed close. My brother Irwin sat him down and read him the riot act. Billy closed himself in his room and wrote the great songs that came out on his "Cold Spring Harbor" album in 1971. It was his breakout creation."
"He was inspired by this lost love. He was so miserable but he brilliantly distilled his soul into writing those songs. He literally locked himself away. My family, his mother, we were all worried in case he did something silly again so we kept an eye on him. But he never tried to take his life again."
"Billy actually hated sitting down and composing songs. He still does. But if you could force him to do it he was a complete genius."
"After Billy became successful he started changing real fast."
"When he was just starting to see Christie Brinkley I was going out on the town with him and he put on this jarring Sylvester Stallone "I'm Italian" act."
"I guess he thought it was cool to "be Italian". I finally snapped and said to him "Look, you're a Jew from Long Island. You don't have a drop of Italian blood in you."
"He turned to me and said, "I never thought I would get someone as beautiful as Christie Brinkley. This is how I want to live my life."
"I told him, "You will see how bored and depressed this will make you."
"Things were never the same between us after that."
"Prior to Christie he'd never had anyone that beautiful. Billy was not a sex symbol by any stretch of the imagination."
"I guess his music charmed Christie. And he's a very funny guy. In the recording studio he would crack everybody up. But he surrounded himself with an entourage of yes-men. And he believed everything they told him."
"Mazur, 55, is currently writing a book, "The Tongue Man Cometh," with tales of his dealings with The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett and many others. He has a web-site: RubyMazur.com.
He said he's heartbroken over his recent treatment by Joel.
"We go back nearly 40 years. You'd think he'd return one of my calls? I've had numerous art exhibitions and I've invited him. I've called him dozens of times. No reply."
"He doesn't want to know me now. He wants to forget his past. But I do truly wish him happiness."
"Billy Joel & Elton John: Never Too Old To Be Young"
By: Roger Catlin
(March 1st, 2002)
It's a strange thing for Billy Joel, as he goes out for the sold-out multi-night runs of the "Face 2 Face" tour with Elton John.
"I look at myself in the mirror before I go out and say, 'You're going to go out and do a rock-star thing? You don't look anything like what you're supposed to look like.'"
"I've aged like everybody else my age," he says.
"I'm 52 years-old. My hair has thinned out. And I've thickened out in my body," he says.
"Then I walk out, and the crowd starts screaming, and I think: 'Well, something's going on here.' So I don't question it too much."
In fact, the "Face 2 Face" Tour has become one of the most popular - and long-running - special-event tours in rock. Joel and John are booked Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at Sunrise's National Car Rental Center.
When the duo's tour was first organized in 1994, "I wasn't sure how long it would go," Joel says. "The agreement we had was: Let's see how this feels and see how far we want to go; let's see how much we want to work together. And it worked out well."
That's an understatement for a tour that sold-out five nights at Giants Stadium.
"Doing it in stadiums was really absurd," he said. "I mean, stadiums are great for football, but I think what was missing for us was the better sounds of coliseums or arenas - as good as they can sound.
"I mean, I know they're still huge places. Our idea was to eventually try to do it in 'more intimate' settings," he says with a chuckle. "But compared to a stadium, it is more intimate."
The appeal of the tour, in which the two stars sing separately with their own bands for a dozen songs and then join forces for nearly a dozen more, hasn't diminished.
After earning $57.2 million in 31 shows last year - placing fifth among the year's biggest tours, ahead of Madonna - the 2002 tour has had to put on extra shows in each market.
The show has changed through the years, this time including a salute to George Harrison and a trio of new songs from John's latest album, "Songs From the West Coast."
Joel, who hasn't released a pop album in nine years (the last was the #1 "River of Dreams"), alters his set by pulling out more obscure songs from the past.
"Sometimes we'll give the audience a choice," he says. "We pick some obscure songs, and depending on the audience reaction, that's the song we'll do."
"We did this...in Boston. I think one song was "Vienna" from "The Stranger" album; another was "Summer, Highland Falls" from "Turnstiles" and "Don't Ask Me Why" from "Glass Houses." ("Don't Ask Me Why" won.)
"I don't think the show should be all hits," says Joel, who has racked up 33 Top 40 hits, "even though the majority of the audience does want to be familiar with what you're playing. I think if you just play hit, hit, hit, you're not really representing yourself - you're not really representing the body of your work.
"I'm not all just about Top 40 hits," he says. "I think a lot of our reputation goes back years and years and years of having what they called album-cuts. Songs like "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and even "New York State of Mind" have not been singles.
"But then again, you can't do too many of them, because then you see people starting to go to the bathroom. So it's a balance."
"New York State of Mind" is taking on a life of its own, becoming like "Just The Way You Are" before it, an accepted standard.
"It seems to have had longevity," Joel says. "At this point, it does resonate, doesn't it? In light of events in New York, it took on a whole other life as well."
Joel sang it, with an FDNY hat on his piano, for the "America: A Tribute To Heroes" telethon and again at "The Concert for New York City," where he also played the obscure, strangely appropriate sci-fi song "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)". That song, from his 1976 Turnstiles, has become part of his current live show as well.
"New York State of Mind," from Joel's duet with Tony Bennett on the latter's "Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues" is a recent Grammy nominee.
"That came out of left field," Joel says of the nomination. The five-time Grammy winner appreciates the recognition. "The fact that Tony wanted to do it and a number of other really great singers have wanted to do this song means a lot to me," Joel says. "It's like one of my kids went off and became successful."
His daughter - Alexa Ray, now 16 - is planning her own career as a singer-songwriter.
"I want her to take her time," the proud papa says, "because one of the worst things you can do is come out, be viewed as a pop teen recording artist, and then never be able to be taken seriously again when she got older.
"So I'm trying to hold her back. I'm saying, 'Look, just keep writing. Write, write, write; get a lot of experience in the recording studio and in singing and working with other musicians; and when you get to be college age and get to be in that Alicia Keys phase, that's a good time to come out.'"
Keys, at 21, is perhaps the best example of a contemporary pop-based pianist, songwriter and singer.
"She's really, really young, and she's quite poised for her age," Joel says of Keys. "She's got a great voice, and she's terrific at how she arranges her stuff, too. She's put together a very good band; her sound is good."
But, Joel adds, "I think she has a lot to live up to in terms of how she's been critically received. Her first album is being seen as this masterwork, and it's not there yet. She's got a lot of potential; she's got a ton of talent. But I hope she has an opportunity to grow."
"I was fortunate," he adds sardonically, "in that critics made sure I didn't peak too early."
Of other contemporary acts, Joel says, "I like Train; I think they're good. I like Ben Folds."
Generally, he says "It's hard for me to keep track. I don't follow things like I used to. I'm a kind of dial spinner in the car, and my daughter will point out things she thinks are good. And that gets me to listen.
"A lot of times, I'm listening to someone on the radio, and I have no idea. I say, 'Well, who's this?' And my daughter will say, 'Well, that's Nelly Furtado.' And I say, 'Well, I thought a frittata was an Italian dish.' And she says, 'Oh, no, no, she's really, really big.'
"Then I'll say, 'Who's this?' And she goes, 'That's Pink.'
"I don't know who's what anymore. But there's stuff that I like, and there's stuff I don't like. Just like always."
"Double Take: Which of These Twins Has The Tony?"
By: Linda Stasi
(March 3rd, 2002)
Last week, 19 million terrified Grammy fans watched in horror as rocker Billy Joel morphed into comic Alan King onstage after being touched by crooner Tony Bennett. Terrible tragedy? Showbiz trickery? Or something more sinister?
After an exhaustive - not to mention exhausting - investigation by The Post, the ugly truth behind the massive cover-up can now be revealed: When touched by Tony Bennett, victims immediately go bald, grow a beard and start doing shtick. This is followed by an uncontrollable urge to join the Friars Club. Secret documents obtained exclusively by The Post reveal that any contact with Bennett and/or the live farm animal he wears on his head can bring about the horrifying change.
Worse, when left untreated, victims can morph into other, even stranger Friars Club members. In fact, Grammy sources claim that U2 frontman Bono mistakenly rubbed Bennett's head and on the spot turned into Milton Berle.
"Elton John, Billy Joel Blend Favorites With Pizzaz"
By: Sean Piccoli
(March 4th, 2002)
The touring exhibition that is Billy Joel and Elton John came to South Florida on Sunday night for a weeklong stay that looks to be a winner for everyone involved. At the first of three shows at the National Car Rental Center, the middle-aged gentlemen of piano rock played together and separately, drawing on huge hit repertoires and basking in the vocal apprecation of a 20,000-strong sellout crowd.
The "Face 2 Face" tour was not an occasion for reinvention or extension of either man's legacy. Both led their bands and their audiences through galleries of well-loved and comforting songs, played to resemble the album versions as much as staging and acoustics would allow. Sunday's show was a triumph of continuity and reassurance, provided by two people who have survived in the pop trade long enough to have earned their victory laps.
Separate careers notwithstanding, the flashy Londoner and the New York guy proved more alike than different over the course of their sets. Here were two examples of a relatively rare species - the piano-playing rock star - delving into songbooks that vary from schmaltzy to brilliant. Both chose well on Sunday, selecting a mix of hits and crowd pleasers for an audience disposed to enjoy itself, even with tickets topping out at $175.
They opened as a duo, taking bows and sitting down at gleaming, bookended black pianos to share verses on three numbers: "Your Song" and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" by John, and Joel's "Just The Way You Are." Joel, whose voice has held up better than John's over the decades, sounded slightly more natural stepping into the latter's lines. John's singing on "Just The Way You Are" had a clipped quality, with John biting down on the words. But the easy camraderie on display here, and the utter familiarty of the tunes, overwhelmed any shortcomings in delivery.
John's solo set came first. He and a five-piece band showed the most faith in John's 1970s canon, music from a golden age of rock singer-songwriters. They opened with the "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," a rock instrumental built on raw melodic propulsion and dynamics. John's piano rose and fell, and guitarist Davey Johnstone stepped into the gaps with power chords and fast runs, the whole creation steamrolling, as it does on the "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album, into the rollicking "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding."
The set rolled on through "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Rocket Man," and "Take Me To The Pilot." Where John moved out of his most productive decade, he chose carefully: "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" and "I'm Still Standing" - two songs from an otherwise forgettable body of '80s work. But he also offered up two numbers from his acclaimed new album, "Songs From The West Coast." The deeply melodic and heartfelt "I Want Love" and "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" both sounded like replies to the question John must have been tired of hearing: When are you gonna make another "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?"
Joel and his six-piece band opened with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and "Allentown," two songs that distinguished him thematically from John, in their fondness for human-scale characters and workaday problems. Where John prefers to sing broadly or in metaphor, Joel wants his up-close New York experience to be felt. But John's and Joel's songs are such rock standards, they tend to lose their differences over time and simply become favorites, an agreeable nostalgiac voice in our heads.
"Captains of Rock Keep Pop Alive During Their "Face 2 Face" Tour In Sunrise"
By: Howard Cohen
(March 5th, 2002)
The Captains of rock - "Captain Fantastic" (Elton John) and "Captain Jack" (Billy Joel) - would seem unlikely stagemates, bound only by their choice of piano as a lead instrument and a facility for composing enduring pop hooks.
John, the flamboyant Brit, writes melodies and has been known to perform sentimental songs dressed as Donald Duck; Joel, Bronx-born and punchy, has written lyrics often laced with cynicism. Alone, either one could sell out Sunrise's National Car Rental Center to a populace hungry for the aural equivalent of familiar comfort food in uncertain times. Together, the "Piano Men" have the hottest tour on the road despite a top ticket price of $175. "Ridiculously high prices," an often amusing Joel quipped on stage. "I want my kid to go to Harvard."
Sunday's opening night of the duo's "Face 2 Face" Tour sold-out in minutes as did tonight's show. Some tickets remain for Thursday's concert.
Pushing past 3½ hours, the concert opened with the men at facing pianos singing a couple of their standards, with each taking the first verse of the song the other originated - Joel on John's sweetly naive 1970 hit Y"our Song"; John starting Joel's supportive 1977 Valentine, "Just The Way You Are."
The irony wasn't lost on either of the singers. The two exchanged teasing glances at one another when an old lyric seemed absurd all these years later.
"Don't have much money," Joel sang in John's "Your Song," and he couldn't help but make a face. This tour is as good as a money-printing machine. "I said I loved you and that's forever" from "Just The Way You Are" drew a similar reaction. Before performing the tune Joel teased his stage partner about John's loss at the Grammy Awards earlier in the week: "Speaking of losers, this song was written for an ex-one," Joel said about the song he composed for the first of his ex-wives, Elizabeth, whom he divorced in the early '80s.
Judging by the reception greeting these two pals Sunday, John and Joel could set up shop permanently in South Florida. Both are from a time when looking good was secondary to having the chops to perform. Both men were in fine, if richer, voice and the number of classics between these two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers is staggering. As such, it was impossible to come away from this show and not mourn the omission of your favorite hit.
After the three-song joint introductory set, John and his band -- including longtime guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson - went on first. John favored his '70s tunes, opening with an explosive and dramatic "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." He touched only briefly in the '80s for the spry and appropriate "I'm Still Standing" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" and ignored his '90s output altogether. Two songs from John's excellent current CD, "Songs From The West Coast" - the mature "I Want Love" and "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" - fit seamlessly in with his classics.
By comparison, Joel's harder rocking set had a whiff of nostalgia surrounding it since he hasn't written a new pop song in nine years. This didn't stop Joel from valiantly ripping through favorites like his set opening "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." Yet there were some topical moments when he performed oldies like "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)" and the ballad, "New York State of Mind," both of which have taken on new relevance post-September 11th, 2001. Longtime drummer Liberty DeVitto was particularly aggressive, pushing the tempo perilously forward and driving Joel like a boxing coach.
Together, for the energetic closing set, the pair were sparking each other like competitive Olympic athletes. Even a surprise appearance from the much younger - and considerably slimmer - Ricky Martin couldn't upstage the "Piano Men" who are now in their 50s. Martin lept atop Joel's piano, did his trademark hip swiveling and sang "Great Balls of Fire." More high-spirited fun was to be had when John and Joel tore through "The Bitch Is Back" and the swaggering "You May Be Right."
John and Joel compliment each other well and obviously have a blast performing together. That zest is translated to the audience. The concert is simply fantastic.
"Billy and Elton Break Out The Crowd-Pleasers"
By: Noah Bierman
(March 5th, 2002)
Billy Joel and Elton John, two piano icons with four first names between them, delivered all the good-time nostalgia that a greatest hits tour promises during the first of three South Florida performances.
The lights, the self-deprecating wit and, of course, the songs, were all designed to please Sunday at the National Car Rental Center, where working-stiff seats went for $85 a pop.
Cameras were tightly focused on piano keys that loomed on large video screens. Elton must have given the crowd at least 30 of those "I'm-not-worthy" bows. Billy joked about his bald head and his ex-wives.
These guys weren't on stage to impress themselves with virtuosity or artistic pretention. Billy mocked his career as a composer, playing about 30 seconds worth of his classical album.
If sap is what the crowd wants, they'll get it. Throw in a few rocking sing-along tunes. Hold the cigarette lighters in the air for the thoughtful ballads (That's right. They don't do that any more.)
Remind everyone why the "Glass Houses" album psyched them up so much 20 years ago.
And wouldn't it be a kick to hear Elton sing "Just The Way You Are," the two old piano men on opposite sides of the stage?
For the most part, they've still got it. Elton can't hit all the high falsetto notes anymore. But like any pro, he makes up for it with some stylish syncopation. During "Crocodile Rock," he didn't even bother with the "nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah..." part. The crowd filled in.
"Rocket Man" was superb, of course, with a few green lights to suggest a UFO invasion. Elton offered spare vocals and let the back-up band remind you he came into this world as a rock and roll star. And "Levon," with its searching lyrics and pounding piano solos, demonstrated how much cooler Elton was before "Candle In The Wind" gobbled him.
Billy impressed with some of the old rock tunes, too - "Only The Good Die Young" stands out - but seemed to win the day with "New York State of Mind" and other romantic reflections on urban life.
A Brit and an American superstar haven't charmed this well since Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were still hitting the G-7 summit circuit together.
"Touring with Billy is such a gas," said Elton, decked in a black suit with purple embroidery most of the evening. "It's like a party. You guys are going to have a gas."
"Keys To The Conspiracy"
'Piano Man' and 'Rocket Man,' The Hairlines, The Cyndi Lauper Connection...the Similarities Are Uncanny, Wouldn't You Say?
By: Gina Vivinetto
(March 7th, 2002)
Before these "Face 2 Face" tours began in 1995, had you ever seen pop piano stars Elton John and Billy Joel in the same room together?
Of course not.
They've got nothing in common but those 88 keys and a nearly equal number of hits between them.
Or could it be that you've never seen them together before because - as we at Team Pop have long suspected - they're the same person?
Call us paranoid, call us suspicious - others have called us worse - but it sure would make sense. All those piano-driven hits in the age of rock? The bevy of songs with eerily similar characters and stories about everyday men in bars playing the piano for a dime, or, um, in Elton's case, rocketing to the moon or being the savior of mankind?
You may ask: How to explain those onstage duets? Simple. Ever heard of smoke and mirrors? Tricky camera angles? Technology, kids. You can do anything these days with a stuffed dummy in a Victorian wig.
We here at Team Pop - however conspiracy-minded we may be - are settling this thing once and for all. The truth is out there. Here are the clues:
stars are shorter than average:
write frequently about men:
so tenderly, of women:
identical girls show up in the songs:
have had duets with good-looking blondes:
around the home:
inexplicably, gravitate to the word 'honky':
are preoccupied with leaving major cultural landmarks:
have Italian connections:
toity musical stuff:
with Russia, anyone?
listen to them talk:
to find them. Or, not find them:
wants to have fun?
"Elton John and Billy Joel, Talking About Songs"
By: Anthony DeCurtis
(March 10th, 2002)
At a time when the music industry is jittery about its very future, two veteran artists are touring together and selling out shows as if the boom times of the 90's had never ended. Billy Joel and Elton John's "Face 2 Face" tour, which stops in the New York area for nine arena shows beginning at Madison Square Garden on Friday, serves up a staggering array of hits that fans regard as well worth the money even at a top ticket price of $175. The shows, in which the two men perform each other's songs both together and separately, are noteworthy at a time when attention-addled listeners are increasingly focused on specific songs, rather than albums, and find few artists worthy of their continued support.
In many ways, Mr. Joel, who is 52, and Mr. John, who turns 55 this month, are at different points in their careers. Last year, Mr. John released "Songs From the West Coast," a suite written with his longstanding collaborator, the lyricist Bernie Taupin, which has been hailed as reminiscent of their strongest work from the 1970s. Mr. Joel has not released an album of new songs since "River of Dreams" in 1993, and he has no plans to do so any time soon. Instead, he has turned to composing instrumental piano pieces in a Romantic style. Last year he released "Fantasies & Delusions: Music for Solo Piano," which, as performed by the pianist Richard Joo, went to #1 on the classical music charts.
In concert Mr. Joel and Mr. John unleash close to three dozen pop gems: "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "Levon," "New York State of Mind," "Rocket Man," "Piano Man." Most extraordinarily, their catalogs, dating back three decades, run so deep that you could construct another set list, equally long - and equally strong - without repeating a single song. They seemed, then, like ideal candidates for a conversation about the art of songwriting - its rewards, its discontents and its current state of health. That conversation took place backstage before one of their shows at the First Union Center here last month.
Anthony DeCurtis: It's easy to see how a young person could get interested in being a performer, but how did you get interested in writing songs?
Elton John: I was in a mediocre band called "Bluesology," playing behind the English blues singer Long John Baldry. At this stage we were doing cabaret, because he'd had a couple of pop hits. The cabaret thing was killing me. Nobody cared. I thought, "What can I do?" I sang a couple of songs with the band, but I didn't really sing. I thought, "Maybe I can write songs." So I answered this advert for Liberty Records. I went there and said, "I like to write songs, but I can't write lyrics." And they said, well, here's a bunch of lyrics by this guy in Lincolnshire, who happened to be Bernie Taupin. And history was made.
DeCurtis: Billy, you've described songwriting as "the loneliest job in the world." Have you thought of collaborating, the way Elton does?
Billy Joel: I tried it, and the only thing worse than doing it by yourself is doing it with somebody else. You can't share the responsibilities. [To Mr. John] I don't think Bernie's there when you're working on his lyrics.
John: No, but he can be in the same building [laughs]. I couldn't have him in the room - it would be too distracting. It's sacred to me, that selfish piece of it, where, you think, "This is my part of the baby." Sometimes, when you've first written a song, and you've got it right, it's the best it will ever sound.
Joel: Yes. It's Promethean. You were there at the birth. And then comes the postpartum depression [laughs].
DeCurtis: What's your sense of the current state of songwriting?
John: All the great songs of the '60s and '50s, you can still sing them now. The lyrics were like poetry, but they weren't overcomplicated. You can't actually think of someone going down the road singing a complete Alanis Morissette lyric - it's impossible.
If you look at the Top 10, say, even 15 years ago, you could probably sing most of those songs. Now you look at it, and you're not going to be singing Ja Rule in five years. Or Jennifer Lopez, or any of it.
Joel: Actually, "song" is almost a misnomer now for what's on the charts.
DeCurtis: Well, hip-hop and sampling have complicated the notion of what songwriting is.
John: But there are only two or three chords, and it's just a riff.
Joel: Alicia Keys - now, she's talented. She's got the voice. She knows how to arrange, sing and play the piano. But I listened to the album, and I said, "I hear potential here, but I'm not getting blown away."
John: The great song she did, "Fallin'," that's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World," the James Brown song. But it's her first album, for heaven's sake. My first album was "Empty Sky," and hers is far better than that.
DeCurtis: So what's the difference between now and when you were starting out?
John: We had a well of great songwriters to draw on. You had Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen.
Joel: Lennon and McCartney.
John: Jagger and Richards.
Joel: Joni Mitchell.
John: Brian Wilson. Actually, there are three new people that I think write great songs. One is Ryan Adams. Another is Pete Yorn. And the other is John Mayer, whose album is called "Room for Squares." They've gone back to listening to the great writers and been influenced by them.
DeCurtis: Paul Simon once told me that when he heard The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, he felt daunted because it seemed as if they were so good, there might not be room for anybody else.
Joel & John: [simultaneously] I saw them as inspirational.
John: Absolutely. On the road, I played with great people. Leon Russell. Derek and the Dominos. Every night I went onstage and said, "Forget it, you're not going to follow me." And every night they followed me and did better. It made my spirits soar.
Joel: It pushed you. We had these people kicking our butts.
DeCurtis: Among the '60s greats, Stevie Wonder seems to be exerting a huge influence right now.
John: India.Arie is an example of that. I think her album is better than Alicia Keys'. It's more personal, and it's got warmth and style. Every musician is influenced by somebody. We all pinch things. Like the first chord of [the Beach Boys'] "God Only Knows" - I pinched it for "Someone Saved My Life Tonight."
DeCurtis: How do you view each other as songwriters?
John: The thing I love about Billy's music is what I loved about the Band and Crosby, Stills and Nash. They could have only come out of America. That gives his songs an identity, which is the hardest thing for an artist to achieve. When Billy first came out, people said, "He's just America's Elton John." I never got that. I always thought he sounded perfectly like himself. And anyway, anybody who plays piano has got my vote.
Joel: I was just going to go there about his writing. It's piano-based, and it's eclectic. Some of his songs, he does in keys that I'm not even familiar with. When I first learned "Your Song" by ear, I played it in D, and there was something missing. Then, when it was time for me to really learn it, he said, "Well, it's in E flat." That's a difficult key if you're not familiar with it.
DeCurtis: Both of you have had songs like "New York State of Mind" or "Candle in the Wind" that have not only had long lives, but that have taken on meanings you never could have imagined for them.
Joel: That's one of the most gratifying feelings...
John: That your song lasts...
Joel: That it's gone beyond its time. That means, after you're gone, that song will still be alive.
John: I've been very lucky. [The movie] "Almost Famous" came out with "Tiny Dancer" and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," and that's made a lot of younger people come to my shows. And, well, "Candle In The Wind" has been a freak. It's been a hit three times. It's proof of what music can do.
I mean, when I was a drug addict and at the depth of my despair, I used to listen to "Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. That was my life in words and music. That's what songs do to people. When I was at my worst, I still clung to music.
DeCurtis: Billy, do you think you'll write pop songs again?
Joel: I don't know what it will take. I always wanted to be a better lyric writer than I was. I wanted to write surrealistic lyrics like David Bowie or abstract lyrics like Dylan or philosophical lyrics like Leonard Cohen. Lyrics that weren't so bloody literal. It's interesting, because it will be going on 10 years since I've actually written a song.
DeCurtis: Elton, what motivates you to continue to make albums?
John: I'm so competitive. I'm really proud of this last album, but I've had to work three times as hard to promote it, because, as a 54 year-old, I'm not going to get the same amount of airplay I used to. It's a real battle. And I don't think I can do it again. I can't spend the rest of my life doing chat shows. It's ridiculous.
DeCurtis: What's changed about writing songs as you've gotten older?
John: What's gotten harder is you need a hit to sell the album. I think I got waylaid by that in the '80s and '90s. I mean, everything I wrote I thought was genuinely from the heart, but because the industry's changed so much, there's so much pressure, it probably affected my writing. Now I'm willing to say to hell with that, and I think my writing will become not easier but much clearer.
DeCurtis: How about the pressure on you, Billy, from your audience or your record company?
Joel: I think people want me to recreate something that they liked before, say, "Scenes From," you know, "an Asian Restaurant" [laughs] or "Piano Man II." I don't want to do that. I hate repeating myself.
People who just know Billy Joel from Top 40 hit singles may not like me, and I can't say I necessarily blame them. I don't think that really represents the sum and substance of my work. I think a lot of my hits were almost novelty songs. "Uptown Girl" was a joke. So was "Tell Her About It" - that was my take on the Supremes. Even "Piano Man" was a wacko song. I mean, people thought it was Harry Chapin. But as long as it was a hit, that was all the record company cared about.
When I wrote my last song, which is called "Famous Last Words," I really meant, "These are the last words I have to say." But I gave myself an out. I said, "Before another age goes by." I left the door open to write songs again. And I may. I'm not saying I definitely will. But I'm not saying I won't.
"Joel, John Delicious Together"
By: Gina Vivinetto
(March 10th, 2002)
The "Face 2 Face" Tour starring pop icons Elton John and Billy Joel may have reminded some in the sold-out Ice Palace crowd of more than 19,400 on Saturday of those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup television commercials where two unique flavors blend to form one surprisingly yummy result.
Joel and John are so delightfully different. The flamboyant John wore a turquoise suit at Saturday's 3½-hour show but acted far less campy than we've seen him. In fact, the dapper Brit was downright reserved. It was New Yorker Joel, dressed in a conservative dark suit, who mugged for fans and milked lyrics for comedy.
One thing shared by the duo, now on their fourth "Face 2 Face" Tour since 1994 - with Saturday's show the first of two dates at the Ice Palace - is dozens of piano-driven pop hits.
The show kicked-off with Joel and John hamming it up to Yankee Doodle beneath images of the American flag and the Union Jack. The pair sat at two grand pianos, Joel singing the first lines to John's smash "Your Song," then trading verses with his partner. The two launched into Joel's "Just The Way You Are," followed by John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" before Joel left the stage to give John his 70 minutes in the spotlight.
It takes at least that much time to showcase John's three-decade career filled with hits. His set began with the synth-heavy instrumental "Funeral For A Friend...," which sounded very 1970s and looked the part thanks to John's stuck-in-a-time-warp backing band, musicians he has played with since the "Honky Chateau" days, including guitarist Davey Johnstone - he of the long hair and prog rock arpeggios - and drummer Nigel Olsson. (Later Johnstone even pulled out that classic rock staple, the double-necked electric guitar.) That song morphed into the rollicking "...Love Lies Bleeding."
One after another, John delivered the hits, with fans rising out of their seats and boogying to "Philadelphia Freedom." Wisely, he dipped into material from "Songs From The West Coast," his superb new CD that critics are heralding as a return to form after years of sentimental Disney soundtrack fare. The current hit "I Want Love" went over well with fans, followed by the swirling harmonies of the 1970s smash "Rocket Man," featuring John's dazzling keyboard flourishes during a lengthy jam that inspired a standing ovation.
John sang a heartfelt "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," perhaps one of the finest pop songs ever written. John's band gave the song extra oomph with their soaring, soulful harmonies. It brought another standing ovation. Next came "Levon," "I'm Still Standing," and a zippy sing-along "Crocodile Rock," his set's closer.
Joel's set was filled with surprises. He began with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "Allentown," then teased fans with a vote for his third song, which he ignored and performed "Don't Ask Me Why."
Joel on Saturday ranted about AC/DC being considered as nominees to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Then he shocked the audience by introducing AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, a resident of Sarasota, and bassist Cliff Williams, who performed the raucous "Highway To Hell" with Joel's band.
Joel's set also included the timely "New York State of Mind," a song Joel recently re-recorded with crooner Tony Bennett, who performed the tune the night before at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and a kicky "You May Be Right."
Fans' cheers grew even louder when the two stars came together again for a final set of combined hits, including Joel's "My Life," "You May Be Right," and "Piano Man" and John's "Candle In The Wind" and "Bennie and the Jets."
"Ill Joel Forces Concert Postponement"
(March 12th, 2002)
The Billy Joel/Elton John concert scheduled for Monday at the Ice Palace was postponed Monday afternoon due to Joel's "acute upper respiratory infection and laryngitis," his tour manager said.
The Ice Palace advised ticket holders to hang on to their tickets for the rescheduled concert, but no date was announced.
"That's a good question," tour manager Max Loubiere said when asked when the show might be rescheduled. "We're trying to see what the schedule is, what Elton's schedule is. We'll just have to wait and see."
Loubiere said Joel had been under the weather for the past few days and the physician who examined him Saturday before that night's sold-out Ice Palace show advised him not to perform that night, either.
Still, Joel "sang with vigor, cracked jokes and chatted with the audience" during his portion of the 3½-hour concert, St. Petersburg Times pop music critic Gina Vivinetto wrote in her review.
"This morning, he woke up, and he wasn't any better... He really, really hates to cancel, but it would be foolish to go on," Loubiere said Monday.
Joel and John are next scheduled to perform Friday night at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Billy Joel and Elton John Postpone Concert Because of Illness"
(March 12th, 2002)
Billy Joel and Elton John postponed a Monday concert after Joel became ill.
Joel is suffering from "acute upper respiratory infection and laryngitis," and has been feeling under the weather for several days, said Max Loubiere, his tour manager.
The concert at the Ice Palace was scheduled as part of a national tour featuring the two artists.
Arena officials said the concert will be rescheduled, but no date was released. Ticket holders were advised to keep their tickets.
"We're trying to see what the schedule is, what Elton's schedule is," Loubiere told the St. Petersburg Times. "We'll just have to wait and see."
Joel's physician advised against performing Saturday night, but the artist did so anyway, singing to a sold-out, 3½-hour concert, Loubiere said.
Joel and John are scheduled to perform Friday night at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Illness Postpones Elton John/Billy Joel Concert"
(March 12th, 2002)
Singers Billy Joel and Elton John had to postpone a Monday concert in St. Petersburg after Joel became ill.
A manager says Joel is suffering from "acute upper respiratory infection and laryngitis," and has been feeling under the weather for several days. The concert at the Ice Palace last night was scheduled as part of a national tour featuring the two artists.
Arena officials say the concert will be rescheduled, but no date is set. Ticket holders are advised to keep their tickets.
Joel's physician advised against performing last Saturday night, but he did so anyway. Both Joel and John are scheduled to perform Friday night at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"AC/DC Members Take Billy Joel To 'Hell' In Concert"
By: Bruce Simon
(March 14th, 2002)
There may be a partial explanation for Billy Joel's battle with laryngitis, which forced him to cancel Monday's (March 11th, 2002) show with Elton John in Tampa, Florida. The duo played in the city on Saturday (March 9th, 2002) and, during the show, Joel went on a rant about AC/DC and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to the St. Petersburg Times. When he finished, Joel surprised the crowd by bringing AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson and bassist Cliff Williams on stage, and the pair proceeded to run through the AC/DC standard "Highway To Hell" with Joel's band.
Joel and John are scheduled to bring their "Face 2 Face" Tour to Madison Square Garden in New York City tomorrow (March 15th, 2002). At press time, the show was still a go.
"The 'Piano Men'"
Joel and John Face The Fact Their Fans Still Love Their Music
By: Glenn Gamboa
(March 15th, 2002)
Billy Joel didn't understand why Linkin Park wanted to meet him.
The tattooed rap-metalists rushed over before their own concert started across the parking lot at The Spectrum to catch the start of Joel and Elton John's show. "They said they wanted to see what all the fuss was about," Joel says, a few days later. "We said, 'What are you talking about? You guys are the hot guys. You're the biggest-selling band since they created CDs.' And they were saying, 'No, all the buzz is about you guys and all the business you're doing.' Elton and I just looked at each other and said, 'Really?'"
Buzz? Billy Joel and Elton John? You better believe it.
Sure, Joel hasn't released a pop album in almost nine years, and John's latest, "Songs From the West Coast," has been only a modest hit. But at a time when chart-toppers such as the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears have trouble selling out single tour stops in arenas, Joel and John have easily sold-out multiple nights - four shows in Boston, six in Philadelphia and, now, nine in and around New York City - and left thousands more clamoring for seats.
"I don't know how to explain it," Joel says. "I don't want to sound jaded, but I guess we're just used to doing this kind of business. It's just one of those things where the two of us together, it's just 1+1=10. They're always telling us, 'You did this' and 'You sold out that' and we're always like, 'Yeah, OK. What are we going to do for the show tonight? What's going on the set list?'" In a way, the success of Joel and John's "Face 2 Face" Tour simply follows the successes they have seen in their three-decade-long careers.
After all, Joel and John have sold a combined 141 million albums in the United States, led by Joel's "Greatest Hits Volume I & II," which has sold 21 million copies to become the fifth-biggest album of all-time.
However, in the fast-paced, here-today, gone-tonight world of pop music, loyalty and long-term memories aren't always sure things among fans. And the success of Joel and John's "Face 2 Face" Tour has impressed many in the industry - not just up-and-comers such as Linkin Park.
"It's something of a phenomenon," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of PollStar, the concert-industry trade magazine. "Considering that the average ticket price is so high - the average ticket price is above $100 for these shows -- it ultimately comes down to the fact that the combination is something that the public really sees as a special event and is worth paying a premium even in down economic times. It's showed that the aging boomer generation has stayed true to the artists they grew up on. It's not like they suddenly turned 50 and then evolved into a Tommy Dorsey fan."
Joel and John performed only 31 shows in 2001, but that was enough to pull in $58.9 million, making it the sixth-biggest tour of the year, even though it was only about a third as long as the U2 and Backstreet Boys tours, didn't include stadiums like *NSYNC and the Dave Matthews Band's appearances and lacked the all-out media frenzy of the Madonna tour.
What makes "Face 2 Face" even more remarkable is that it defies the music industry convention that big tours work best in conjunction with new albums and all the attention that comes with them.
"We may not be the media buzz, but we're what the people really want," says Joel's agent, Dennis Arfa, president of Artist Group International, which, in an unusual step in the Clear Channel-dominated concert business, books the tour along with John's agent, Howard Rose.
"There's all this about superstar media acts having trouble selling out one night in an arena. Well, we're the real stuff. People know that they're going to get something great here," Arfa adds.
So far this year, the "Face 2 Face" Tour is by far the leader, although it will face stiff competition once the main concert season begins in May. The tour holds four of the Top 5 spots, with Luis Miguel's six-night run in Los Angeles coming in at #4, according to Billboard magazine. Joel and John's six shows in Philadelphia took the top spot, bringing in $13 million, about half of the $25 million the tour has racked up through the end of February.
That figure will grow considerably after the tour's New York metro area run of nine shows, which starts Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
"Billy Joel, as popular as he is, he's never been a press darling like, say, Michael Jackson," Arfa says. "He's the #2 selling artist behind The Beatles, but I don't think anyone ever would've picked that. He quietly has broken records. But the media doesn't vote for his success. The public does."
On a chilly February night in Philadelphia, Joel and John's public is out in force. The crowd is overwhelmingly baby boomers, though many have teens in tow. There's a bunch of guys in their late 20s tailgating out of their SUV, singing along with "We Didn't Start The Fire" as they down a few brews. And Kelly Thiel and Penny Karvounis are belting out an a capella version of "Philadelphia Freedom" in the middle of the First Union Center lobby before the concert.
What the 23 year-olds lack in, er, melody, they more than make up for in enthusiasm. "Philadelphia freedom, I lu-uh-uhve you," sings Thiel, dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt with "BILLY" emblazoned on the front in shiny metallic letters, and "Rocket Man" - era sunglasses.
"Yes, I do," sings Karvounis, wearing the same outfit, only her shirt says "ELTON." What they want more than anything is to meet Joel and John. ("I just want to shake Bill's hand and say, 'Thank you,'" says Thiel.) They hope that their song will land them a backstage pass from the radio station DJ set up in the lobby.
In the end, it gets them a round of applause from passersby and a pair of plastic cups from the station. Their enthusiasm is still unbridled.
The Philadelphia concert is their third in five weeks, driving in from Baltimore just for the show. They scored their 10th row seats - "the closest yet!" Karvounis says - on eBay.
"We've maxed out our credit cards doing this," says Thiel, who works in an animal hospital.
"We've been working 70 hours a week to pay for this," adds Karvounis, who manages a yogurt store. "But it's worth it." They get more excited as they talk about the show, finishing each other's sentences as they remember previous experiences.
"Every song is great," Karvounis says.
"It just hits you right here," Thiel says, pointing to the middle of her chest, right between the two Ls in "BILLY." "It tells you something about yourself."
They know they are about two decades younger than the bulk of the fans at the show, which only becomes a problem when people yell at them for dancing during the upbeat songs.
"After September 11th, 2001, nothing made me happy until we saw them," Thiel says. "All the other stuff, the boy bands, the *NSYNC, the stuff that's supposed to be for me, it just didn't do it. It was weird. We went to the show in Washington with a bunch of people and we were just blown away."
"After a couple songs, we looked at each other and said, 'We have to come back,'" Karvounis says. "It's like an addiction."
The "Face 2 Face" Tour is built on repeat business. The audiences are packed with people who have seen Joel and John several times over the years. They come, in part, to relive those previous concert experiences and, in part, to see something new.
Joel and John cater to both parts. They open and close the show "Face 2 Face," playing on each other's songs and turning them into never-before-heard duets.
There's no waiting for hits in this show, either. They open with John's "Your Song," Joel's "Just The Way You Are" and John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" before Joel leaves the stage for John's hour-long solo set. After John's set, Joel returns for an hour-long set of his own before John returns and they close out the show together with another round of duets that include, on this night, The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" and Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," as well as John's "Bennie and the Jets" and Joel's "Piano Man."
The crowd stays with Joel and John throughout the 3½-hour show, which has no intermissions, though there is a bit of a lull when John plays two songs from his new album, "Songs From The West Coast" - the hits "I Want Love" and "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore." That's the point in the show when the audience often decides to make a beer run or take a bathroom break and that exodus is not lost on John.
"Elton has a new album that's done pretty well and I know he would love to play more of it, but the audience just doesn't respond to it the way he would like them to," says Joel, whose latest album, "Fantasies & Delusions," is a collection of his classical compositions. "Everybody wants to hear the older stuff. Of course, I go out and say, 'I've got a new album, too. But don't worry, I'm not going to try to play any of that stuff.' And the audience goes, 'Yeah!' That's OK, I knew that would happen."
Those responses helped Joel and John realize that maybe the "Face 2 Face" Tour, an idea that launched in stadiums in 1994, has run its course.
"Our agents keep wanting us to do more and more and more," Joel says. "But I've put a limit on it. The New York-New Jersey shows will be the end of this tour." At this point, Joel won't rule out the possibility of taking "Face 2 Face" around America another time, but it won't happen this year. The duo is considering offers to take the tour to Europe and Asia and, perhaps, Australia this year.
"It's starting to feel like an oldies act, and I don't want to feel like that," Joel says. "I don't feel like I'm going out there as a nostalgia act - yet. But I'm aware that a certain amount of that is inherent in the show. They really want to hear the chestnuts, but you do chestnuts for so many years and after a while, you're not really doing anything. So until I can somehow figure out a way to refresh myself as a performing artist, it seems like a good place to kind of stop."
As the tour winds down, Joel is left wondering about the future. Will there be more pop songs? Maybe, though he doesn't feel any strong desire to write that kind of music at the moment. Another classical album? Perhaps.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," he says. "It's an interesting place to be. It's not the most secure feeling in the world, but that's OK, too. Sometimes not being secure is a good motivator to do things."
In the meantime, Joel is content to see how his songs continue to make their way into the world. "New York State of Mind," for example, recently received a Grammy nomination when he re-recorded it with Tony Bennett. Garth Brooks and even Linkin Park have expressed interest in recording new versions of his songs. "I look at the songs I wrote as if they were my children," he says. "Now, they're going out on their own and making money for the old man... It's not so much the 'Billy Joel Rock Star' thing. The fact that I'm a composer, that's my legacy.
"That's the most important thing to me, the material that I leave behind."
By: Dan Aquilante
(March 15th, 2002)
Individually, Billy Joel and Elton John put on a great concert, but together their Brit vs. Yank spirit has made the performances on their current tour together incredible. The show dubbed "Face 2 Face" features Joel and Elton, together and seperately, in a program of their greatest hits. While each of these rock icons has a songbook of chart toppers, the best part of the performance, according to many reports, is their double-teaming on the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "Great Balls of Fire." The tour is at Madison Square Garden tonight and Monday, at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday and March 22nd, 2002, and at the arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex April 6th, 2002 and April 8th, 2002.
"Billy and Elton Postpone Shows"
Billy Joel & Elton John...Have Postponed Their Remaining 8 Area Shows!
(March 17th, 2002)
Billy Joel & Elton John's remaining 8 sold-out area shows have been postponed. Billy has an upper respiratory infection and vocal chord hemorrhaging.
Tickets can be re-used for the rescheduled shows or refunded. Rescheduling info will be announced early next week.
Of course, we will have full details as soon as they are announced, so keep it here on 95.5, WPLJ!
"Two 'Piano Men' On The Road From Nostalgia To Chaos"
By: Kelefa Sanneh
(March 18th, 2002)
Is there any instrument less versatile than a piano? It steamrolls across the aural landscape, turning every song it touches into piano music, turning every singer who touches it into a piano man.
On Friday night Billy Joel and Elton John came to Madison Square Garden. Two "Piano Men" with four first names used 176 keys to create an evening that progressed from nostalgia to chaos.
They played a few songs together, and then Mr. Joel disappeared, leaving Sir Elton alone with his five-piece band. His turquoise suit sparkling, Sir Elton attacked each song the way a contestant on "Fear Factor" might attack a plate of worms: first he took a deep breath, then he gulped his way through, and then he sprang to his feet and exulted in victory.
There were lots of hits, of course, and the new songs held up surprisingly well. "I Want Love" sounds at first like a conventional ballad, with Sir Elton complaining of "old scars toughening up around my heart." But the lyrics, written by Bernie Taupin, resist the romantic tug of the rolling chords. "A man like me is dead in places," Sir Elton sang. "I want a love that don't mean a thing."
When Mr. Joel emerged for his set, there was sympathy as well as adulation: the audience had been warned that he had a cold. But Mr. Joel seemed to have ingested something quite a bit stronger than cough syrup. He sang for a while, and then he gave a rambling speech in which he praised the audience, mocked the Liberty Bell (for being cracked) and listed sites from American military history. "Corregidor!" he bellowed, as the applause started to ebb. "Midway! Guadalcanal!"
At times Mr. Joel's condition made his songs more effective. When he slumped forward on his bench and slurred, "Don't, don't, don't try to save me," he sounded truly hopeless. As he wailed he banged on his keys almost at random.
"Bennie and The Jets" had been planned as a piano duel, but this version was positively avant-garde, with Sir Elton hammering the chords and Mr. Joel producing a cacophonous soundscape. (When it was over, Sir Elton mouthed, "Thank God.")
The concert ended with an unusual rendition of Mr. Joel's "Piano Man." As he got to the most famous line - "Son, can you play me a memory? I'm not really sure how it goes" - Mr. Joel looked as if he were about to nod off.
And so, with Sir Elton's help, the audience took over the role of the "Piano Man," singing a sentimental song to a washed-out fellow who once knew the words.
"Billy Joel's Cold Leads to One Hot Night"
By: David Hinckley
(March 18th, 2002)
Friday's Madison Square Garden show could have been just another night at the office for Billy Joel and Elton John - another sell-out crowd, another three and a half hours of fan-friendly hits from two good-natured road warriors.
Then Billy Joel caught a cold, and things got really interesting.
Actually, it turned out to be more than a cold. It was announced yesterday he has an inflamed vocal cord, and all their shows scheduled for at least the next six weeks, starting with tonight's at the Garden, are being postponed to dates that will be announced later this week.
But Friday Joel fought through it, and he did not go quietly. He forced his voice to stay operational pretty much up to the last tune of his solo set, "Only The Good Die Young."
Whatever he used to do that, it also seemed to loosen his tongue. Joel is prone to a wisecrack here and there, but at times Friday he resembled a talk show host.
He blasted the Garden for ticket prices (though these shows have had the same $175 top in every city). He spent so long introducing the band one of the guys cracked that he had a train to catch.
When he got to terrorists, he recited a list of American battles back to Bunker Hill and concluded by roaring, "Who the hell do they think they're fucking with!?!?!"
Elton, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the unusual position of being the reasonable and healthy one, and he put on a terrific show. He sprinkled his set with a few nice older tunes like "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters" as well as several songs from his latest album - all instantly followed by the first chords of a very familiar hit. Yes, he's a pro. And his piano run during "Rocket Man" was exceptionally nice.
The boys sounded good on their duets, particularly "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and a lilting "Here Comes The Sun."
By night's end this had clearly become one of their most memorable shows ever. With any luck, Billy even remembers most of it.
By: Dan Aquilante
(March 18th, 2002)
While the concept of dusting off the Brit vs. Yank rivalry was hardly revolutionary, the battle of the bands Friday at Madison Square Garden between Billy Joel and Elton John offered the sold-out house loads of thrills and even a few spills.
The smart money was on Elton John, the gap-toothed queen of England, to be the night's top dog. He strutted into the Garden wearing aquamarine silks, ready to bury overweight Billy Joel, who not only looked too round to pound but was laid low by a cold that had forced him to cancel a gig in the Sunshine State earlier in the week.
The very healthy, 3½-hour show was structured with a shared introduction, then separate (full) concert sets and a shared encore.
In their intro, which stitched "Your Song," "Just The Way You Are," and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" together, John was totally on the money vocally and in his work at the ivories. Joel croaked and wrung his hands as if they were so sweaty he was gonna slip off the piano.
Joel coughed, he said "it's just a little cold - that don't stop us here" and he even made a little joke by placing emphasis on the line "I love you, that's forever" during "Just The Way You Are," a tune he wrote for his first ex-wife. But despite his trouper's the-show-must-go-on attitude, the guy seemed pretty messed up.
John confirmed it at the start of his solo set, expressing his gratitude for Joel's effort and revealing that "Billy really is sick."
He then ignited a set that actually made people wonder if Joel was going to come back at all.
There were the signature songs like "Philadelphia Freedom," "Rocket Man," "Crocodile Rock" and "Levon" all of which had the expected audience approval.
Yet it was in the syncopated rocker "Take Me To The Pilot" where John pulled out all the stops and took the concert to the next level. The guy hammered at the piano with sharp, open-handed blows as if to remind us it really is a percussion instrument.
You could be Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, or even Joe Steinway, but Elton's set would have given you pianist envy. It would have been a tough act to follow had Billy been in tip-top shape.
The break while Elton played served Billy's voice well. When he opened his set with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," if the Long Island native hadn't alerted us that he was sick, it may have gone unnoticed. Energy, momentum and being in the Garden helped Joel defy gravity for a while.
He killed during "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," was fiery for "Prelude/Angry Young Man" and was just plain wonderful for "New York State of Mind," which he cleverly segued into George Gershwin's famous New York homage "Rhapsody In Blue." Still, by the time Joel finished his set with "Only The Good Die Young," you could count his voice among the casualties.
In the end, Elton was terrific and did win the battle, but Joel, as croaky and hurt as he was, won the war with the underdog's spirit of trying just a bit harder and giving the fans more than he or anyone thought he had.
"The Keys To The Garden"
By: Steve Matteo
(March 18th, 2002)
"Face 2 Face" Tour with Billy Joel and Elton John. We were all in the mood for a melody and they had us feeling all right. Madison Square Garden. Also, MSG tonight; Nassau Coliseum March 20th, 22nd, 28th, 30th, 2002; Continental Airlines Arena, NJ, April 4th, 8th, and 11th, 2002. All shows sold-out. Seen Friday.
Speculation over whether the New York stop of the Billy Joel-Elton John "Face 2 Face" Tour would even take place fueled the drama of Friday's opening-night Madison Square Garden show.
With Joel dressed in black and John resplendent in a sparkly green and aqua suit, the two, backed by John's band, began with John's "Your Song." Joel made it clear that no matter how he was feeling after his recent illness - which nearly canceled the show - he was going to play his heart out.
After a joint performance of "Just The Way You Are," Joel said of the Garden, "We think this is the best club there is." The two did "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," and then Joel left the stage for John's solo part of the show.
John began with a powerful rendition of the opening suite from "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," thanks in part to longtime sidemen, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone. John indicated Joel was a great deal sicker than he was letting on. Throughout the show, John abandoned his diva guise and was ebullient all evening, singing as well as ever, and after many numbers, leapt off his piano stool in triumph.
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" blew the original studio recording away and "I Want Love," one of two songs John performed from the underrated, recent "Songs From The West Coast," was as good as any other song in his set. "Take Me To The Pilot," with its soaring power, was one of the highlights of the show.
As impressive as John's set was, the hometown fans roared when Joel came on with his band. With more between-song patter about his sickness and the ridiculously high prices of the top tickets - which he blamed on the greed of those who own Madison Square Garden - as well as encouragement to soldier on in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, Joel churned out classic after classic. "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," among others, were delivered with an intensity that belied Joel's occasional vocal limitations due to his bout with an acute respiratory infection and laryngitis.
"I Go To Extremes" and "Only The Good Die Young" drove the house mad, and Joel was able to match John in the length and spirit of his set.
John returned for a rousing "My Life" and then, with both bands on stage, the two performed an emotional version of "Here Comes The Sun."
The historic piano summit of nearly four hours may never come around again, and even with one half playing hurt, it was a show New York music fans will not soon forget.
"Billy Joel/Elton John Concerts Postponed"
(March 18th, 2002)
All Billy Joel and Elton John "Face 2 Face" concerts in New York and New Jersey have been postponed because Joel is being treated for an inflamed vocal cord, tour representatives said today.
Joel and John drew mixed reviews after their first performance last Friday at Madison Square Garden. While some critics enjoyed the performance, others said Joel struggled.
Shows were slated for tonight at the Garden; Wednesday, Friday and March 28th and March 30th, 2002 at the Nassau Coliseum; April 4th, 8th, and 11th, 2002 at Continental Arena in New Jersey.
Rescheduled dates are to be announced later this week, according to a news release from Radio City Entertainment.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum officials said four dates scheduled for this month will be postponed until September or October.
Coliseum officials said that tickets will be accepted at the rescheduled shows or can be returned to where they were purchased.
More information on the Nassau shows can be obtained by calling (516) 794-9303, or on the web at NassauColiseum.com.
"Joel's Illness Derails Tour"
By: Peter Goodman
(March 19th, 2002)
Billy Joel, who postponed last night's Madison Square Garden concert citing an inflamed vocal cord, apparently also suffered from acute laryngitis and an acute upper respiratory infection, a Joel spokesman said yesterday.
The singer-songwriter also has pulled out of an additional seven dates scheduled through April 11th, 2002 at Nassau Coliseum and Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey. They are expected to be rescheduled for some time in the fall, the spokesman said. Joel is said to be resting under medical supervision at home.
He appeared to be quite ill during a Friday night concert at the Garden, part of his national "Face 2 Face" tour with Elton John. He had been having vocal problems at least since canceling a performance February 2nd, 2002 in Boston. At that time, he was described as suffering from a very bad cold "with flu-like symptoms." Joel took a scheduled weeklong break, and then he and John resumed their tour with four performances in Hartford, six in Philadelphia, three in Fort Lauderdale and one in Tampa, before canceling a second program there on March 11th, 2002. That cancellation was described as being caused by an infection of the upper-respiratory tract.
The week's rest between Tampa and New York, also under medical supervision, apparently was not enough for a full recovery. After he struggled through on Friday, the cancellation was announced late Sunday.
"When he gets better, we can't say," the spokesman said yesterday. "Hopefully, it will be soon. We expect a 100 percent complete recovery."
"Billy Joel: A Bad Cough?"
By: Roger Friedman
(March 19th, 2002)
The New York Times made gossip headlines yesterday with its review of the Billy Joel-Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden Friday night. Reviewer Kelefa Sanneh suggested Billy had taken something more than cough syrup to cure what ailed him.
"Mr. Joel seemed to have ingested something quite a bit stronger than cough syrup. He sang for a while, and then he gave a rambling speech in which he praised the audience, mocked the Liberty Bell (for being cracked) and listed sites from American military history," Sanneh wrote.
This might have sounded odd to the pedestrian reader, but this columnist witnessed Joel give a similar rambling, semi-coherent speech at the NARAS MusiCares dinner on February 25th, 2002.
It was clear at that time Joel had had "a bottle of red, a bottle of white," as one of his songs goes. But it had been a long night, with lots of liquor poured. As the honoree, Billy might have been feeling nervous.
A source close to Joel, whom I like and have never heard any gossip about in this regard, said, "Billy's been sick. All the cold medicine and everything else he's taken for his throat just caught up with him. He did have too much to drink at the NARAS dinner, but this was different."
Billy and Elton have postponed their tour until Joel feels better. Elton may be fuming, but I guess that's why they call it the blues.
"Joel, John Reschedule Missed Tour Dates"
By: Jonathan Cohen
(March 22nd, 2002)
Billy Joel and Elton John have rescheduled the 10 "Face 2 Face" Tour dates they canceled last week due to a nagging illness suffered by Joel. The pair will reunite in late September and early October to perform in Tampa, FL, New York, Uniondale, NY, and East Rutherford, NJ.
As previously reported, Joel's tour manager, Max Loubiere, said the performer was suffering from "acute upper respiratory infection and laryngitis," and had been feeling under the weather for several days upon the cancellation of the Tampa show.
After a scheduled week off, Joel and John performed March 15th, 2002, their first scheduled show at Madison Square Garden in New York. "Being a New Yorker - and since it's been so rough for all of us this past year - I did not want to let my hometown down," Joel said in a note posted on his official Web site. "So, I tried to do the best I could Friday night at the Garden. I pushed it more that I should have... I have been assured by my doctors that I will make a complete recovery and will be able to give the audience 100% and perform the kick-ass show that Elton and I have been doing on this tour."
Although it's expected that Joel will be healthy again long before September, John has international touring commitments set for April through July. He will kick off those plans April 17th, 2002 in Adelaide, Australia. For more information, visit John's official web-site: EltonJohn.com.
In addition, the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical "Movin' Out" is scheduled to premiere June 25th, 2002 at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago. The show, which is based on more than 25 Joel songs (not unlike the current ABBA-fueled hit "Mamma Mia!") is expected to move to New York for an October 24th, 2002 Broadway debut.
"Magic of the Mad Impulse"
When Performers Depart From Their Lines, Something Wonderful Can Happen
By: David Hinckley
(March 31st, 2002)
By the time he got to Corregidor, it was clear to the 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden on the night of March 15th, 2002 that this show was deviating from the Billy Joel template.
He had finished "The River of Dreams," his seventh song, when he said, "I wanna throw out a couple of things."
"Bunker Hill," he yelled.
He was only getting started.
"Valley Forge! Fort McHenry! New Orleans!" he roared. "Antietam! That was a bad one."
Yes, it was.
"San Juan Hill! Argonne Forest!"
It's a good thing this wasn't a quiz. If 5% of the audience could even get the correct continent for the Argonne Forest, it would have been astonishing. But geography was not his point.
"Midway! Guadalcanal! Normandy! Iwo Jima!"
This is just a sampling of the list. He was taking this one all the way, bringing it home.
"Chosin Reservoir! Khe Sanh! Desert Fucking Storm!"
"Who the hell do they think they're fucking with?"
He meant the terrorists, by the way.
Then he played "New York State of Mind." It may have been the best Billy Joel show ever.
Ordinarily, Billy Joel is reliable. You know he'll sing 20, 25 songs. He'll sing "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."
He sang that one on March 15th, 2002, too. The difference was what he said between songs. Like the way he recalled how he kept seeing Brits like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger at 9/11 benefits and wondering "Where the fuck were all the New Yorkers?"
Or the way he took so long to introduce the band that by the time he got to drummer Liberty DeVitto, you were afraid old Liberty might have retired.
Now the back story here is that Joel came into the night with a throat problem. He postponed a show in Michigan a few days earlier, and while he wasn't going to blow off opening night in New York, his "cold" was obviously on his mind. He mentioned it repeatedly and finally told the crowd that anyone who wasn't satisfied could go to the box office and get a ticket for some other night. Even though the other nights were sold-out. Tell 'em Billy sent you and "let the SOBs at Madison Square Garden worry about it," he said.
The key question here, of course, is exactly what Joel did to get himself to that stage. The New York Times reviewer, bluntly if probably not alone, speculated he had taken something "a little stronger than cough syrup."
Me, I think medication would do it. But my wife, a big fan, had a theory I like even better.
"Look, he's walking around backstage at a rock and roll show saying he needs something for his throat," she said. "Probably 55 people came up to him and said, 'Hey, man, got just what you need. Take this.' You figure out the rest."
After this show, they shut him down for at least six weeks. No jokes about places where they don't let you sharpen the crayons, please. My only regret was all the battles he didn't get to. Chickamauga! The OK Corral!
This was a great show for the same reason Eddie Vedder's wine-fueled 18-minute talk about the Ramones was the highlight of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner three nights later. Same reason the best part of the endless Oscar show was Halle Berry planting her feet as they were trying to run her off stage and yelling, "It's been 74 years," which is how long it took for a black leading actress to win an Oscar. Now she had a couple more things she needed to say.
It's so satisfying to watch something that wasn't planned, polished and spit-shined.
So many shows, even rock and roll shows, are preproduced to the split second, because the computer-programmed music and lighting require everyone be at spot X, singing note Y, when the computer needs them there.
Most television has been prerecorded and edited for years. A genuine live show now, even an awards show, is a novelty.
Recorded music is increasingly put together like a jigsaw puzzle, one note at a time.
Even radio, which correctly bills itself as the most spontaneous of media, tries to color inside the lines. Music deejays rarely get to talk. Most of the supposedly spontaneous bits on wacky shows are mapped out beforehand.
This is not to criticize professionalism and preparation. It is to suggest that unscripted moments, provided they stay this side of embarrassing and interminable, are a triple-chocolate muffin in a buffet of rice cakes.