Has it really been 20 years since Billy Joel released his last pop album? Somehow, it’s true: Though the Piano Man has toured extensively, won a Tony, and even put out a collection of classical compositions over the last two decades, he hasn’t dropped an original chart-topper since 1993’s River of Dreams.
But why? Well, according to an extensive interview in this week’s New York Times magazine, the answer’s simple: “I got bored with it,” Joel says. “I wanted to write something other than the three-minute pop tune even though that’s an art form unto itself.” And though Joel sounds nothing but grateful for his success, he also seems to resent being pegged as a pop writer: “It’s a very nice box to be in for a while, but then it becomes like a coffin.”
And the revelations don’t stop there. Here are 10 other things you’ll learn while reading the piece, including why Joel calls himself “the Nixon of rock ‘n’ roll” and what Elton John’s hair reminds him of. (While the musician never does explain what a “real estate novelist” is, the Internet can thankfully help you out on that one.)
Billy Joel shows used to be a lot more exciting
“Way back in the early ’70s, I used to do somersaults, flips off the piano. I would climb up the cables and hang upside down, anything to get attention. When you’re an opening act, you gotta do whatever you can,” Joel recalls. Unfortunately, those acrobatics exacerbated the hip dysplasia Joel believes he was born with, leading the musician to undergo a double hip replacement in 2010.
He thinks Elton John has “mom hair”
Joel and John have a history of touring together, though Joel says the two are more like colleagues than close pals. He’s not offended by Elton saying that Joel doesn’t write new songs due to fear or laziness: “I think his heart is in the right place. He’s kind of like a mom,” Joel tells the NYT mag. And when his interviewer notes that John also “kind of looks like a mom,” Joel agrees: “Yeah, he’s got mom hair.”
Mozart pisses him off
Because he’s just too talented. To quote Joel: “Mozart pisses me off because he’s like a naturally gifted athlete. You listen to Mozart and you go: ‘Of course. It all came easy to him.’ Beethoven, you hear the struggle in it.”
He’s not too keen on record companies
Joel estimates that he owes Columbia “probably four or five regular albums” at this point, though he’s obviously not going to produce them anytime soon. “It’s indentured servitude when you sign with a record company,” he laments. “I don’t even own my own masters. They own the masters.”
He calls himself “the Nixon of rock ‘n’ roll”
Probably because Joel thinks of himself as a rocker, while everyone else calls him a pop artist. At least Joel believes he’s leaving a good legacy: “My descendants will treat me better than my contemporaries.”
A nasty marketing campaign led him to pull out of a planned memoir
Joel received a $3 million advance to write a book about his life — then got cold feet when he saw that the publisher was touting a volume about “divorce, depression and drinking.” He insists that the book wouldn’t have been very salacious — “They wanted more sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and there’s not that much in my life… I wasn’t interested in doing a tell-all. I’m not going to talk about people who I was involved in relationships with. I’m just not that guy.” And sorry, scandal-seekers: “I’m not a psychoanalyst. I don’t know why I drank so much.”
Booze wasn’t to blame for two of his three car accidents
According to Joel, anyway: “I was kind of in a mental fog, and it had nothing to do with the booze. My mind wasn’t right. I wasn’t focused. I went into a deep, deep depression after 9/11.” And though he’s been to rehab more than once, he’ll still drink a glass of wine every now and then.
He really, really hated going on Oprah in 2008
“I was very uncomfortable. I was in shock. I didn’t realize behind me there were these screens of, like, auto accidents and things about drinking and divorce. I thought I was going to come talk about music. I did the show because [Joel’s ex-wife] Katie had a book coming out. She said, ‘Please, help me get on the show.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it, don’t make me do it, don’t make me do it.’ But I said, ‘O.K., I’ll do it, and it’s going to suck.’ Sure enough, it did. My daughter saw the show, and she cried, she thought it was so bad.” Yeah, that explains this:
He knows you think he’s uglier than his wives
And he’s totally okay with it! “I was married to some beautiful women,” Joel says. “I always get compared to how beautiful they are and how not beautiful I am, and it’s kind of funny. It’s like Beauty and the Beast. I don’t mind being the beast. I want them to be good-looking, and if they don’t mind me looking like me why should I care?”
He could make a killing as a realtor to the stars
When Joel was in a financial crunch a few years ago, he sold a house he was building in the Hamptons to Jerry Seinfeld and his New York City home to Sting. “I was praying for a rock star,” Joel says of the latter property. “They don’t care what their accountant says. If they want something, they buy it.” Joel also sold his old place in Martha’s Vineyard to J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler. This is just begging to be documented via reality TV, right?