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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Arts & Music

Piano Man Billy Joel is rocking again


Published:   |   Updated: January 17, 2014 at 07:42 AM

It’s hard to believe two-decades have passed since Billy Joel wrote and recorded an album. During his ’70s hey day, Joel was boy-band prolific.

Joel also toured regularly during his prime. Sightings of the Piano Man behind his Steinway were rare until recently.

However, after impressing at the “12-12-12” Hurricane Sandy Relief Concert at Madison Square Garden, Joel decided to leave the comfortable confines of his home off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., for an extended run.

Joel, who will perform Friday at the Forum in Tampa, is on his first full-scale tour since 2006. Expect Joel to play a plethora of old favorites.

Don’t expect any fresh pop material since Joel has moved in another direction. “I’m still writing music, piano pieces, orchestral music, dramatic pieces,” Joel said during an interview with New York Times magazine.

It doesn’t appear likely that Joel will write conventional singles, which are full of hooks and completed in three minutes and five seconds. “I got tired of it,” Joel admitted. “I got bored with it. I wanted something more abstract ... I want to get out of that box. I never liked being put in a box.”

However, Joel was one of the best at writing clever, colorful vignettes about such relatable characters as Brenda and Eddie (“Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”). Joel perfectly detailed what it was like leading the hardscrabble life of an unknown musician performing in front of a bunch of lonely people during a lost weekend (“Piano Man”). And then there is the paean to his seemingly untouchable ex-wife Christie Brinkley (“Uptown Girl”).

Joel is the Stephen King of pop music. A masterful craftsman, who is incredibly popular but largely unsung by critics. Back in the day, Joel would read bad reviews during the middle of shows.

“I read things, things that I didn’t think were very fair or true,” Joel said. “I would get my back up. There could be seven very good reviews, but I only paid attention to the bad ones.”

The fans, who never cared about what scribes penned, are still buying Joel tickets. His nine shows in his native New York City sold out in minutes.

Joel could play to packed arenas in perpetuity. Part of what’s appealing about Joel is that he has never pandered. The piano man has always done what he wants to do.

He could be raking in fortunes for generations by touring every three years. Joel would rather putter around his house. Joel owes Columbia Records four albums. Perhaps he’ll get around to it.

“My dad isn’t just an incredible musician,” singer-songwriter Alexa Joel told us. “He’s an amazing person.”

That’s part of the appeal of Joel. Many of his peers, Mick Jagger, Elton John and Tom Petty, are tucked away in their fortresses of solitude.

However, there has always been a regular-guy quality when it comes to Joel. He could be next to you at the grocery store, burger joint or flea market.

Rock stars and flea markets are typically mutually exclusive terms. But Joel, who has written and recorded 33 Top 40 hits, such as “My Life,” “Captain Jack” and “Allentown,” does it his way.

Two years ago he pulled out of a massive $3 million deal with Harper Collins for his memoirs. “I saw this marketing campaign, ‘Divorce, Depression and Drinking.’ We talked about some of those things, but that’s not the essence of the book. I realized that was going to be the nature of the campaign. They wanted more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and there’s not that much in my life,” he told the New York Times. “What I wanted to do is have a book and set the record straight. There’s so much misinformation about me. ... 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 kind of guy.”

Joel is a throwback. It’s all about the music. He has never minced words or held anything back, and he would prefer the fans live their lives in the same manner.

“Don’t take any crap from anybody” is how Joel bids adieu to his fans after each show. It’s not just an empty phrase from a pop star. Joel continues to live by those words, even in his twilight years.

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