Billy Joel came to Lynn University last night. The “show” – for want of a better term, for it was far different from any I’ve ever seen – was an unplugged, unscripted and unpretentious 2 1/2 hours of Billy Joel – and sometimes his dog Sabrina, as well as a few other “guests.”
It was called “An Evening of Questions & Answers … And a Little Music.” But anyone who loves Billy, as everyone there clearly did, was way more interested in the music than the questions, most of which were posed with the hopes of hearing the song attached to it i.e. Who were you writing about in Just the Way You Are? Billy obliged and would saunter over to one of the 2 pianos on stage and after thumbing through the alphabet of a voluminous songbook of his hits, break into song.
He made fun of his song, Honesty, but he was nothing but honest as he talked openly and candidly, and sometimes irreverently, about anything and everything. He was extremely gracious, answering all questions, honoring all requests – even some of the “off the wall” ones. However, when asked about the song, Lullaby, he pointed to his daughter in the audience and talked about writing it for her when she was 7 to help explain death. He declined to sing it because it was way too “personal” and didn’t want to put her on the spot.
At times he wondered aloud if this was Karaoke or Open Mic night. And I think some students mistook the evening for an episode of American Idol as they asked to come up and sing. A conservatory student from Haiti, waiving his guitar in the air instead of his hands, asked Billy if he would mind listening to one of the songs he wrote. To everyone’s surprise, Billy invited him up to sing it, even pulling out a tambourine to accompany him (he was really good, by the way). Two other students also had the opportunity of a lifetime when they were invited on stage: one sang Movin’ Out and the other sang New York State of Mind.
There were also those in the audience with a touching connection to Billy: the man who was waving his cane asked a simple question of Billy: “Can I shake your hand?” Many years ago he was in an accident, fell 6 stories and broke his back. Billy visited him in the hospital. He was never supposed to walk again, but obviously overcame it. Billy remembered him and the man walked up on stage, and the two shook hands to a standing ovation from the audience.
On a lighter note was the man whose friends were engaged to the tune of Italian Restaurant the night Billy played the Last Night at Shea concert. This year the couple couldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, since she was home with the baby, so the friend enlisted Billy to talk to her via cell phone. Billy obliged and said to her, “So sorry you had such a crappy Valentine’s Day.”
Some other anecdotes:
- When asked what he thought of today’s music, Billy admitted he really didn’t listen to much of it, and really preferred classical these days. But back in the day, he enjoyed all the classic rock bands, many of which he played with and were his friends: The Beatles topping his list (yay, music to my ears).
- He shared an amusing anecdote about Paul McCartney coming to his house to visit. Billy was worried about the meat in his refrigerator: it looked like Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge, he said. What if Paul, the strict vegetarian, looked inside? So, Billy took out all the cold cuts and hid them in drawers. Paul never did go in the refrigerator, but the next day, Billy smelled something rotting. It was the meat he hid from Paul!
- Billy’s advice to a student interested in pursuing a career in music was to get a lawyer, perform as much as you can and never give up. “Find that thing you love and do it,” he said. He does and felt he hasn’t really worked a day in his life.
- When asked how many songs he’s written and which was his favorite, he said he’s written hundreds and couldn’t possibly name a favorite, since his songs were like his children and he loved them all.
I could go on and on, but I guess you had to be there. All I know is The Piano Man (or Super P as he called himself in jest) was the consummate entertainer – musician, storyteller, comedian – delivering a powerhouse “performance” unlike any I’ve seen. And I have seen him in concert several times. During this amazing evening at Lynn, I loved him “just the way he was.”