Billy Joel's Ideal Farewell

The Piano Man's Conversation With Vulture

July 23, 2018

PA Images/Sipa USA


Billy Joel has been a busy man. In recent years, he's toured the country's best ballparks -- including a visit to Progressive Field in July of '17 -- and had been working on a record-breaking streak at Madison Square Garden (MSG).

During the MSG streak -- which began in '78 and picked up in '14 -- Joel managed to sell out show after show, celebrating his 100th on July 18th, a feat most rockers could only dream of. During his 100th show, he once again left the sold-out crowd in awe, serenading them with his memorable hits and surprising them with a visit from Bruce Springsteen.

There's no doubt that the Piano Man's career has been a long one; exciting, filled with ups and downs. Is the end near? Should Joel call it quits after such an accomplishment?

He sat down with David Marchese of Vulture to discuss not only his career but so much more. See below for (NSFW) excerpts from this exclusive interview and be sure to read the whole piece here.

On his ideal retirement:

Your old pal Elton John is retiring from the road. So is Paul Simon. But your Madison Square Garden residency is booked indefinitely. Do you understand the impulse to say, “These are the last shows I’ll ever do”?
No. There have been times when I’ve felt these are my last shows; it’s time for me to get off the bleeding stage. Then I just thought, nah.

What’s made you change your mind?
I have the greatest job in the world. You get up there, you make a lot of noise, girls scream, and you get sh*tloads of money. Are you f*cking kidding me? Now, I do have an idea for a farewell tour.

What is it?
The stage is a living-room set: couch, TV, coffee table, food. And there’s bulletproof glass between me and the audience. Then I come out and lay down on the couch. I grab the remote and start watching TV. The crowd after a couple minutes goes, “F*ck this,” and starts throwing sh*t at the glass.

And that’s the whole concert?
Yeah. I’ll have created a bond between me and the audience where I know they will never pay another nickel to see me again.

So if Billy Joel ever walks out on stage and picks up a remote control …
That’ll be it.

On when he will know it's the end:

You’ve said you’ll do the Garden residency until demand slows down or you start playing at a level you’re not happy with. What clues would signal the latter?
If I can’t sing as well as I should. I’m already struggling. I wrote most of the songs that I’m doing when I was in my 20s and 30s and it ain’t easy to hit those notes in my 60s. We’ve dropped the keys of some songs already. Hopefully it’s not that noticeable. If I’m having a tough time hitting notes — I call it throwing junk pitches. Instead of having a fastball you throw off-speed. If I’ve got to throw too much junk, I’m going to consider stopping.

On his favorite lyric:

What’s your best lyric?
Probably something on River of Dreams. I like that song “No Man’s Land.” [Sings.] “Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice.” This biblical imagery skewed by consumerism — I’m proud of that. There are some good lyrics in “All About Soul” too. I thought I made a quantum leap lyrically on that album.

On whether or not he'd hit Broadway:

Is what Springsteen is doing on Broadway something you’d consider?

How come?
I don’t want to work five nights a week like he does. And because of the kind of show he’s doing he can’t go off script. We play the Garden once a month and change our show all the time. If I feel like singing “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” I do it. If someone is in town and wants to come play with us, they can.

On his drinking:

Is drinking ever a problem anymore?
No. I used to drink too much — I guess it was a form of self-medicating. Drinking was one of the reasons I stopped writing songs. I would drink to try and ease the pain of not being as good as I wanted to be. I would even try Dutch courage: How am I going to write? Let me have a drink and fool myself into thinking I can write while I’m drunk. It was a vicious cycle, so I stopped. I didn’t want to be one of those authors like Hemingway who offs themselves because they drink too much.

Read the rest of Billy Joel's informative interview with Vulture here.