Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography
Acclaimed music journalist Fred Schruers brings readers a comprehensive, no-holds-barred look at the life of Billy Joel. He uses his more than 100 hours of interview time with the man himself to tell us the story of a poor boy from Levittown, NY, who grew up to rock the music world.
Joel spent his early years struggling to survive, working long hours doing odd jobs to make a little money to help his mom pay the bills after his parents divorced. He also spent a great deal of time in dark, smoky nightclubs playing the piano and singing songs with his band in an effort to earn some dough and make a name for himself in the world of music. He ended up doing just that --- big time, in fact --- as he has been in the music business since he was in high school.
"I applaud Fred Schruers for such an engaging, thorough and entertaining book about Mr. Piano Man."
Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released in 1971 by Family Productions, but few people, other than his die-hard fans, probably even know it exists. However, he went from a rocking nobody to a well-known rock star when he signed with Columbia Records. His first major hit was “Piano Man,” which peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974 and was ranked #421 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Of course, the road to stardom was never smoothly paved. Joel has been married and divorced three times, experienced problems with alcohol, and even tried to commit suicide. He lost millions of dollars when his financial manager pocketed a large portion of his earnings. And he has battled some health issues. Still, he has made it through the tough times and keeps performing, with his latest gig being a monthly concert at Madison Square Garden. All of his shows have sold out so far, and there doesn’t seem to be any lag in ticket sales for future performances.
Schruers not only includes lyrics from many of Joel’s songs (his hits as well as some of his lesser-known works), he also explains how and why the lyrics were written, giving the reader an unprecedented look into the heart and soul of this legendary musician. Many of the lyrics mirrored important events taking place in his life. It’s worth noting that Joel has written very few original tunes since the 1990s. Since they tend to be autobiographical, he is reluctant to pour out his soul with new lyrics. Instead, he takes the old hits and gives them new life and dimensions when he performs them live.
Despite a few minor typos, none of which detract from the story, I applaud Fred Schruers for such an engaging, thorough and entertaining book about Mr. Piano Man.
Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on November 7, 2014