The long-awaited, all-access biography of a music legend
In Billy Joel, acclaimed music journalist Fred Schruers draws upon more than 100 hours of exclusive interviews with Joel to present an unprecedented look at the life, career, and legacy of the pint-sized kid from Long Island who became a rock icon.
Exhibiting unparalleled intimate knowledge, Schruers chronicles Joel’s rise to the top of the charts, from his working-class origins in Levittown and early days spent in boxing rings and sweaty clubs to his monumental success in the '70s and '80s. He also explores Joel's creative transformation in the '90s, his dream performance with Paul McCartney at Shea Stadium in 2008, and beyond.
Along the way, Schruers reveals the stories behind all the key events and relationships - including Joel’s high-profile marriages and legal battles - that defined his path to stardom and inspired his signature songs, such as "Piano Man", "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", "New York State of Mind", and "She’s Always a Woman". Throughout, he captures the spirit of a restless artist determined to break through by sharing, in his deeply personal lyrics, the dreams and heartbreaks of suburban American life.
Comprehensive, vibrantly written, and filled with Joel's memories and reflections - as well as those of the family, friends, and band members who have formed his inner circle, including Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel, Jon Small, and Steve Cohen - this is the definitive account of a beloved rock star’s epic American journey.
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Great for any Joel fan
Fawning but likeable bio
This bio has much to love and hate, which seems to mirror the often dichotomous opinion people (or music critics) have of the Piano Man. Schruers covers all the bases of Joel's life from his ancestors hegira from Nazi Germany, to his early days on Long Island, through pop stardom and later touring years. As might be expected from Schruers somewhat abbreviated treatment, each episode is covered in an almost cursory way with little time for in depth exploration of Joel's musical influences, cultural context, or critical interpretation. The hits, loves, tribulations, drug and alcohol abuse just breeze by and readers hoping for critical analysis or even behind the scenes details may come away disappointed. Nevertheless, Billy Joel has its pluses. Schruers notes in his sources the hundred+ hours of interviews and access Joel gave him; add to this the interviews with others in Joel's entourage plus voluminous research and what you get is a book that brims with quotes for every occasion that often illuminates Joel's personality and humor. But therein also lies the problem. One gets the sense that this is less a biography than ghostwritten autobiography and Schruers' access may have come at the price of a reluctance to delve with any depth or criticism into the darker aspects of Joel's life. The end result is a sympathetic, almost fawning bio that will neither offend nor illuminate but should appeal to those interested in a quick, breezy read and whose curiosity about the Piano Man would be satisfied with a Joel on Joel treatment.
I quite enjoyed the narration, particularly Thornton's stabs at imitating Elton John, Keith Richards and other musicians. That aside, the narration is jaunty and befits the material.