Billy Joel won’t talk to me.
And I can’t blame him, really.
I’d probably just bore him with stories about how the very first 7-inch single that I got for my plastic Fisher-Price record player as a kid, that wasn’t a Disney recording, was Joel’s “Allentown.”
Or how I used to bug my mom to play her cassette copy of “The Nylon Curtain” so that I could hear “Goodnight Saigon” because I liked the helicopters in the intro.
Or how I used to watch “Bosom Buddies” just to hear Joel’s “My Life,” which was the sitcom’s theme song.
Your eyes are glazing over already.
This is probably one of the reasons why Joel doesn’t grant many interviews: His tunes come so freighted with a million memories from those whose lives have been soundtracked by them, that it must be fatiguing to constantly hear about it all.
That pretty much all of his shows sell out doesn’t exactly boost his press availability, either.
He doesn’t need me, or any other music writer, to help him sell tickets.
Joel will however speak with a guy like Howard Stern, a friend of Joel’s who conducted a town hall-style interview with Joel back in April that was broadcast on SiriusXM satellite radio.
It was a long, interesting chat, interspersed with performances by such Joel admirers as Pink, Melissa Etheridge and Boyz II Men.
With Joel returning to the MGM Grand Garden arena on Saturday, here’s a few things we learned about Billy Joel from the interview (since, you know, we didn’t get to do one of our own):
He went to Woodstock. Left when he saw the bathrooms.
When he was 20 years old, Joel traveled by himself to the legendary music festival on a motorcycle, only to lose his enthusiasm when he had to relieve himself.
“I stayed for about a day and a half. I wanted to see (Jimi) Hendrix, but then I needed to use the bathroom facilities, and I’m not a bear, you know? The Portasans were pretty primitive, and there was a lot of mud. I think you had to do acid to stay there for three days.”
He wrote “Good Morning Saigon” with the help of some veteran friends.
Joel has said that he would have fled to Canada rather than serve in Vietnam. He had plenty of buddies, though, who did their tours of duty there and lived to tell him about it.
“They sat me down and said, ‘We want you to write a song.’ I said, ‘Well, I wasn’t there. I don’t know what to write.’ They said, ‘We’ll tell you what to write.’ They kind of went through it. It was really all about them depending on each other. When they were over there, they weren’t thinking about Mom, apple pie and the flag. They were doing it for each other. That really hit me.”
He will come over and set you straight if you play “Just the Way You Are” incorrectly in his presence, which happens often.
“Just the Way You Are” is one of Joel’s most well-known tunes. So why does no one know how to play it?
“It drives me crazy, because the original sheet music was wrong. (At one point in the song, it says to play two chords incorrectly.) I hate that. So I gotta go over and I gotta correct the guy every time I go into a place and he’s playing it. I go over and go, ‘Wrong.’ ”
He wanted to be a songwriter, not a rock star.
Initially, Joel was more interested in hearing other people sing his songs than himself (save for Helen Reddy, who once recorded a cover of Joel’s “You’re My Home” that he especially dislikes).
“My goal in life was actually to have other people do my songs. I was in rock ’n’ roll bands all during my teenage years, and then when I got to my early 20s, I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to be a rock ’n’ roll star, I want to be a songwriter.’ And the advice I got from the music business was, ‘Make an album so they can hear your songs.’ OK. Made the album. Then, ‘OK, now you made the album, now go out on the road and promote the album.’ OK … so, I became Billy Joel, which to me is kind of funny, I’m this rock star, ‘Wait a minute, this is all a big accident, you guys don’t understand, I shouldn’t be here.’ ”
He was once paid not to play Rock in Rio.
Joel was booked to perform at the massive Brazilian-born music festival, which comes to Las Vegas in 2015, but was upstaged by the artist formerly known as a symbol.
“They got Prince, and they called up and said, ‘No, you don’t have to come, we got Prince.’ We got the money, though. I love those kinds of gigs. … If you don’t want me to come, send me the money.”
He played piano on the demo for The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” as a teenager.
“It was a big job for me. I was about 16, 17 at the time. I knew the guy who was the guitar player on the session, and he said they needed a piano player. They wanted to me play the piano on the demo and then it became a big hit record. I don’t know if the hit record was taken from the demo. It’s hard to tell what the difference is.”
He almost joined a supergroup once.
Move over Damn Yankees, another star-studded group of rockers almost came together.
“There was an idea kicking around between Sting, me, Don Henley and there was another guitar player, I don’t remember who it was, about putting a band together. I thought it was a good idea. We could just throw some song ideas around and just be a band. I like the band idea, but that never got together. But it doesn’t mean it won’t. Some day we might put together a silly supergroup.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.