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Billy Joel On Fire, Again: The Rolling Stone Interview

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Does it bother you that your personal life often gets more press than your music?
You bet it does. People talk about "Billy Joel and his super-model wife" as if somehow Christie and I don't love and hurt and feel the same things that anybody else does. What do they think we do – walk in the door and fly around on gossamer and glitzy gliders? Don't people realize that the minute the door closes, all of the silly rock star/supermodel stuff goes right out the window? Then it's just me and her and real man-and-wife time.

Is that why you start off  Storm Front with "That's Not Her Style" – to get all the gossip about you two out of the way?
Listen, I understand that people are curious. I know what they read. On the other hand, I don't ask people I don't know a lot of questions about their wives, do I? I've learned to kind of laugh at a lot of tabloid stuff. But I have my forum, too, to reintroduce myself, to say, "Hello, this is what you've read. Let me just tell you what's really going on."

Do you think that writing a song like "That's Not Her Style" only gives the rumors another public airing?
That's a dilemma for me, because no one knew the other woman I was married to. So I could write "Just the Way You Are" and other songs and people could identify with it. With Christie, if I write a love song about a woman or if I write anything about a woman, people assume I'm writing about her. And I know if it were me listening, I'd be going, "God, there's that jerk singing about his beautiful supermodel wife again. I'm so sick of reading about the two of them. Screw him." But I also know that a lot of great artists – Picasso, Chopin, others – used the women they loved as their muse, to represent women in general. So I'm in good company [laughs].

Do you feel that the two of you are misunderstood?
Me, I've had a pissing war with the press going on forever, and that's one war you cannot win. But it sure built a lot of character. Listen, I know I've created most of my own problems, and I really don't care anymore. You'll find a lot of the landed gentry of rock critification are irked by me. So I was never really woven into their rock & roll pantheon.

Does that bother you, even with all the success?
In a way I really like it, because rock & roll isn't supposed to be legal. Rock & roll is supposed to be rebellious crap. Rock & roll is supposed to be about humping and fucking and sneaking around behind the parents and proclaiming your freedom, your independence. And what a lot of very important critics represent is really the authority. And I happen to think that if the authority disapproves of you, then you must be doing the right thing.

Why do you think the critics have been irked?
They don't see me as this authentic rock & roller. I'm not an authentic rock & roller. I never pretended to be one. I never hid my influences. The thing that pissed me off is when people compared me to Elton John when I was copying McCartney, you know? My God, I was straightforward about this stuff. I remember one guy said I was "the Irving Berlin of narcissistic alienation." I kinda liked that – the Irving Berlin part anyway. Listen, I wrote some reviews when I was young for some small rock magazines. But then I trashed this album by Al Kooper, and I realized that if I were him, I'd want to wring my neck. I didn't have the stomach for it. Now I say, "You think I stink. I think your opinion stinks." Have I read bad reviews onstage? Of course. Would I do it again? No. Nowadays it just bugs me when they say something about my wife or my kid.

Do you think Christie is misunderstood?
Well, she certainly is somebody that people love to write about. What bothers me is when because of what she looks like and what she does for a living, people fall back on the stereotype of her as being a dumb blonde – which she definitely is not. They say "supermodel" like that's supposed to mean she's vapid and shallow – which she's not. Not that I mind people appreciating how beautiful she is. I know how beautiful she is. I know guys married to beautiful women who are very insecure about it. I'm the opposite. I say, "Go ahead, check it out. She's pretty, isn't she? Look all you want. And she's married to me, you know?"

But Christie's a hell of a lot more than beautiful. She's a lot smarter than I am, and she's a very good artist, a painter. She was trying to get me to look into my business long before I did, and I should have listened to her sooner. There's a song on Storm Front called "When in Rome," about a working couple – working like us. Now, we may not have the same kind of jobs everybody else has. But we do work. We probably work harder than the people who comment on us. I've actually had journalists write nasty lies about my kid. She never hurt anybody. She's not even four years old.

Did you ever think of suing writers?
Yeah, but I'm sick of lawsuits . . . And I'm sick of lawyers.

You're in the middle of a serious lawsuit now. By some accounts, you might not be the wildly rich rock star everyone has been writing about.
I'm not all that rich. [Slowly] I may be a lot less rich at the end of the day. I may not be rich at all. I may owe money. I may owe a great deal of money.

You really think that could happen?
I think it's quite possible that it's happened already.

Do you own all your songs now?
No.

Do you own any of them?
[Pauses] There are a number of lawsuits where my copyrights are in question. For better or worse, your songs are your kids. Then somebody comes along and tells you that they're not your kids anymore. The bank is going to take your kid. And I don't know how many mortgages there are on my copyrights these days. There's a lot or things involved in this lawsuit. Forget about what happens to the lawsuit. Forget about the lawyers. I'd rather be the same stupid dickhead I was and not have learned the lesson.

You've had such a bad business history over the years. Why do you think you've had so many problems?
I think I was stupid, to tell you the truth. It wasn't my job. I trusted other people to look after my money. Time and time again I was accused of doing things for money, selling out, being commercial and having hit records – like I planned it, right? And all these years later, I find myself thinking, "Well, gee, I was accused of being a capitalist fascist pig – maybe I should have looked after my business a little bit more." But I didn't.

But you've ended your concerts for years by saying, "Don't take any shit from anyone."
What am I gonna do? Artists don't think like accountants. We think like artists. We're supposed to represent the other side. We're knuckleheads when it comes to business. Money isn't why I did what I've done with my life. I did what I did because it made me happy. But I'm tired of getting it taken away from me by other people who haven't earned it. I do all the work – shouldn't I have the money? And what about my kid's future? There's a lot of sharks out there. She's going to need all the protection she can get. I don't think money solves problems. I think money creates more problems than anything else. And fame is the great neutralizer when it comes to wealth. We have to spend that money to try to live a normal life.

These days there are so many sharks. It's become so sophisticated and computerized and fast and nasty out there that for the average guy to survive, he's got to be consumed by this crap all the time or else he's not going to keep his head above water. I know the sharks I've got to deal with, and I come from a position of strength at this point, whether I've got money or not. But the average guy working nine to five – he's got to face that in his world, and I don't know how he does it. It's an ethical wasteland out there. It's great that they've got these liver transplants going. It's incredible what's happening in Eastern Europe. But what's happening in this country scares the shit out of me.

You're going to be spending a lot of your time in the next year seeing this country. Are you looking forward to hitting the road?
Well, I hate hotels. I hate matching furniture. I hate airports. I hate flying. I hate being without my family.

So the obvious question is, why tour?
I like to play. It goes back to before I was a recording artist or any of this rock-star crap. I was a player. That's what the fun is. It's as close to sex as you can get. For this tour, we've set up a schedule where we are on for six weeks and we go home for two, which I think is civilized. Which I always asked for in the past, and for some reason or other with the people who used to be handling my career, that never happened. Because it didn't pay off for them. Fortunately, my kid is in nursery school, so if she joins me on the road somewhere, it's not like she's missing English Lit 5.

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