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Billy Joel Is Angry

In a gutsy interview with Rolling Stone, the “Glass House” superstar throws a few stones of his own

Billy JoelBilly Joel

Billy Joel onstage in 1980.

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

His nose was lying on its side, bleeding on his swollen cheek. Billy Joel studied himself in the mirror; his thoughts darted back to the solid punch that had numbed his face for the rest of the bout, held as usual at a boys club gym in the Hicksville, Long Island, shopping center.

Before the amateur welterweight had another minute to dwell on his disfigurement, a buddy ambled by, sized up his mushed mug and calmly said, “It’s just cartilage; it’ll be okay.” Then this guy pushed Joel’s nose back into what seemed like its former position. Later, a little surgical tape and gauze held the damage in place.

“My nose was never the same after that,” says Joel, who won twenty-three of his twenty-six bouts during a three year period in his midteens. “I’ve got one nostril smaller than the other. See, my nose is kind of bent. I thought about having an operation, but I wondered if it would change my voice. Now I kinda like it,” he says of his altered appearance. “I don’t know if I’d want to look like I did when I was a kid. As my mother would say, ‘It gives you character.'”

In other words: hey, no big deal, okay?

Billy Joel, 31, has been defensive most of his life — often with good reason. His father, a Jew born in Nuremberg and raised in Nazi Germany, divorced his wife during Billy’s adolescence and left for Vienna, reducing the family’s economic standing from lower-middle class to scrambling-for-rent status.

“My father never abandoned us,” Joel insists. “He sent a check every month.” But when pressed, the cautious, ever-sparring pop star adds, “Well, my mother took any gig she could get: bookkeeper, secretary. We went hungry a lot. Sometimes it was scary not eating. We were in the suburbs, in Levittown, but we were the antithesis of the suburban situation. Do you know what it’s like to be the poor people on the poor people’s block?!”

To shield himself against a Long Island suburban ethos that ridiculed his threadbare circumstances, Joel fell into a neighborhood gang, wore a leather jacket, sniffed glue, dabbled in petty theft and drank a lot of Tango wine (easily the toughest belly-wash for a macho young pug to keep down).

He was always angry, yeah, but the anger fed his hunger and his hunger found its focus in music. His mother dragged him to piano lessons at the age of four, hoping he would emulate his father, a classical pianist whose love of music and life helped him survive a stretch in Dachau during World War II. Howard Joel escaped to New York via Cuba and became an engineer for General Electric. Billy Joel quit Hicksville High and escaped into rock & roll.

Or so he thought. What initially seemed like a release soon proved to be a snake pit, and Joel was bitten badly as he stumbled from group to group, label to label, viper to viper. Even after he landed a deal with a reputable label (Columbia), the financial returns were paltry. Desperate, he turned to wife Elizabeth (who had previously been married to the drummer in one of Joel’s early bands, the Hassles) and begged her to use the know-how she’d acquired at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management to pull him out of his predicament. She maintains that as late as the summer of 1978, Joel’s debut platinum album for CBS, Piano Man, had netted him only $7763.

Reputed to be a tough businesswoman, Elizabeth, 32, initiated a flurry of lawsuits, took charge of Joel’s books and fought to get her hapless husband his fair share of the profits by setting up their own corporation, Home Run Systems. “This is a business,” she has stated. “People never expected me to be as smart as I was, and they would be totally frank because they didn’t realize I was building my empire. Money is the bottom line of everything.”

Secure in the knowledge that he is finally in good hands monetarily, Joel now pays attention only to his music. After a decade of bar bands, indecent record deals and disdainful press, he presented Columbia Records with the biggest album in its history — 1978’s The Stranger, which has sold more than 5 million copies to date.

Onstage, during a three-encore performance at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena in late July. Joel was raucous and riveting as he raced from keyboard to keyboard on his multiramped set, pressing his fine band (Russell Javors, rhythm guitar; David Brown, lead guitar; Doug Stegmeyer, bass; Richie Cannata, horns and organ; and drummer Liberty DeVitto, a veteran of Mitch Ryder’s early groups) to its limits. Billy seemed as pugnacious as his face-off stance suggested when he spit out “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” openly taunting the critics who dismiss him as a mere pop phenomenon. But it’s important to look past the pose, to read between his lyric lines and recognize his urgency — and boyish fear of rejection.

“All the digs he gets in the press really hurt him,” says producer Phil Ramone, who Joel willingly admits turned his career around with his studio expertise on The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses, the last three of his seven albums.

“He’s very disciplined,” says Ramone. “We — he, the band and I — generally get a song done in just two or three takes. And it’s all part of his tough, seasoned exterior, born out of years of double-crosses. But behind his hard facade is a great, great tenderness. I think, for example, that I took some of the rigid perfectionism out of his classical training and made ‘Just the Way You Are’ less like a stiff nightclub ballad and more like a powerful, deliberate love statement.”

This interview with Billy Joel took place in his room at the Hotel Pontchartrain following his Detroit performance. Dressed in a droopy red T-shirt, sneakers and jeans, he lounged on a couch and cajoled me into helping him empty two bottles of Dewar’s Scotch; we talked nonstop from one a.m. until dawn. At first, he came off randy and offhanded. But as he grew more tranquil, I thought back on a story he’d told me three years earlier about his maternal grandfather, who became his surrogate father after Billy’s dad left the family.

“He was an English gentleman,” Joel had said, “a brilliant man who inspired me to read, and he was a music lover. We would go to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see these great classical performances. And because he knew the guy at the door, he’d slip him a pack of Camels to get us good seats.

“He was,” Joel assured me then, his voice cracking, “a real gentleman.”

I reminded Joel of that recollection and asked him how he saw his current sta ge of personal development. “Part of me is an adult,” he said quietly, rubbing his crooked nose, “… and part of me is a kid. I want to hold on to both. Very much.”

You once told me that the image on the cover of The Stranger — you sitting on a bed in a suit and tie, staring at a mask, boxing gloves hanging nearby — came to you in a dream. There’s something surreal about the cover of Glass Houses, too. What’s the story behind it?
The mask actually had nothing to do with the song “The Stranger,” where I talk about faces, the sides of ourselves that we hide from one another. The Glass Houses jacket was the same kind of thing. I kept thinking [exasperated], “Well, I suppose people think of me as a pop star,” and right up to this second, I remain uncomfortable with that tag. That rock-star thing, that was not the purpose of making this latest record. I’m going to do whatever I feel like doing, and whatever I do, I know I’m going to get rocks thrown at me, so I figured, what the hell. I’m just gonna throw a rock through my window, at myself — meaning the whole narrow image people have of me!
[Smiling] And that is my house, by the way. People think I’ve got this multimillion-dollar mansion. I paid $300,000 for it, and that wasn’t even money up front; I’ve got a mortgage. I’m not a multimillionaire. Frankly, I’m not really sure what I’m worth. It’s safe to say I’m a millionaire — that’s a possibility. I honestly don’t know and don’t ask.

Does having a mortgage mean you couldn’t buy the home outright?
Yes, I couldn’t do that.

Even though you’re one of the largest sellers of records in recent years? It sounds as if you should renegotiate your contract with Columbia Records.
Well, I can’t turn around now and renegotiate something I’ve already agreed to. That’s my concept of good business, and I admit I did sign a lot of lousy papers over the years.

Are you content, overall, with this situation?
It was more fun when there were a lot less dollars involved and a lot less greed. And there was a lot less pressure to make megabucks. And I had fewer responsibilities to people. I tend to get pissed off about money, and that’s why I have lawyers and managers to keep it fairly distant from me. It used to be fun to just go out and play rock & roll.

What was the first record that really turned your head around, influenced you?
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by the Righteous Brothers. And almost every record the Ronettes did — their sound was bigger than the radio. To me, Phil Spector was like composer Richard Wagner. Any song by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett — early Motown.

See, when I was twelve or thirteen, I didn’t have any money. My sister had a little record case for 45s that said I LOVE YOU, ELVIS on the side, and I’d sneak into it and borrow what she had. The singles had no photos on them, so you didn’t know whether the groups were white or black.

You speak of your reverence for black R&B, but I think it’s fair to say that your sound is a lot closer to white pop.
That’s probably because I’m white [laughing]. The closest I can get to sounding black might be something near Stevie Winwood. You know, I really wanted Ray Charles to record “New York State of Mind,” and I approached Al Green with some stuff.

I loved Streisand doing “New York State of Mind,” and Sinatra just did “Just the Way You Are,” but the biggest kick was when Ronnie Spector cut “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” ’cause I heard Ronnie in my head as I wrote the lyrics! It was wild! And then to have Miami Steve Van Zandt and the E Street Band back her up was the best. God, that made me truly happy. That’s jukebox music, man, good car-radio music! And I helped make it happen!

In my teens, I was in bands with names like the Emerald Lords and the Lost Souls. We wore matching jackets with velvet collars. I didn’t know from extended guitar solos, or that you were supposed to drop this drug while listening to that record and then read the album cover upside down as the record played. I tried being a hippie for a year — it was a total loss, I was a lousy hippie. I became the keyboard player for this band called the Hassles. We put out two albums, The Hassles and The Hour of the Wolf. It was real psych-e-whatever.

This was about the time Hendrix was out. His music really got to me, and the Hassles drummer and I decided we were gonna do a power duo. It was the loudest thing you ever heard. We made one album for Epic, called Attila. It had this weird cover. The art director had us in a meat locker, with carcasses hanging around us, and we were dressed up as Huns. I got talked into it.

So how’d you become a solo singer/songwriter hiding out in L.A. under the pseudonym Bill Martin and playing Buddy Greco songs in the Executive Cocktail Lounge?
I started writing songs on my own, taking odd jobs in New York in the meantime. I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna be a songwriter and write for other people.” I had gotten the whole rock & roll thing out of my system, or so I thought. But everybody in the business told me, “If you want other artists to hear your material, why don’t you make a record?” Once I made the record, they wanted me to go on tour to promote it, so one thing led to the other.

The first album was called Cold Spring Harbor, on Paramount Records. That was a weird deal. [“The strangest thing happened,” says producer Artie Ripp. “The sixteen-track machine ran slow, and when we mixed the final master, Billy sounded like a chipmunk. I said, ‘Billy, it doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow. We’ll remix it sometime later in our lives.'”] I went on tour and nobody got paid. I signed away everything; I just didn’t know. This was right before Piano Man. I went to the West Coast. I just disappeared. I really didn’t want to leave, but I had to get out of these contracts [with Ripp and Paramount] and I didn’t want these people to know what I was doing. So I used the name Bill Martin, and I got a gig working in a piano bar for about six months.

It was all right. I got free drinks and union scale, which was the first steady money I’d made in a long time. I took on this whole alter identity, totally make-believe; I was like Buddy Greco, collar turned up and shirt unbuttoned halfway down. The characters that Steve Martin and Bill Murray do as a goof, I was doing too, only people didn’t know I was kidding. They thought, “Wow, this guy is really hip!”
Eventually, the people who had me under contract — and couldn’t find me — realized they were either going to have to renegotiate and compromise or they weren’t going to get anything out of me.
It was 1972. I was about twenty-three. I still had no idea what a mess this whole business is.

I notice that Family Productions, the company run by Artie Ripp that signed you to Paramount Records, still has Ripp’s logo, Romulus and Remus being suckled by that she-wolf, on the label of every one of your albums. Do you think that someday you’ll ever be free of Ripp?
[Shaking his head in disgust] I don’t know. I get a dollar from each album I sell. Ripp gets twenty-eight cents out of that for “discovering me.” Once in a while I get pissed off about it, but until the situation changes, it’s not really healthy to dwell on it. I deserve that money a lot more than Ripp does, but I signed the papers, so what can I do? It was the only way I could get free of his Family Productions, although he wouldn’t let me go entirely. And he seems willing to continue to take the money.

Do you own your publishing?
I have a deal with CBS’ April-Blackwood Publishing; I do not own my publishing, but I do own my copyrights now — meaning that I own, like, fifty percent. [Sighs] Live and learn, eh?

Incidentally, I read recently in Random Notes about this guy [John Powers of Reno] who said that I stole his song, that he wrote “My Life.” Now, my initial instinct is to just go beat the hell out of the guy, but my lawyers say I can’t do that. I’ve had more leeches and sharks preying on me over the years, and it hasn’t been dramatized in the press much because, until recently, Billy Joel wasn’t very interesting to people.

But I never stole anybody’s song. People send me tapes through Columbia all the time, and I do not and will not listen to them. As it is, I’m getting sued; I’ve got lawsuits up the gazool, which is something that disillusions me a lot about writing. I don’t want to steal from anyone, because I know the feeling — my stuff’s been getting ripped off all my life.

How have things with “My Life” ended up?
Lawyers [whistles whimsically]…… It was a settlement. I said, “How much am I going to pay you if we go to court?” And the lawyers said X. “How much?! The guy is wrong. I never heard his song. He wants to take me to court, I’ll go to court. I’ll kill him. I want to kill him. I’ll kill anybody who says I stole his material.”

Maybe he did have a melody that was copyrighted. But don’t tell people I’m a thief. When they question my intentions, that bugs me. Enough about that. I never stole nobody’s song.
I should clear up the Dakota thing. You know it?

During the Madison Square Garden gig [in July], it came out in the New York Post and the New York Times that I had applied for an apartment in the Dakota [an exclusive Manhattan apartment building] and had been turned down because I admitted to being a drug user and because I had groupies! Number one: I did not want an apartment at the Dakota; my wife did. Elizabeth no longer manages me. She is involved with me: fundraising, movie production, film editing. But she’s got twenty other things going. I said, “Enough of the strain of being wife and manager, let’s just be man and wife.”

There was a rumor that all these things put a strain on your personal relationship.
Yeah, I’ve heard rumors, too: “Are you and Elizabeth gettin’ divorced” or “You separated?” It’s like, what? Give me a break. Everything’s fine.

Now tell me more about the Dakota incident.
It wasn’t enough for Elizabeth to apply; I had to appear. This is typical…… It’s typical of the Equal Rights Amendment not being passed. A wife is considered chattel to the husband. They were worried about me. I showed up in my suit, I went to the interview, I did the Dakota. The man, the heavy guy who was the deciding guy, had the nerve to have me sign albums for his daughter. There had been an interview in Us magazine right before we went to this Dakota interview. So because I had said, “Once I did this and once I did that…,” it was picked up in the Times as, “He has admitted that he is a drug user.” I got a family, you know. I got a mother. I got a sister. I got a father. And the press is calling me a known drug user because I happened to say that once I went onstage stoned.

It’s like Gloria Vanderbilt getting turned down at the River House. “Ha, ha, isn’t it great that this multimillionaire got turned down?” I’m not a multimillionaire. People think I have much more money than I have. I pay high salaries. I am in no way set for the rest of my life. I make a nice living, okay? But I go into the red on the road. The salaries and the costs and the production. It’s a recession, man. I’m like everybody else. I don’t make any money at a gig. I go on the road because I like to play. I’m not bitching about it, but I’m constantly behind.

Even with full arenas of people paving $12.50 a seat?
If you look at the marketplace, $12.50 is not in line with ticket prices, which tend to run as high as fifteen dollars or more. It’s a pretty low price, and I do it that way because I want the kids to be able to afford to see the shows.

So where do you make your money?
Well, for the last three years the revenues have mainly come from record sales.

There are several charities you contribute to on a steady basis. Which are they?
The Rehabilitation Institute in Mineola, New York, which handles a lot of causes, and the Little Flower school in Suffolk, for orphans and kids who are emotionally troubled. There are several others.
Incidentally, have you heard the new rumor? It was on the radio today that I’m retiring. They even had a tribute to me! Unbelievable. Anyhow, go ahead.

You’ve talked before about sharing your wealth and growing up with socialism. Your parents were socialists?
No, their parents were. I don’t think they were in the party, but that was their philosophy. My grandfather fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. My mom and dad were registered as Democrats, but they were never less than liberal in their politics.

When was the first time you met your dad after he divorced your mother?
I was living in a rented house in the Malibu mountains in 1972. Soon as he got off the plane, I knew who he was. He’s got the same bug eyes. It’s very strange. I mean, we look a lot alike in a way, and he’s lookin’ at me like. “Is that what I used to look like?” and I’m lookin’ at him like, “Is that what I’m gonna look like?” He’s a great piano player in the classic sense. Trained by a Prussian.

Have you ever been in a working situation together?
He’s been in recording sessions. He was there for “My Life,” and he said, “You’re making the piano sound out of tune.” And I said, “That’s the idea, pop.” You can’t explain Elvis Presley to my father.

What do you get musically from your old man?
I get the feeling that he don’t know rock & roll. “Just the Way You Are” was a big hit. He called me and said, “You’ve written better songs than that.”

What do you get from your dad as a dad?
As a dad, it’s too late. I’m thirty-one. I met him again when I was twenty-three. What can I tell you? I was already me. I knew a lot of kids when I was growing up who were afraid of their fathers: their fathers beat them up, were bastards, creeps…. I was brought up by women. I happen to have had a nice upbringing. The worst my mother did was grab hangers off the rack and whip me over the shoulders.

Your mother, your father, it doesn’t matter — that hanger hurts. But I never grew up in fear of men.
My mother… she’s loving, she’s people-oriented, a fucking blast. She is not awed by stardom. She’s not a stage mother. Her whole thing was just be happy.

And are you happy? Is anything plaguing you?
A lot of people who are attracted to me haven’t been exposed to black music: they think right off the bat that all black music is disco, so they think that my ballads are something to be played only on Adult Contemporary Dentist’s-Office Easy-Listening stations. I’m just trying to be accepted for doing a diversity of things.

Glass Houses was recently the Number One album in the country; “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” was the top single. You can’t expect to please everybody.
Right. But when the Beatles did “Yesterday,” did that mean that they became an Adult Contemporary group suitable only for dentists’ offices? No, that didn’t stop them from doing any of the trashy rock & roll stuff they did. Same thing with the Stones. They did “Angie” and “Ruby Tuesday,” but it didn’t mean they weren’t the Stones anymore or had deserted their audience.

You know, there’s been an evolution in my music. For instance, 52nd Street was a much different album than The Stranger. It had a harder edge, although there was still orchestration on it. But I think people thought we were going to go into a jazz vein in, say, a Steely Dan sense. I was getting hung up on public reaction to my work.

But, hell. I’ve got a lot of good friends and success, so what am I complaining about?

Well, you’ve gotten praised and panned for your studio output. Are you going to attempt a live LP?
Actually, we’ve been taping everything from club dates at the Paradise in Boston to the Spectrum in Philly, dates in Milwaukee and St. Paul, and the Madison Square Garden shows too. Thus far, we’re doing it simply to document what we do on the road, but it could possibly wind up a live LP.

What you do is too eclectic to be called rock & roll — it is, well, energetic pop. This seems to rile rock critics, and they give you a hard time. Does that bother you?
What bothers me is the untruths, the lies, the slander and libel. Bad reviews don’t bother me. But a lot of these critics are looking for art. I run into this all the time. Robert Hilburn [music critic for the Los Angeles Times] does this all the time, saying, in so many words, that “Billy Joel is not an artist but a pop star.” The thing that got me about that was, people who are looking for art in rock & roll or pop are looking for something that either doesn’t or shouldn’t exist there.

An artist is a guy with a beret who sits in a park and paints pictures, and he starves in a garret somewhere.

Why must an artist do that to earn the title?
Because he’s only after art.

And art is — 
His special, elitist, intellectual view of how life should be represented on canvas or in music. Now, when you do that consciously, I believe you’re really shutting yourself off from what’s going on. I do what I do because of radio. Consider Devo: my, how artistic, what a great concept: deevolution and industrial rock for the Eighties. Intellectually, the whole image of it is very well put together, but it doesn’t make it on the radio. If I’m driving in my car. I’d rather hear Donna Summer — that’s where it’s at.

But rock & roll, pop, funk, they can all be so many things — both reflective and reactive.
But let’s remember the essence of popular music. A song comes on. What do you hear first? Words? Nah, you hear a beat, then a melody. Take “My Sharona.” If you really liked the song, then you took the time to dig out the words, and they’re pubescent, dumbo words, but they fit the song.

Journalists, for the most part, always tend to tune into a lyric. I’ve never wanted to print my lyrics on my LPs because lyrics are not poetry; they’re part of songwriting, they’re coloring, and they have to be heard at the same time as the music.

If they wrote out the lyrics to all these incredible Motown records, it would be rotten poetry. It’s really stupid stuff. The O’Jays can go, “I love you/Yes I do.” But if they sing it in a particular harmony and do a particular hand-jive, it’s okay, see? But if Warren Zevon or Neil Young wrote it, it would be, “What a dumb lyric.”

I think it’s racism.
You’re damn straight it’s racism. Now, has a great lyric ever defined a great song? Never. I write what I write because I wanna hear something else on the radio. I can’t stand the Grateful Dead jamming for an hour. I like what I hear on the jukebox. I like Frank Sinatra — whatever that makes me.

I wasn’t crazy about the Four Seasons and the Belmonts, or what they call “ethnic New York.” Now me and Springsteen are defined this way, like we got a gang war going. Bruce is from New Jersey. I’m from Levittown. Like we have any kind of claim to New York?!

I have no pretensions to Bruce’s throne. I have no arguments with Bruce, but we get pitted against each other, right? I know if I sat down with Bruce and talked to him head to head, it would be like, “Yeah, let’s go have a hot dog.”

So what is important to you?
I like to play music. We’re not in the studio to make important records. We go into the studio, the song gets mixed and it’s eventually heard through tiny car-radio speakers. We also like being together onstage. You should never lose sight of the fact that you’re there to entertain. People don’t pay money to see art. They don’t pay money for you to sit there and be “Billy Joel.”

Onstage, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” is probably your most intense, even angry, song. Explain what it is you’re getting at.
New Wave songs, it seems, can only be about two and a half minutes long. That’s about it. Only a certain number of instruments can be played on the record —usually a very few. Only a certain amount of production is allowed, or can be heard. The sound has to be limited to what you can hear in a garage. A return to that sound is all that’s going on now, so don’t give me any of this New Wave — using a Farfisa organ because it’s so hip. It’s just a reaction to a rediscovered past, and a rejection of Emerson. Lake and Palmer using multideck synthesizers.

You feel pretty strongly about all this, don’t you?
I grew up on jukebox music, and everybody in the band has played this music all their lives, and they range in age from twenty-eight to thirty-one. We played the Top Forty singles in bars. Then, when Sergeant Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band came out, everybody started smoking pot and tripping and listening to the 13th Floor Elevator. Suddenly, everything changed — all the formats for playing and recording and listening to music. You could hear twenty-five minutes of music on the air with no commercial break.

Which also raises the point that no black artist, not the Spinners or the O’Jays, has been played consistently on FM radio in proportion to the way Hendrix was in his heyday. Elitism is rampant. FM radio cut out black music at the peak of the Al Green era.

New Wave has the same problem, but the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” bored the hell out of me. If I go to a disco and hear one boom-sup-boom tempo all night, I get a headache and split. If I go to a New Wave club and all I hear is “Fuck you!” and the guy spits on me all night, I’m sorry. I don’t like it. If I go to a folk club and all I hear is some girl strumming a guitar, singing, “Give me some wine and cheese, please,” I don’t want it. I would rather go and hear a good Top Forty bar band — which is what we still are, basically.

Now, if I’m considered part of that overhyped, overproduced, overindulgent supergroup style, then I’m bummed. But I do admit that some of my earlier albums had that quality. What I’m saying in “It’s Still Rock and Roll” is that I happen to like Donna Summer’s hits. I’d never listen to them from the perspective of a Van Halen or Rush freak, who’d blow Donna’s brains out with a shotgun simply for being herself musically. That’s sick.

As for New Wave, I think it’s good and necessary. Kick out the Emerson. Lake and Palmer shit and all that overindulgence. Give the whole damned industry an enema, jam that plastic tube right up its rear end.

In a song like “The Stranger,” you hint that there are sides to you, deep secrets, little things that even those closest to you aren’t aware of.
Big things, man. We all have a face, we all have another side. I’m still learning. It never stops. We’re all under this pressure.

When were you most frightened of yourself?
Right now.

What about back in your early twenties, when you voluntarily checked yourself into the psychiatric ward of a Long Island hospital because you broke up with your girlfriend and felt lost, alone?
No. Now.

Why now?
Because these things I don’t know about my image scare the hell out of me. But I just don’t have the time to sit around and think about me anymore.

I’ll go to bed, and my wife and I will try to say to each other, “What are ya thinkin’ about?” and I think [sings], “I am the knight in shining armor and I want to go slay dragons.” You get to a point in your life where there aren’t any obvious dragons.

When you were in the hospital, were you scared about different things?
I was into a real self-pity trip. “Oh, gee, I have to face all this shit. Isn’t it easier to just cut your throat or slit your wrist?” I think everybody goes through that at one time or another. Facing adulthood. So I checked into a place where they wouldn’t let me kill myself. It was the best thing I ever did. There were all these really sick people, really screwed up. Like in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I said. “Hey, I’m really okay: these people are really sick.”

At the end of every concert you say, “Don’t take any shit from anybody!” When did you start doing that?
I don’t know, around the same time I started wearing a jacket and tie onstage, about 1977. If you’re really good at what you do, you really don’t have to take any shit from anybody. But you have to be in a privileged position. It also means notgiving any shit to anybody. I really believe it. I love swimming upstream.

Well, if you’re swimming upstream, there’s only one way to do that, and that’s by not taking …… …
… Any shit…… …

… From… …
… …Anybody.

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