This was the first time I had spent much time reading the story of Billy Joel, having listened to his music over the decades. It is a remarkable story and worth telling, mainly because it works out for old Billy in the end. So we have the story of the hard childhood and broken family, the rebellious youth and the struggles at school, juxtaposed with a boyhood driven to practise the piano until he became advanced at playing it. Then we move album by album through his career, which is mostly an upward trajectory. However, we see enough of Billy Joel's character that he becomes a less and less likeable person - it's the massive ego, the poor treatment of his band-mates financially and how he sacks them, the strained personal relationships etc. Despite this, the author pretty much loves every one of the tracks on every album - each chapter covers the period of an album. It is almost as if his music rises above its composer and his petty human traits. And this touches on why this book seems to score either 1 or 5 stars on reviews. On the one hand, the story remains fascinating and maintains your interest through a lengthy book. On the other hand, the book is dreadfully written. It suffers from a lack of sub-editing, poor writing skills that were not picked up in any editing, repetition of sections, and a lack of driving home the main feature of the book - that the personality and the artistic expressions are at such odds. Perhaps the author came to realise with disappointment that his musical hero had feet of clay and could not cope. More so to me the book reflects the modern era of digital on-line writing styles - lack of editing, limited expression and skill-set, disinterest from publishers so long as they shift units and so on. There are better written books and articles (on-line of course) about Billy Joel and his career, especially how someone who writes what sounds like schmaltz to many ears can still be so popular - what some reviewers dub 'schlock rock'. Some of Billy's songs are modern classics and appeal across the generations, but other songs are not and really sound like a cocktail lounge style of tinkering; a display of the artist's skills on a keyboard without necessarily being for the benefit of the audience. The best aspect of the book is that you do end up with a feel for Billy Joel's personality - which is more balanced than the review of his music (since fans will always wax lyrical about their heroes' music).
I first got into Billy Joel during a 4 month visit to the USA in late 1977 just after The Stranger was released. I went to see his 1st concert at the Drury Lane Theatre in February 1978 which is still one of the best concerts I have ever seen. I have seen him on each of his UK tours since then.
I have just played all the albums over the last 4 weeeks and realised that I had never read anything about him. I got this and the Bill Smith "I go to extremes" and read them both back to back.
This book relies a lot on past interviews and every quote is referenced to a list at the back of the book. The main source is interviews with past band members.
Billy's grandfather got stitched up when selling his business in Nazi Germany and Billy also had 2 bad contracts. I guess it was common in the late 60's/early 70's for artist to get ripped off by their managers.
The big disappointment to me was the way that Billy treated his long time band members. They had stuck with him for a long while, had performed on several albums but were just on salaries and got no royalties. The way they were sacked was very poor and Doug Stegmeyer's story is tragic.
The book covers the family history in Germany and his childhood days.
There is a separate chapter on each album which gives the background to all the songs.
The problem with any biography is working out what is the real truth. Memories can be a bit cloudy after 40 years.
I read this book first and then the Bill Smith book. I found myself referring back to this several times as there are a lot of variations.
Overall it is an interesting book. He has produced some memorable albums over the past and I have no hesitation in recommending this book and also the Bill Smith one.
This is a very well researched and informative book. Mark Bego gives the lowdown on Joel in this excellent study of a complex character and musical genius. We are given great background info on Billy Joel via interviews with the people that knew him best, ie his former band mates, Liberty De Vitto, Ritchie Cannatta and Russell Javors. I particularly enjoyed the way the author devoted a chapter to each of Joel's albums, giving not only a breakdown of each song, but also some of the background to what was happening in his life at the time. We also learn of the tragic suicide of senior band member Doug Stegmeyer who had been with Billy since the "Turnstiles" album in 1975. It was bass player Stegmeyer who basically got Liberty, Ritchie and Russell into the band that was to be the backbone to Billy Joel's touring and recording success from "The Stranger" in 1976 right through to "The Bridge" in 1986. The main gripe voiced by the ex band members seems to be that they had no status in the vast scheme of things, and were regarded as "hired hands" and subject to the whims of Joel. It seems that the more success he achieved, the less he cared for his erstwhile "mates". It also seems that his marriage to Christie Brinkley turned his head and that he was no longer one of the boys. The fact that his loyal band members were not officially told they were being replaced was also an insult. Doug Stegmeyer apparently heard he was being replaced via listening to his car radio, which reported that Joel was recording his new album with a complete new band. So they weren't even officially sacked, but found out second hand. Despite all this warts and all information, the book outlines the single mindedness allied with the undoubted musical talent that make the "Piano Man" such a fascinating artist. A thoroughly absorbing read.
this is a very good read, i wanted to learn how he started his career into the music business, i love billy joels music and just wanted to read what is life was like. this book certainly does this. its made me want to purchase some of his early music before i discovered billy joel e.g Cold Spring Harbour.It is a very interesting read into his loves and losses and if you want to know all about billy joel its the book to read. I recommend it.