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Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred…

Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography

by Fred Schruers

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I don't like those gossip-entertainment TV shows and magazines. I think, for the most part, we (society) are too caught up in the lives of celebrities. They should not be forced to live their private lives on display. Yet, here I am, reading Billy Joel's biography. Such a conundrum.

I admit to a heavy bit of intrigue when it comes to musicians' biographies. A big part of that attraction is learning whether the person, and the songs he/she wrote, match my preformed opinion. I want to understand the minds that created those songs I've grown up with. Sometimes I'm horribly wrong and, equally, horrified, to the point where I don't even want to listen to that music anymore. Other times, I find that the songs and the public persona match up almost perfectly with the real person. This latter is the case with Billy Joel. His music is likable, insightful, sometimes fun, and sometimes a little dark. And so, it appears, is he. It turns out that this alignment is largely because his songs are often mini biographies.

This book is arranged extremely well, and the writing flows in an easy, conversational style. We start before Billy began, with his Jewish grandparents in Nazi-occupied Europe. Fortunately for them, and later for us, they are among the lucky ones to have escaped a fate for which there are no words.

This book covers everything, from Joel's childhood to his girlfriends, wives, music, touring, financial problems, and, of course, his touring life. We're given a nice balance throughout. There isn't a lot of sensationalism here. The author doesn't attempt to exploit Joel's personal life, and Joel doesn't appear to give us much at which to point criticizing fingers. And, really, how many of us could survive such scrutiny with our own private lives?

I found this book to be a fascinating journey, as much for Joel's life and career as for the portrait it paints of this moment in music history.

*The publisher provided me with a copy of this book, via Blogging For Books, in exchange for my honest review.* ( )
  Darcia | Feb 9, 2016 |
This is a good biography of Joel and in a way can be likened to an autobiography as it is mostly told in direct quotes from Joel himself. The story is that Billy was working on his biography and at a certain point handed the material and job over to Schruers, his official biographer. Thus, this is a pro-Joel book and not the place to be if you are looking for the "dirt" or trash-talking. I found the beginning and ending of the book very good but the middle dragged. Upon starting I was fascinated to find myself reading a thrilling Holocaust survival story as Billy Joel's family history is told. I hadn't expected this! I didn't even know he was Jewish, for some reason I thought he was Italian. LOL. The early days, and story right up to the early years of his marriage to Christie Brinkley was an interesting story for me. I was actually captivated as the book really centred on the industry and told Joel's life through his songs which are all very autobiographical. I've read several books about rock stars, but this is the first one that has ever seriously been about the industry itself. Then Billy becomes involved in legal issues with his (ex)manager and counter suits, etc. etc. plus he stops writing and this part of the book was very slow going for me and I waded through it hoping I'd get interested again. Which I did when Joel reaches more modern times post 9/11 and his career is revitalized. Now the impact of his music, his legendary status as a songwriter and his continued success as a performer and speaker take us up to the present. The book doesn't hold back on controversial subjects (his alcoholism, rocky friendship with Elton John, etc) but Joel speaks of them bluntly, of where he is with them now, not lingering on the demons or heartaches. This is his general approach to life and a theme throughout the book. I recommend this biography if you want to know more about Billy Joel's music, the man who wrote the songs and why, the type of life he lived and where he is now, in mind and body. I don't recommend if you are looking for the juicy stuff about Joel's demons, his alcoholism, who he slept with etc, it's just not that type of book. ( )
  ElizaJane | Dec 11, 2014 |
2014-10-31: Not sure I'll finish this. I've loved his music since high school but don't know if I really want to know anything about him.

2014-11-01/30%: Okay so far though it jumps around a lot and I get the feeling the author may have been paid by the word.

2014-11-03/89%: Still jumping around. I still think the author was paid by the word. Mildly interesting stuff, I've at least picked up the names of a few songs I some how missed over the years. Billy comes out smelling like a rose which makes me wonder how accurate the story is. Well, he did have a drinking problem and he was "moody" sometimes. Honestly, I don't give a shit how fucked up he is or isn't, I long ago learned to separate the artist and the art. The artist will often disappoint you but that doesn't have to ruin the art. Not that Billy has disappointed, he seems like a decent guy.

2014-11-04: Well, at least it was written by an actual writer. I think I almost preferred the Wikipedia entry though. :-) What I'd be more interested in is a book that went through each album/song and gave a paragraph or so on the origins of the song. There's a lot of that in the book, and it was interesting to note that some of my favorites are songs Billy doesn't think much of. Getting Closer and Code of Silence are two that come to mind though. Cyndi Lauper's backup vocal on Code of Silence really help that one though, and apparently it was on the chopping block and she had a hand in saving it.

In summary, some interesting stuff, some trivia that I skimmed (legal issues, etc), I think I had another point but I distracted myself with musing on his recent relationships. He seems to want a serious relationship but he keeps going out with 24 year olds. You could have fun with a 24 year old but if you're 60+ you're unlikely to find a real relationship there. Guess he's not as wise as some of his lyrics make him out to be. None of us are though so that's okay. I wish him well and he needs to stay healthy until I can convince my wife to fly to NY and see him play at MSG. Or, he could come to Atlanta and save me a trip. ( )
  Awfki | Nov 14, 2014 |
I have a secret, but it's probably one shared with millions of people worldwide for over 40 years, that Billy Joel's music never seems to get old. It's always like I'm listening to it for the first time. Joel can go from cockey, to romantic to wistful and it all works. A listener can tell Joel is speaking from his own life or heart - very personal, and probably very painful. So when I saw that this Biography was available on NetGallery, I had to read it; and I wasn't disappointed in it, not for a minute.

While there are several Joel biography's out there, this one is the one that Joel started and then had his biographer finish. There are over 100 hourse of interviews with Joel himself, and hundreds of hours of interviews with his friends, three ex-wives, co-musicians, etc. It comes across with a lot of names, and dates, concert venues and other data which had times can be overwhelming. A bit of an information overload. The author also used the Billy Joel archives (who knew?) and other sources. It really is very thorough, although I sometimes felt like I was seeing his career through a glass wall in a museum. I can't describe what that personal touch that was missing is, however. Perhaps it was that is biographer was trying to stay objective about his subject. Lyrics to particular songs are included, especially those ones that were very personal to Joel. It would be great if the ebook version of this was supplemented with the audio, but I played my cds instead. All in all, it was a very satisfying read. ( )
  dreplogle | Oct 23, 2014 |
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