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Broadcast on Sirius XM’s Howard 100 and Billy Joel channels, the event — held at New York City’s Cutting Room on April 28 — featured live performances by Pink, Melissa Etheridge, Boyz II Men, Idina Menzel and Tony Bennett
“We kept it small,” said Stern of the intimate crowd of 100 guests, which included Matt Lauer, Rachael Ray and pre-approved fans, who participated in a moderated question-and-answer session that was interspersed with Joel’s trademark humor (among the jabs: he mocked the provided electric piano and various bar musicians for mangling the suspended chords in “Just the Way You Are”), insights and musical interludes of well-known Joel compositions “Summer Highland Falls” and “Vienna.” He also did dead-on impressions of Johnny Cash and Wolfman Jack, and an epic cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum.
Other highlights included Etheridge’s gritty acoustic cover of Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” It was the first time she had ever performed the song, because when she was growing up “it was the end of the ’70s and a girl could not sing” it. Menzel, who played with Stern’s questions about whether or not “we care” if John Travolta mangled her name (“we care,” she said), got flustered during a key change in “Honesty” but rebounded. She also shared with Stern that she fooled around with a high school boyfriend to Joel’s “I’ve Loved These Days.”
Pink brought her mother to tears while singing with Joel on “She’s Always a Woman.” She showered the singer with high praise, telling him, “You are like a god that I prayed to as a child.” She added: “Billy is a person that can paint a picture for you with words, and it’s unique to him — he does that like no one else in the world can do that, and it’s changed my life.”
Boyz II Men mashed up “The Longest Time” with “Just the Way You Are.” After the show, the group revealed to The Hollywood Reporter they are planning to join Joel at one of the upcoming Madison Square Garden Shows. Finally, Bennett got a standing ovation before he closed the show with “New York State of Mind.”
“We never leave the studio because I am agoraphobic, but the only person I’d leave the studio for is Billy Joel because I think he is so phenomenal,” Stern said.
The event, which lasted over two hours, allowed fans a rare opportunity to delve into Joel’s songwriting secrets (“Piano Man” isn’t so much a lyric, but a limerick, he said), as well as ask questions about his motorcycle accident — a fan actually requested his autograph as he was lying at the side of the road — and find out which cover of his songs he hated (oh, Helen Reddy, how he absolutely hated your rendition of “You’re My Home”).
Stern got right down to it, immediately asking Joel if he had any regrets at age 65. “If you have no regrets, what kind of life did you have?” Joel answered.
Joel’s stories enchanted the crowd, including Rachael Ray, who told THR, “You know I love men from Long Island…. My husband and I have an enormous vinyl collection and a huge part of that is Billy Joel.”
And what does the famous chef prefer in her kitchen? “Bottle of red, bottle of white,” she smiled. ” ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,’ because that’s our house.”
Stern wrapped things up with a revelation — that he may do similar events in the future based on how well the day went.
Here, 11 more things we learned at the April 28 Town Hall:
1. Billy Joel is Jewish, but attended church services growing up. “I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly Italian, Irish and Polish. Everybody went to mass…. My mom decided I would get religion when I was 11 and she took me to a Protestant church. Then I got baptized.” However, Joel doesn’t believe there is a heaven or hell. “I’m not going to say there is or isn’t, I just don’t believe there is.”
2. Why hasn’t Joel written any new pop songs? “I just don’t want to,” he said. “You have to want to write new songs. Elton John asked, ‘When are you going to make another album?’ I say to him, ‘Why don’t you make less albums?’ ”
3. Joel was at Woodstock! But he hated Country Joe and the Fish, and said the first time he heard “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag,” he thought it sucked. “I don’t like somebody telling me how to think,” he said. His regret about the festival? He missed Jimi Hendrix because the porta-sans were inadequate, so he left.
4. Piano is a “percussive” instrument. Joel demonstrated his theory explaining that “Angry Young Man” was written to match the drum solo in “Wipeout” by the Safaris. Similarly, “Summer Highland Falls” musically demonstrated the highs and lows of sadness and euphoria, as Joel imagined the high notes as a musical expression of manic depression.
5. Joel once tried heroin, and the result was the song “Scandinavian Skies” from the 1982 album, The Nylon Curtain. He said he only did it once in the late ’70s in Amsterdam. “It got me so high, I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “It scared me.
6. Does he ever get annoyed by piano players breaking into “Piano Man?” “I take it as a compliment,” he said.
7. Is he sick of performing “Captain Jack?” “It’s long,” he said. “By the time I get to the swimming pool, I’m rushing to have it over.”
8. Joel once wanted to form a super group with Sting, Don Henley and another guitarist. “I liked being in a band,” he said. “Someday we might put together a silly super group.”
9. He just recorded a Christmas single with Johnny Mathis. “He sounds great,” said Joel.
10. Joel may or may not be the dramatic piano you heard on The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.” Joel got the gig when he was 16 because he knew the guitar player on the session. To his knowledge, he definitely played on the demo of the song, but is not sure if it made it to the hit record.
11. Good news for fans — Joel said he will continue to do his monthly residency indefinitely. “As long as there is ticket demand and I have the wherewithal to do it, we are going to stay there.”
Melissa Ethridge performs “Only the Good Die Young.”
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