“The guy in the lobby is probably a better piano player than I am,” Billy Joel cracked.
Those who attended the National Press Club luncheon Thursday expected the Grammy award winner to discuss celebrity endorsements of political candidates. Instead,Joel had no prepared remarks,turning the entire hour into an impromptu question and answer session with Sylvia Smith,NPC president.
Joel went back and forth between the microphone stand and the piano on the stage and launched into excerpts of “Piano Man,” “We Didn't Start the Fire,” “It's Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “Baby Grand,” much to the delight of the capacity audience.
Normally,Joel keeps politics out of his concerts,saying that it's bad for business.
“They don't want to hear who to vote for and how I think you should vote,” he said.
This year,however,he publicly endorsed Barack Obama. Last weekend,Joel and Bruce Springsteen played an Obama fundraiser concert in New York. The nominee came on stage as the concert ended.
“I think it was Dante that said,‘The darkest places in hell are for those who maintain neutrality in times of crisis.' I thought,OK,I don't want to be in that place.” Joel said.
Joel said he never writes songs for his audience,but rather for himself,his friends or to impress a woman. “Goodnight Saigon” told the stories of his friends who served in Vietnam.
Asked how many songs he wrote to court women,Joel replied,”Oh,most stuff.”
“I never sit down and say,‘Mmmm,I think I'll write a political barn-burner now,” Joel said.
He credits his record label,Columbia,with much of his commercial success.
“I wouldn't pick a hit if it bit me in the butt,” Joel said.
Joel's said his favorite collaboration over the years was with the late Ray Charles. He hopes to partner with Eric Clapton some day.
The self-deprecating Joel even ripped into some of his biggest hits,criticizing “We didn't Start the Fire” as “a bunch of headlines,and a horrible melody.”
“I jumped through the ‘70's in three sentences,” Joel said,referring to the song's historical nature.
Joel said that he has no iPod and still uses CDs and vinyl records.
“I'm very 20th century. I'm an analog kind of guy,” he said.
He said that he mostly listens to classical music and depends on his daughter,Alexa Ray Joel,to keep him up to date with popular music.
He said the most challenging song to perform is “Lullaby,” which is dedicated to his daughter. Joel said he focuses on fans leaving the arena to use the bathroom so he doesn't become emotional over the lyrics.
“I wrote the song for her to say I will never leave you and I will always be there,” Joel said.
Joel also explained why he no longer performs “Uptown Girl” at concerts.
“It's because it's a pain in the ass to sing,” he said,and launched into a whiny,high-pitched rendition of the song on the piano to show the audience what he was talking about.
He lamented the current state of the music industry and said he understands why many opt to download music for free off the Internet.
“I think the music industry got really greedy and priced itself out of the business,” he said.
At the end,Smith gave Joel the option of either saying which of his songs applied best to each presidential candidate or performing a song in its entirety. A member of the audience shouted “Pick number two!” and ever “The Entertainer,” Joel sat back at the piano one last time and performed “Summer at Highland Falls,” a track from his 1976 album,”Turnstiles.”
“And so we argue and we compromise,And realize that nothing's ever changed. For all our mutual experience,our separate conclusions are the same,” Joel sang.