Billy Joel Talks Trump’s Wedding, Hanging With Axl Rose, and Why He Stopped Writing Songs in New Interview
Billy Joel is the latest high-profile artist to sit down for a longform interview with New York Magazine’s David Marchese. In the piece, Joel opens up about why he stopped writing songs, his reaction to his critics, his feelings about the current political climate, as well as his positive feelings about the music of The Killers (“They’re a good rock band”) and Yes (“Fragile is great…I was with [them] up to Tales From Topographic Oceans. Then they lost me”).
He opened up about his dissatisfaction about the commercial performance of his last studio album of original songs, 1993’s River of Dreams. “I was always trying to feel like there was a real progression in my work, and eventually I realized I was only going to be X good,” Joel said. “Because of that I knew I was going to beat myself up for not being better. So I stopped. That’s it.”
He explained, as he has before, that he more or less lost his will to write after releasing the album. Joel also discussed his feelings about being unable to acquire his catalogue from Columbia Records in 2013, as per “termination rights” which allow artists to attempt to acquire the rights to their catalogue after 35 years. He explained that he did not approved of any of the compilations or live albums that have come out under his name.
“People wonder why there’ve been so many Billy Joel live albums and compilations,” he explained. “They’re not my idea. The record company owns all these recordings and can package them any way they want. As far as I’m concerned, I did 12 studio albums. The live crap and all these compilations — they don’t mean anything.”
Joel also explained his choice to wear a Star of David during appearances following the Charlottesville riot last year:
To me, what happened in Charlottesville was like war. When Trump said there were good people on both sides — there are no good Nazis. There are no good Ku Klux Klan people. Don’t equivocate that shit. I think about my old man: Most of his family was murdered in Auschwitz. He was able to get out but then got drafted and went in the U.S. Army. He risked his life in Europe to defeat Nazism. A lot of men from his generation did the same thing. So when those guys see punks walking around with swastikas, how do they keep from taking a baseball bat and bashing those crypto-Nazis over the head? Those creeps are going to march through the streets of my country? Uh-uh. I was personally offended. That’s why I wore that yellow star. I had to do something, and I didn’t think speaking about it was going to be as impactful.
The singer-songwriter went on to describe Trump as a “terrible president” and speak about his feeling about ICE’s former policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. “These children are being ripped away from their parents and then the U.S. can’t find them? This is insane,” Joel said. “This is the antithesis of America. I think we’ll look back in shame on what’s happening at the border right now. It’s like when they rounded up the Japanese and threw ‘em in camps during the war. It’s a disgrace.”
Joel did recall a time when he had felt less wholeheartedly hostile toward Trump, explaining that he’d attended Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania at the behest of his third wife Katie Lee. “I thought it would be an interesting freak show,” Joel explained. “I don’t even know Trump.” When asked why he was invited, Joel said: “I have no idea. I guess he was just inviting A-listers. I was told that he used to come to our shows and hang out backstage but I never saw him. I don’t remember anything about the wedding. I just drank. I remember maybe talking to Chris Matthews.”
Joel also gave Marchese a glimpse into his friendship with Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose, who performed with Joel during his Madison Square Garden residency last year. “I met Axl a long time ago when he was real big with Guns N’ Roses,” Joel said. “I was in L.A. and went to a club…it turns out he’s a fan. So I’m sitting at a table with Axl and these women are coming up, leaning over so you could see every inch of cleavage, offering themselves to him. I’m looking at Axl like, Aren’t you interested in, you know, meeting these women? No, he just wanted to talk about ‘Captain Jack.'”
Read the full, career-spanning interview over at Vulture.