New Thing #63: Billy Joel Sings With A Student

It's been a while since Billy Joel has released a new (non-classical) album. 1993's 'River of Dreams' (20 years!) was the last one.

So I didn't really think at any point in 2013 I'd be featuring a New Thing from Billy Joel.

But I do have something.

Allow me first, though, to give you a little history on the subject.

I love Billy Joel. With the death last year of Gary Carter, Billy Joel is my last living childhood hero. Truth be told, I loved Gary Carter for a lot longer than I loved Billy Joel, but once I gained a musical sense I went all in on Billy Joel and held him in the same esteem.

It pained me that shortly after I discovered Billy Joel's full catalog, he was essentially done releasing music. Every so often I would find a bootleg concert recording or a collection of studio demos, but most of my Billy Joel fanhood has been spent seeing him live furthering the legend of Billy Joel, but not necessarily promoting new music.

(One of those live performances was probably the best concert I'll ever see, thanks to the surrounding circumstances - The Last Play At Shea. I wrote about it on one of my previous blogs five years ago.)

One of the live performances I saw came in 1996, at an event that as far as I can tell Billy Joel has been doing since the 1970s. It was called "An Evening of Questions and Answers, and Perhaps A Few Songs", where Joel tours colleges (he still does this, as evidenced by this Music Monday entry), takes questions from the audience, and performs a few songs.

Seeing him in this intimate setting was one of the best Billy Joel performances I've seen (and it's probably one of the more embarrassing things I've done personally). First, the embarrassing story: I worked at a sporting goods store in the late 90s. A girl I worked with attended Queens College, knew how much I liked Billy Joel, and told me when she heard he was doing a Q&A at the school. She offered to get me tickets. I was thrilled. She got them, I paid her for them, and  I went with a friend. It was only in retrospect years later, when I thought about how things soured with that girl at work later on, that I realized that she might have been hinting that I take her to see Billy Joel on a date. But I was a pretty naive 17-year-old...that really didn't cross my mind at the time. My dad might have hinted at it, saying something like, "Are you sure she wasn't expecting to go with you?" But I was convinced that since I had paid her for the tickets her role was solely as middleman. Yikes. What a dope.

Anyway, the event was great for two reasons: 1) often Billy Joel played songs that he didn't normally perform live (he played a good chunk of 'The Nylon Curtain' album at this show. I know because at the time I kept a journal of events I attended, and I wrote about this show. That's also how I could so easily still find the ticket stub you see below.). He also played songs like 'Vienna' and 'Summer, Highland Falls'. 2) It allowed Billy Joel's personality to show through. He always comes across like a genuinely down-to-earth performer, and he is quite funny. The Q&A performances, to mostly young audiences, allow this side of him to shine through more than stadium concerts, I think.


And they also allow for situations like this: I was checking out his website recently, as I do every so often in hopes that there might be an announcement about new music, and came across a video from a Q&A he did at Vanderbilt at the end of January. In it, a student asks if he can accompany Billy Joel on "New York State of Mind"...and he says yes. So I'm going to stretch 'new' a bit and call this new music. (If you think that's a stretch for a New Thing, go with this instead - I think the old me would have been insanely jealous of this kid who got to play the piano with Billy Joel...but I'm going to be big and give you this link to check it out...and I'll admit that he's a really good piano player.)

I don't think I can embed this video, so I'll just send you over to the site with this link. Enjoy.