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The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Tue. Sep 17, 2002

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For – It’s hard to feel sorry for a multimillionaire musician, but this interview with Billy Joel struck me for a couple of reasons. First, the old conundrum that in order to make great art, some artists must have a well of sadness to draw on.

"That, of course, is the paradox: Joel’s art is defined by his life, and his best work is his most morose. Thus he can achieve greatness only through despair. But for Joel, at 53, that artistic transference seems to be failing. There was a time when sadness spawned genius; now it just reminds him that he’s alone. ’I’m kind of in a dark place,’ Joel says. ’And I know some people are actually excited about that, because they think I’ll write an album about being sad. But that’s not what my music is about. There have been times when I’ve done that, but I’m not going to do it again.’ "

"Joel hasn’t made a pop album in almost 10 years, even though his last one (’River of Dreams’ in 1993) moved five million units. There’s always a chance he might someday decide to make another, he says, but he currently has no plans to try; he describes himself as unmotivated, uninspired, alienated from the concept of commercial songwriting and uninterested in composing lyrics [...] ’I don’t have a new project,’’ he says. ’’I’m not doing anything but personal life stuff.’’ He talks like a guy who has conquered every goal he dreamed about as a teenager, only to discover that those victories have absolutely nothing to do with satisfaction."

And what an awful place that must be, especially for the ambitious. The astronaut who goes to the Moon at the age of 32 … and then what? How do you top that? You see it in the sports world, the Evander Holyfields and Michael Jordans, who had it all at the peak of their sport … and then found there was nothing on the other side that gave them any thrill.

Either the time for those great accomplishments passes naturally, or the big stack of them ceases to be motivating. Or provide happiness.

After all the Emmy’s and millions in sales, what does Bill feel he has missed? "The happiest times in my life were when my relationships were going well—when I was in love with someone, and someone was loving me. But in my whole life, I haven’t met the person I can sustain a relationship with yet. So I’m discontented about that. I’m angry with myself. I have regrets."


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