NB: Only those Billy Joel diary entries relevant to the Lp Now Playing have been selected for this piece–Editor.
December 15, 1971 Dear Diary, My brilliant first album, Cold Spring Harbour came out last month and has been getting real life reviews. I have to say I don’t understand half of what these schlubs say so I have resolved to buy a dictionary and increase my vocabulary. The first word I’m going to look up is: “trite.”
Summer 1972 Dear Diary, Is FM Radio the coolest or what? Where else could you hear my awesome, edgy, pro-drugs character study “Captain Jack”? With words like “junkies”, “closet queen”, “masturbate”, “pot”, and “get you high”, I’m like a suburban Velvet Underground without the musical muscle or lyrical compassion. And unlike Lou Reed I can actually sing–ha, ha!
P.S. Songwriting tip I picked up from Bob Dylan: To show you’re really superior to your subject matter, start each new stanza with “So you…” and then list all the stupid things that your subject does. This week’s dictionary word: “condescending”.
November 2, 1973 Dear Diary, In the future, I think the title track of Piano Man will be seen as my “signature piece”. In fact, as I can secretly reveal to you, dear Diary, “Piano Man” is somewhat autobiographical, being as it is about my time spent at the Executive Room piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard where I brought joy and light to patrons’ meaningless, depressing lives with tours de force like the “Root Beer Rag” (I’ll put that on my next album to show my “diversity”!)–really, they couldn’t get enough of me. And I loved the way I flipped around “gin and tonic” to “tonic and gin”, that lyrical twist is what great songwriters do (and it made it rhyme!!). Dictionary words: “overblown” and “Elton John”.
September 1974 Dear Diary, I heard “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio and if that’s not Harry Chapin, somebody’s ripping me off.
October 11, 1974 Dear Diary, Street Life Serenade came out with a big, fat message to the Music Industry: namely, “Fuck You!” That’s basically what I’m saying in “The Entertainer” because the Music Industry made me edit “Piano Man” for radio play. Even counting Upton Sinclair with The Jungle, has anyone ever skewered an Industry (whether Music or Otherwise) so comprehensively as I’ve done there? I don’t think so, and the Music Industry had better change and pronto or they’ll get another of my devastating depth charges. Dictionary word: “petulant”.
May, 1976 Dear Diary, My fab new album Turnstiles was released with the gorgeous ballad “I’ve Loved These Days” on it. It’s the gorgeous ballad that Paul McCartney wishes he’d written, if he hadn’t already written many better ones. There’s another song on it called “James”; it’s probably about my son, or something. “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” is my homage (you see, dear Diary, the dictionary doesn’t contain all mean words!) to Phil Spector, it’s not a “total rip-off” (even I know what that means!) like some people have said. Dictionary words: “insipid” and “unctuous”.
July, 1976 Dear Diary, I was telling the wife that, based on years of dictionary work, I’ve come to the conclusion that I get a lot of bad reviews and that it’s time I name and shame these bozos (the so-called “music critics”) by reading bits of reviews out in concert and then tearing them up. And then maybe writing a song about it. Anyway, after about 45 mins. when I was just getting warmed up on the subject, my wife starts telling me, apropos America’s Bicentennial, about Daniel J. Boorstein’s book, The Americans – The National Experience and how it compels us to see again, ranged in order, the whole mass of attitudes and mechanisms that arise from American difference. I stopped her right there. I told her that I didn’t want clever conversation, just someone I can rant at.
October 1977 Dear Diary, I heard “Bat Out of Hell” on the radio and if that’s not Bruce Springsteen somebody’s ripping melodramatic early-period Billy Joel off. Dictionary: “pastiche”
November 1977 Dear Diary, A bad day. I was so stoked that I’ve sold about a billion copies of The Stranger then my wife has to go and totally ruin everything!!! She goes, “Billy, you’ve written your first standard” about the song “Just The Way You Are” [see July 1976 entry–ed.]. My first standard? Hasn’t she been listening?!! Uh-umm (clearing throat noise): “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”, ever heard of it? “New York State of Mind”? Hello? Etc. etc., etc., etc. (times a million!). Diary, I’m so mad, I want a divorce right now, but I’m so busy, what with promoting a billion-selling album, I might not get around to it until July 20, 1982. BTW, I love the Fender Rhodes on my album–I defy anyone in the 2000s to say it screams 70s middle-of-the-road cheeze. And how about that song “She’s Always A Woman To Me”? Can you believe, dear Diary, that it’s about a transvestite? Anyway, my performance is so utterly unique that it will take about 33 years for anyone to cover it properly, i.e. exactly the way I did it.
Summer 1979 Dear Diary, CBS are releasing a compilation album (my first!) in England called Now Playing with some of my best-loved favorites (though, oddly, nothing from my last record 52nd Street, but thank God they didn’t put anything from Cold Spring Harbour on it–that album was a real stinker-oo!). It’s a Promotional, For Demonstration Only, Not For Sale album destined to become a collector’s item worth literally tens of dollars (like that stupid label-mate Elvis Costello’s Live At the El Mocambo Club record–speaking of which, I think I’m going to do a “new wave” album next, I bet I can be way more “petulant” than stupid Elvis Costello.) and definitely not the sort of unloved record that someone will find in 30 years time at a thrift store in, say Whitstable, Kent for a pound. [That’s enough Dictionary–ed.]