“I’m too interested in the composing process now to go back and learn how to do all that stuff I should have learned when I was younger,” says Joel, who had wanted to write the music for the movie The Perfect Storm but then the producers “got a really good guy” to do it. “I should’ve gone to music school and should’ve graduated high school, but I didn’t. I went on to be a rock star, and that’s what I’ve been doing for a good, long time.”
Being a rock star is actually his part-time job now. It’s been years since it was his fulltime gig -- since 1993, to be specific, when Joel floated up the River of Dreams and decided not to return. That album’s last song, “Famous Last Words,” provided enough clues to reveal that the entertainer was through with being just another serenader: “And these are the last words I have to say/ It’s always hard to say goodbye/But now it’s time to put this book away/Ain’t that the story of my life.”
“I thought it was the best I could do, some of my best material,” Joel says of River of Dreams, which touched the top of the pop charts briefly, spawned a hit single with the title song, and was certified as a five-million seller. “The album came out, and there was one hit. I just said, ‘The heck with that. I’m not going to do this anymore.’ I worked as hard on the songs that were hits as I did on the songs that weren’t hits. They didn’t get radio play. Most people have never heard the album, and they would define the album by the one song they’ve heard on the radio. So that was it; I was done.
“I’d been doing it since I was 15. When I stopped, I was 44. That’s quite a long time. [I got to the point where] I wanted to write -- if it was played on the radio or wasn’t heard by anyone, it didn’t matter to me. It was for me, my own enjoyment. What do I want to hear? I was at the point where I didn’t want to hear that music anymore. I wanted to hear a different kind of music.”