He even likes road life. Joel counts some of the guys in his crew among his oldest friends, and they spend idle days riding motorcycles together on whichever open stretches of road they’re staying near. Between sets, he kicks back not in his relatively sparse dressing room -- in which hang a few dark suits and shirts, the opposite of Sir Elton’s garish Las Vegas–fried spread -- but in the temporary operations office set up beneath the arena, with members of his 40-strong crew. He and the guys light up smokes and shoot the breeze about old bikes (Joel’s passion and, of late, his second profession) and vintage cars.

Ultimately, the real reason he enjoys being on tour is sentimental. “I kind of enjoy revisiting what I have done,” he says. And, even better, he adds with a smile, “The audience is liking it.”

Sure, sometimes Joel thinks about hitting the road for a small theater tour -- just William Martin Joel of Levittown, New York; a piano; and a few hundred people for whom he would play more than the memories. The reason he doesn’t? A small-scale tour would mean laying off most of the crew necessary for these arena-size touring circuses. “I’ve been working with these people for so long, and I don’t want to say goodbye to them,” he says. “I don’t want to cut them loose.” The man values loyalty, which is no doubt one of the reasons he still enjoys playing his old songs to audiences that still want to hear them.

He’s also holding on to another dream: hitting the small clubs with his close buddy Sting and a few other musician friends as a jazz-blues combo called Porkpie Hat. “Everybody wants to do it,” Joel says. “But our schedules are so darn busy and never mesh.” He vows, though, that one day, he’ll make it happen.

What he’s less sure about is if there’s another pop record in his future. Joel was never definitive about leaving pop music; he never said it was forever. But somewhere along the way, he got tired of competing with himself. He just turned 60, and though it’s only an imaginary benchmark to him, he plans to spend some time figuring out what to do next -- what to write, who he’ll be.

“People are always asking, ‘Are you going to make another album?’ “ Joel says. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. If I get some ideas for some new songs, I’m not going to stop myself from writing. Will I record them? If I think they are really good and I want to hear them, then, yeah, but maybe not. Maybe. Maybe not.” He pauses before continuing with, “I know enough now and I’m wise enough now not to make plans. Life comes and whacks you upside the head, and things happen that you never expect, and that’s where you end up. I think I’ve been able to stand back from this whole career -- the rock-star persona, the celebrity, the recording artist, the songwriter guy named Billy Joel -- and take a look at him and go, ‘I know who you are. You don’t kid me. You’re not larger-than-life to me. This is just your job. This is what you do.’ I’ve never really trusted in celebrity or stardom or fame or recording success. It doesn’t last. Why am I still around? I have no idea. Maybe I’m doing something good. You know, good stuff seems to last. I give myself that.”