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“You know, if you type ‘Billy Joel’s house’ into Google maps, you get Madison Square Garden,” Joel said. And then Joel was doing “Just the Way You Are.” He’d written it for his first wife and manager, Elizabeth. To close out the set, he sprayed his throat, donned a harmonica rig, and launched into “Piano Man” without betraying any exasperation, only wonder, as thousands of people, many of them about half the song’s age, sang along.
When he told her, “This song is for you,” Donna Summer, standing nearby, said, “Does that come with the publishing? You could stand behind the stage and look out at the throngs, lit up by Cohen, and begin to understand why a man might rouse himself from hibernation and go through the motions again. He means all the stakeholders in Joel, Inc., but the phrase also suggests his own desire for validation or love. Soon, the helicopter was gone and all was quiet, except for the whir of katydids and a Beethoven violin concerto on the Sonos.
“They usually have a car.” She drove him back to Centre Island. She drove off that night, but months later they began seeing each other. Outside the kitchen, he tossed the bag in the back of a Polaris U. Cemeteries, row houses, projects: the copter tacked southwest over Brooklyn and aimed for Manhattan’s lower tip, towers sparkling in the late-afternoon sun. It’s been busted down to ‘Private Jack.’ ”) But this time Cohen and Brian Ruggles, Joel’s sound engineer since the early seventies, prevailed.
She moved in with him, and he persuaded her to quit her job on Wall Street. “This is the beginning of the psych-up for the show,” Joel said. ”“There won’t be a dry eye in the house,” the saxophonist Mark Rivera said. (He’d wanted to leave it off the album, too, but Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow, dropping by the studio one day, told him he was nuts.) He usually won these arguments. A few hours later, the arena was full, and he was back onstage with the band, delivering the familiar hits in full voice. The cynicism surfaced only between numbers, such as when, after playing “The Entertainer,” he repeated, in a quizzical tone, the line “I won’t be here in another year / If I don’t stay on the charts” and then exclaimed, “Bullshit!
Joel, who refers to his former wives as Ex 1, Ex 2, and Ex 3, says that he is in no hurry to be married again. “You see this and you tell yourself, ‘I gotta do a good one.’ ”Since the beginning of the year, Joel had been playing the Garden once a month. All twelve had sold out well in advance, and the secondary market was tight. Steve Cohen, who has been Joel’s lighting designer since 1974 and his creative director since the mid-eighties, handed Joel his suggested set list. At other sound checks, I’d seen him scrap such mainstays as “Angry Young Man” (the tempo was lagging, and the sentiment felt false) and “Captain Jack.” (“Dreary, dreary, dreary,” he said. ” A roar greeted the opening notes of “Just the Way You Are,” and up in Section 106 I could see some women of a certain age singing along and dabbing their eyes.
He intends to continue the residency, as they are calling it, for as long as both ticket demand and his level of performance remain strong. whisked him and Roderick and his tour director, Max Loubiere, crosstown and then up a ramp to the passageway behind the stage, where crew and band members were milling around. It doesn’t vary much from show to show, but there are always a few wild cards, and this time Cohen had inserted “Just the Way You Are,” the 1977 ballad that became Joel’s first big hit, propelling sales of the album “The Stranger,” and of Joel’s earlier albums as well, which up until then had languished. you grew some bigger tits.” Cohen walked by, shaking his head. When the song was done, Joel turned to the audience and said, “And then we got divorced.”Joel’s show hasn’t changed much over the years.
They met five years ago at a restaurant in Huntington, where they’d both gone with friends. Along the way, he passed Roderick, who was on foot. Within moments, it was soaring across the bay and over the wooded estates of Nassau County.
As one of his biggest hits has it, “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life.