Billy Joel has long been one of my favorite pop singers. Part of our courtship included sitting with my not-yet-husband in the nose-bleed section at one of Joel’s concerts in the late 1980s. Where I sat didn’t matter. Joel put on a great show.

Over the years, I’ve read very little about him in the press. I knew he and Christie divorced. I knew of a series of car accidents. Coincidentally, a few weeks before I started this book, I saw the PBS program where he was honored by the Library of Congress with The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers and published by Crown Archetype gives a lot more of the famous songwriter’s story. (I received a free copy of the book for this review from Blogging for Books.)

Schruers portrait includes many familiar settings: absent father, raised by single mother with little money, poor school performance, naive trust in others all of which often result in bitterness and resentment.

Joel’s feelings pour out in the music and is able to stay on civil terms with most who have wronged him. He is wise enough, though, to walk away from those who don’t work for a common good – whether it be a show or a marriage.

The early pages present a few branches of the Joel family tree accounting for his grandparents emigrating from an unsettled Europe because of Hitler’s actions.

The bulk of the book explains the music business and the seminal moments of individual songs (The Stranger, Piano Man, Uptown Girl).

The story of any individual song emphasizes that most of what Joel writes is autobiographical, something that won’t come as a surprise to ardent fans.

What may surprise readers of this book is how much Billy Joel is a common man, looking for love and fulfillment, like his fans. Just with a tad more capital at his fingers.

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