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Billy Joel: Peers Don’t ‘Get’ His Retirement

Billy Joel
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

It’s not just fans who can’t understand why Billy Joel’s retired from record making — some of rock’s biggest legends are also confused. Billy told Rolling Stone that other artists can’t seem to understand how Billy has gone nearly 20 years since the release of his last studio set, River Of Dreams. He revealed that at the 12-12-12 concert, the question came up yet again, recalling, “Bruce (Springsteen) has asked me. Pete Townshend backstage the other night asked me. A lot of people don’t understand — why would you retire from rock stardom? When it becomes more of a business, a lot of the motivation leaves. . . I’ve given away a lot of my own life in these songs and now I want to have a little bit of my own life for me.”

He went on to explain why he traded writing rock songs for instrumental classical pieces: “It started to feel like a juvenile kind of music. I don’t want to do what people expect me to do.”

Billy sized up his performing skills these days by saying: “I had to get hip replacements in both hips, and now, slowly but surely I’m kinda getting back to normal. I’d say I’m 85 percent. I can walk OK. I can’t run like I used to. Everybody wants to know, ‘Why don’t you play more?’ Honestly, I’m not as good as I used to be. I’m not as athletic as I used to be. I don’t jump off the piano anymore — that didn’t help my hips, either. My voice has changed, it’s lowered.”

Billy says that he actually loves with the way his voice has aged through the decades: “I’ve gotten more comfortable with my voice, because as I’ve gotten older, the range has deepened. I’m a baritone now — I used to be a tenor. So I’ve lost some notes on the high end, but I’ve gained on the low end. I can hit these low notes during a concert. If you’re a man, if you’re a male singer, I think until you’ve got some scar tissue on your throat — I mean, there’s something about hearing a man’s voice with a little character in it, ‘sounds like the guy’s been beat up, he’s taken a lot of knocks and he’s got a lot of knowledge and experience in that throat. And that usually happened in the middle years. And I think that’s kind of happened with my voice, I feel like it’s thickened out, and there’s depth to it now and substance.”

Billy Joel will next perform on April 27th at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fairgrounds Racecourse. So far, it’s his only officially announced date of the year.

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