Monday, October 22, 2018
Features and More

Billy Joel talks about life, music, sings a little at the Palladium in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG

Billy Joel aimed his lime green laser light at Kasey O'Keefe's chest. He noted O'Keefe's unkempt hair. The 27-year-old St. Petersburg College student then stood and asked a question that Joel said he has rarely been asked:

"Who was Roberta?"

"Ooooh," Joel whispered. "You're kind of a kinky guy, huh?"

Still, Joel answered the question. Why wouldn't he? No part of the legendary songwriter's career was off limits Monday at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, the latest stop on Joel's Q&A tour of college campuses.

For more than two hours, Joel moved from the microphone to piano to organ, taking questions from the audience about the inspirations — many of them female — that molded his hefty songbook.

Produced by Ruth Eckerd Hall's Friends of Music education outreach, the event was open exclusively to SPC students, faculty and staff — and with only 850 seats inside the Palladium, each ticket was a treasure. The day seats went on sale, fans started lining up outside the Palladium box office as early as 2 a.m.

The appeal was obvious: Billy Joel is made of hits, and he has largely retired from touring. At 62, he's the same age as Bruce Springsteen, yet today these college lectures make up the majority of his live gigs.

Monday's event, billed as "An Evening of Questions & Answers . . . And a Little Music," found the barrel-chested Joel in freewheeling, fun-loving, self-deprecating form, spinning yarns, playing music and offering snippets of advice to the aspiring musicians in the house.

"When I was starting out in the music business, I didn't have anybody to ask how to do this," he said at the outset. "I made every mistake you can possibly make."

Some — perhaps even Joel himself — would say that applies to his personal life, too. He certainly didn't deny how many of his songs were written to get a girl.

"It works," he said. "Some guys buy cars, I write songs."

Once, on vacation in the Caribbean after his first divorce, he found his way to a piano at a bar and started playing the old standard As Time Goes By.

"And then I look up, and there's Elle MacPherson, Whitney Houston and Christie Brinkley," he said.

An audience member asked about a song he once wrote for an ex-wife. Joel went into Just the Way You Are, tweaking the lyrics ever so slightly. ("She got the house, she got the car . . .")

And, of course, there was Roberta: the, ahem, "working girl" whom Joel fell in love with back in early '70s Los Angeles, and who inspired the song of the same name.

"I wanted her to quit the profession and be with me," he said. "I didn't have two nickels to rub together. I couldn't afford her."

Not all of his muses were women. There were the disillusioned military pals who urged him to write Goodnight Saigon. The out-of-work fishermen from The Downeaster Alexa. The waiter from the Italian restaurant who once asked Joel, "Bottle of red? Bottle of white?" Poof! Instant inspiration.

When a young woman asked Joel to name some other artists who inspire him, he wordlessly sat down and played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. At other points in the night, he sang songs by Ray Charles, Cream and Procol Harum. (He even did a very solid impression of Weird Al Yankovic's nasally parody It's Still Billy Joel To Me. Talk about meta.)

Though he hasn't released a pop album since 1993, Joel said he hasn't stopped writing music. It's just that it's more classical in nature. He performed one newer number simply titled Hymn, which he described as "hymnlike, in the tradition of Edwin Elgar."

Though Joel performed snippets all night of songs like Summer, Highland Falls; Vienna and Piano Man (which he calls "the most non-hit hit I ever heard"), it wasn't until the end that he made it through one full song: Only The Good Die Young, which brought the clapping crowd to their feet.

And to answer your question about that one: Yes, he said, there really was a Virginia.

"There were a couple of Virginias," he said.

Of course there were.

Jay Cridlin can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Taste test: Pumpkin spice products

Taste test: Pumpkin spice products

‘Tis the season for pumpkin spice.
Published: 10/22/18

Hernando churches offer family fall events

Mark your calendars.
Published: 10/21/18

Christian singers to headline Family Faith Fest this weekend

Learn more about what Colton Dixon is working on next.
Published: 10/21/18
Is the annual pass worth it? As Disney changes pricing system, we help you decide

Is the annual pass worth it? As Disney changes pricing system, we help you decide

Though costly, annual passes at Disney World, Universal, Busch Gardens and other parks can sometimes be a smarter choice. You just have to know what you’re getting.
Published: 10/19/18
Walt Disney World to open nature-themed resort in 2022

Walt Disney World to open nature-themed resort in 2022

The as-yet-unnamed resort will open in 2022. It will have 900 hotel rooms as well as villas for Disney's timeshare program.
Published: 10/19/18
What it’s like to really have Breakfast at Tiffany’s

What it’s like to really have Breakfast at Tiffany’s

It’s Instagram heaven for would-be Holly Golightlys at New York’s Blue Box Cafe, Tiffany’s first dining venture, located on the fourth floor of the famed location.
Published: 10/19/18
A committed villain and a sterling ensemble lift St. Petersburg Opera in ‘Don Giovanni’

A committed villain and a sterling ensemble lift St. Petersburg Opera in ‘Don Giovanni’

ST. PETERSBURG — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart broke barriers in opera, and not just by weaving those impossible harmonies with seemingly little effort. Together with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, he also relished any chance to tweak the upper class,...
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/20/18
Mexico Beach was gone. But we found a way to get there.

Mexico Beach was gone. But we found a way to get there.

Reporting in a hurricane is dangerous, complicated and important. When it came to Hurricane Michael, we had to find a way to tell the stories.
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Singer Seal to headline February’s Florida Orchestra gala

Singer Seal to headline February’s Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Orchestra has landed Seal, a four-time Grammy winner, to headline its fundraising gala at the Mahaffey Theater Feb. 9.The London-born star, who has sold more than 30 million albums on the strength of his versatile, smooth...
Published: 10/18/18

Published: 10/18/18