Billy Joel Says He Can ‘Kind of Relate’ to J.D. Salinger on ‘Colbert’

February 16, 2024
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Billy Joel stopped by The Late Show to discuss his new single, “Turn The Lights Back On,” and his Madison Square Garden residency. After coming onstage to chats of “Billy! Billy!” from the late-night show audience, Joel explained the inspiration behind releasing what he calls his first new song in 30 years.

“I didn’t expect this to happen,” Joel told host Stephen Colbert. “This is something that just developed starting about two years ago. I met a guy, who was a fan, and he wanted to try to get me to think about doing new music. I thought I was just going to meet some kid who wanted to say ‘Hi’ and that was the end of that. But I sat down with him, we had a lunch, and he started talking about songwriting and he knew what he was talking about.”

Colbert then asked if Joel ended up enjoying the process of writing and releasing a new song, adding, “And can we expect more?”

“I enjoy the interaction with musicians,” Joel replied. “This wasn’t so much about the music business for me. This was more about the music. Just concentrating on the music, and that’s what made it more enjoyable.”

The host cited a 2019 interview Joel did with Rolling Stone, in which the musician said he has “a lot of music no one’s ever heard.” “Why won’t you let us hear it Billy Joel?” Colbert asked. “Are you like J.D. Salinger? Are you the Salinger of music where you write every day, but just won’t let us hear it?”

“I can kind of relate to Salinger,” Joel said. “Kind of hiding out… The whole star aspect of it, the celebrity aspect of it, can be a little off-putting. Sometimes it’s too much.”

He added, “When I said I had music that no one’s ever heard it’s not songs. It’s notes. It’s music. It’s instrumental music. It’s orchestral music or melodic music. But I wasn’t writing words.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Joel spoke about his record-breaking residency at Madison Square Garden, explaining that he takes the train to the concerts after an incident in a helicopter.

The musician also spoke about his hit “Piano Man,” which was released 50 years ago, and his idea for a supergroup he wanted to start with Sting, Don Henley, and John Mayer. “Just to get a band together and then break-up,” he explained.

Joel released “Turn the Lights Back On,” which he also performed at the Grammys, earlier this month. Produced by Freddy Wexler, who has worked with everyone from Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez to Celine Dion and Kanye West, the song is a tender love ballad that doubles as a message to fans who have waited all these years for new material. It was written by Joel, Wexler, British songwriter Wayne Hector, and Arthur Bacon.

The musician last shared new music back in 2007, when he released the love song “All My Life” as a Valentine’s Day gift to his then-wife Katie Lee and the protest tune “Christmas in Fallujah.” His last album was 1993’s River of Dreams.

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Wexler recounted his own version of his meeting with Joel to Rolling Stone, saying “I go to meet him and it’s clear he has no interest in being there. He orders his lunch — clams on the half-shell — to go. And I later find out that he thought he was meeting a kid, so he was looking around for a teenager to sign an autograph for doing this doctor a favor. And then he meets me, and I’m this grown man… It was clear I had about ten minutes to make this guy a little more interested in hanging out with me.”

Joel will end his Madison Square Garden residency, which kicked off in 2014, in July. The 100th: Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run of All Time will air on Sunday, April 14 on CBS.



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