In my younger days, Billy Joel was one of those performers whose music you either loved or hated, mostly depending on your tribal affiliations, your musical expectations, and the depth of your musical exposure. Put simply as possible, if you were really only familiar with the cuts that made it to the Top 40 rotation, or were suspicious of anything the sweaty masses liked, or expected your music to defy musical conventions, or any combination of the three, you most likely hated him.
... At least until you lost some of your snobbish pretentiousness, became more familiar with his catalogue, and grew more appreciative of his craftsmanship.
Going to one of his shows would most likely shift you off your base. By the 1980s, Joel was already acknowledged an electric performer who could pump up the audience with his energy and showmanship. Now in his mid-sixties, Joel may not be able to do back-flips off a Steinway, and may be a little more careful about crowd-surfing or climbing the lighting gantries … but he can still rock the house down to the ground, bringing a fan base that now spans two generations jumping and screaming to their feet.
In a sense, then, how you appreciate Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, by Fred Schruers (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014; $29.00), depends on your expectations of biography. If all you’re looking for is a recital of some facts of Joel’s life, his interpretation of those facts from his perspective in 2014, and some relation of his music’s lyrics to various events (particularly his failed romantic and business entanglements), Schruer’s work will suffice. If, however, you expect biography to expose the development of the subject’s character and craft, on that level Billy Joel fails; it’s little more than a hyperextended Rolling Stone article.