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Billy Joel by Fred Schruers

September 29th, 2014

Many biography’s die in the early chapters. Struggling to bring life to somebody who would become something, but was really still just some schlub, has defeated many biographers. Fred Schruers’ Billy Joel seems to suffer from this in reverse. The first chapter is a must read, and one of the most compelling chapters of any biography I’ve ever read. The last third to quarter of the book however, dwells endlessly on Joel’s career and life since he recorded his last album, 1993’s River of Dreams, over 20-years ago.41q5ygb06l

Opening with Joel’s family history, his Jewish industrialist grandparents leaving Nazi Germany by stealth, and arriving in Long Island via Switzerland and Cuba, the first chapter of Billy Joel is an excellent and fascinating piece of history. Billy’s early years is covered quickly enough and interestingly enough, something that’s not always true, or even often true, in a biography. The minutiae of childhood has bogged down many a biography, that’s simply not a problem here.

Joel’s career years cover the majority of the book, from his early band to River of Dreams, and all the important details seem to be accurate and intact: his first, disastrous album, his move to LA, Piano Man, his rise to prominence and most productive commercial years, his divorce from his first wife (and manager) Elizabeth and discovering his next manager, her brother, had ripped him off leaving him virtually broke.

It’s the later, post River of Dreams years that Billy Joel bogs down. A story that moved along fairly nicely suddenly overwhelms with details. Thus we get far more than we need about his courtship of Christie Brinkley (and not enough on their split), as well as his romance with third wife Katie Lee, minute details of a concert here, a concert there, and far too much from Joel’s day to day activities, that felt at times like bad name dropping (biking with Bruce Springsteen as one example).

Fred Schruers Billy Joel is a good, easy read, and enjoyable look at one of those rather ordinary people who made the absolute most of what they had, often at the expense of his personal life. And edit and a trim of the last quarter of the book and it could be an excellent one.

Billy Joel is available Oct. 28 at all your usual book buying outlets.

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