Performing even one time at Madison Square Garden is a career highlight for any entertainer. One hundred times is something else altogether.
As Billy Joel gets ready to cross the century line at the World's Most Famous Arena Wednesday night, July 18, Q104.3 New York's Jim Kerr asked if the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer could describe the accomplishment.
"It's beyond my comprehension, really," Joel says. "I can't wrap my head around it. I think after I do it, I might have the time and the space to absorb what happened and process it. Right now I'm thinking, 'Okay, let's just get through that show.'"
Listen to the full interview here.
The singer says he has trouble believing his good fortune in general; he gets to perform at MSG every month, after all. And while he's always thrilled to be on a stage, Joel isn't sure if his 100th MSG show will feel much different from the 99th or the 19th. He's not sure that it should.
And maybe it's best not to think about it too much until it's in the past.
"I'm hopefully going to be concentrating on playing the right notes and singing the right words," he says. "If I start digging too deep into it mentally, I might just go off the deep end. 'Oh, I forgot how to sing!' (Laughs) The main thing is to do the show."
If 100 shows at one of the world's most prestigious venues means anything, it's that Joel has learned a few things along the way.
The most important thing? For Joel himself it's that you must play "Piano Man."
"You gotta do certain songs; you can't do without 'Piano Man,'" Joel recalls. "I tried that once and people were mad."
But playing the same song every night for a performer can feel redundant; it can get old and you can feel like you're not being a real artist. Joel says one of the lessons that changed things a lot for him was realizing that while he's played "Piano Man" more times than he's like to count; many in the audience have never seen him play it, and they're loving it!
"And that's how I found a way to like the song again 'cause I was starting to get sick of it," he admits. "I realized the whole audience is singing! 'Wait a minute, why don't I listen to them instead of worry about singing it? Oh, they're pretty good tonight? They're staying in key!'"
Joel, like most of the great songwriters, is a disciple of The Beatles. While most of his peers in the '60s were enamored by the Fab Four's haircuts and clothing, Joel says he always wanted to learn how they created such amazing music. He was never able to find answers.
So he's come to enjoy lecturing young musicians. Joel isn't the academic type — he points out that he doesn't even have a high school diploma — but he does have valuable experience as a working musician. He's got answers to questions that he wanted to ask The Beatles all those years ago.
"I like teaching," Joel says. "I have all this information. Over the years, I've made every mistake you could make in the music industry and I've survived to tell the tale. I try to encourage students; pick my brain. Don't ask me about the celebrity stuff...ask me about the job...It's not an easy job, and there's a lot you need to know to do it successfully."
Different people define success in different ways, but we can agree: 100-career shows at Madison Square Garden is at the very least a good job.
Photo: Getty Images
Here are the most-played songs from Billy Joel's residency at Madison Square Garden.