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Billy Joel Talks About Life, Music At St. Petersburg College

No part of the legendary songwriter’s career was off limits Monday, March 19th 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.

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.”


Billy Joel at St. Petersburg College