AF Book Review: I Go To Extremes

Billy JoelTell Her About It, Uptown Girl, We Didn’t Start The Fire, Allentown, She’s Always A Woman and of course Just The Way You Are.  What’s that, six songs off the top of my head?  If I actually thought about it I might be able to come up with a few more.  These are not new songs, but pop classics all produced by Billy Joel.  I remember the music video for Uptown Girl and liking it a great deal.  Since then my taste in women has changed, but I still have pleasant memories of that track.  Tell Her About It was also a good song that I remember.  Just The Way You Are was up there among my favourite love songs for quite some time.  I then came across the Barry White version  below and it made me appreciate all the more what a gifted songwriter Billy Joel is.

I haven’t had Joel in my mind for the years since I came across him, but he’s made some passes in my mind through one song and another.  This year I have been reading a lot and so when the bio by Bill Smith ‘I Go To Extremes’ was available at me local library.  I didn’t hesitate to give it a go.  I’ve already read quite a number of bios most of which skirted mediocrity with the skill of an Olympic gold medal skater.

Smith’s book is an Interesting insight into the business with lots of human issues coming from it which people will be able to connect to.  A strong issue is that of the absent father and it was pretty touching seeing the heartache involved in such courses of action.  The history of the Joel family was well put together and gripping giving a lot of insight into what makes Joel the way he was

Great reading about what it is to be a talented person and people see you as the golden goose and try to manipulate and abuse that.  For someone so street-smart it’s intriguing that it took so long for Joel to find out when he was getting screwed by others.  Also another good tale of how the naive are ripped off (literally when you read it)

What’s helpful in reading biographies is the concept of the recurring theme and this does not disappoint in that regard as the theme of the family, loyalty, perseverance, money, identity and control keep popping up throughout the book which sets things up for personal reflection about how those themes play a part in my own life.

For a biography that had access to the main dude there was quite a lot of speculation and grasping at rumours involvedOld Billy Young Billy to explain key points in the story.

Also it was annoying reading the same information again and again i.e. the bassist is unceremoniously dumped from the band and doesn’t cope well with it.  That is written twice and it’s sufficient to do it the once.  That this is not the only incident reveals almost something of someone trying to fill in space because they don’t have enough to fill their word quota.

It works in the sense that it does not paint Joel as a patron saint.  What amuses me is the number of times it refers to Billy the atheist and not too long from there talks about Billy wrestling with his demons.   Then there’s also an area where on the way to making an epic album he experiences the spiritual without reference to deity.  Don’t get me wrong it’s possible I know, but it is still somewhat humorous reading into all that.

It is not always gripping reading and there are some aspects of the writing that appear as though it’s just easier to pass off an episode to Joel doing what he usually does and so life goes on.

For all that this is a very informative biography that gets you interested in the foibles of a great musician.

I end up thinking of Joel as someone who is something of a tragic figure whose material and professional successes has not translated to that same level of success in key relationships other than with his daughter and mother.  Even to read it at the time has he goes through his third divorce just reinforced the themes of the book of a guy who cannot do relationships all that well when it comes to the crunch of intimacies.  Again as other recent events have highlighted it doesn’t make much sense having inordinate amounts of money, access to significant influence and power in local community and mega-bucks industry and talent that is the envy of your peers and certifiable mega sales when your life is unfulfilled because you cannot experience peace, joy and contentment.

I end up thinking of Smith as a talented writer who has set the standard for any work that anyone would want to embark on studying Joel.  It is not always the case that a biography is well researched and put together.  There maybe tabloid elements here and there but overall this is a fascinating piece of work by Smith and it would be no surprise for future works on Joel to refer to this for connections.

As a reading experience it was an enjoyable ride for all of its drawbacks and if you are a fan of rock music and the things that go behind the success s as well as the cost and toll it takes on an individual this is a good contribution to the volumes of work done.  For all of that it misses key qualities to make it stand out as a top draw biography – like intense depth of character; cutting repetitions; cutting the speculation and that overall feel you get from having read something that you find hard to put down or has a must-read factor.  CD Mark: 6/10 – 63%





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