After years of playing Madison Square Garden, Billy Joel is now headlining in Stony Brook. The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame opened its new exhibit, “Billy Joel — My Life: A Piano Man’s Journey” with a VIP preview Tuesday night and with the Piano Man in the house.
"This is a little overwhelming. Did you ever find yourself surrounded by you?" joked Joel, 74, to a room of invited guests. “I always wondered, did I pick this life or did it pick me? 'Cause I really didn't think I had much of a choice. I was going to do this no matter what because I love music."
INSIDE 'MY LIFE'
The exhibit, which is presented by Catholic Health, spans Joel’s 50-plus-year career beginning with his early days in bands like the Lost Souls, the Hassles and Attila through his entire solo career from 1971's "Cold Spring Harbor" debut album leading up to the present.
"We did it! We created the first ever major Billy Joel exhibit anywhere. How appropriate is it that it's here on Long Island where it belongs?" said LIMEHOF chairman Ernie Canadeo to the crowd. "Just think how bad it would have been if it was in California. It just wouldn't be the same."
Greeting guests in the lobby is a life-size 3D photo of Joel as a teenager in Hicksville as part of the title wall to the left. To the right is a recent shot of him at the piano in the Garden.
Joel’s musical influences are prominently displayed, starting with The Beatles and their 1964 performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" with an enlarged quote from Joel stating, “That one performance changed my life."
Canadeo and LIMEHOF creative director Kevin O’Callaghan met with Joel backstage at MSG to get the ball rolling back in February. They pitched the concept to the singer-songwriter and he was immediately on board.
“Historically Billy Joel has never done an exhibition. He doesn’t like to blow his own horn because he’s kind of a humble guy next door,” said O’Callaghan, who designed the exhibit. “When I said to Billy, ‘I think Long Island really needs this’ and he gave me the thumbs up it was a home run.”
Striking highlights of the exhibit include Joel’s Yamaha CP-70 electric piano set in a recreation of A & R Recording, Inc., where Joel cut his hit “My Life” from the 1978 album, “52nd Street.”
Joel's 1981 Harley-Davidson Heritage Edition stands in front of posters for his singles "You May Be Right" and "Sometimes a Fantasy" from his 1980 album, "Glass Houses."
The centerpiece of the room is a 9-foot piano Joel used on his “Face to Face Tour” with Elton John that sits on a 16-foot revolving stage with a backdrop of live concert clips projected in a 25-foot floor-to-ceiling alcove complete with audio. The set list from the last show in which the piano was used (March 11, 2010 in Albany) is taped to top of the lid.
“Inside the piano we found Billy’s harmonica and neck brace,” said O’Callaghan. “This is like holy grail stuff.”
Glass display cases hold Joel’s significant awards from MTV, ASCAP, Songwriters Hall of Fame and MusiCares as well as rare recordings and vintage memorabilia. One extreme relic is a program from his 1961 spring music recital at Fork Lane Elementary School in Hicksville when he was 11.
Joel participated in the construction of the exhibit by opening his archives and allowing LIMEHOF usage of his artifacts.
“Where did they get all this junk? I didn't know where they were storing all these things," said Joel. "This is quite an honor. I didn't expect it to be that extensive. I've had a life."
There are several interactive portions of the exhibit that visitors can engage in.
An old-school record shop is recreated with vinyl discs in bins featuring the albums that inspired Joel, from artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Beethoven, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Rascals, the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney.
“People can remove the records from the sleeve and play them on vintage record players so they can hear what Billy was listening to at the time,” said O’Callaghan.
A 10-foot-wide-by-8-foot tall TV set plays various Billy Joel videos on command.
“You can change the station and watch different Billy Joel videos from the MTV days,” said O’Callaghan.
Special selfie stations have been created throughout the lobby such as 8-foot-by-8-foot album covers of “52nd Street” and “Glass Houses."
“We’ve removed Billy and we invite you to stand there and pose like him for a photo op,” said O’Callaghan. “This way people can become part of the album.”
When asked if he thinks the exhibit has potential to inspire young musicians, Joel said, "I hope they are encouraged to stay with it because that's what it takes. Don't give up and don't let people talk you out of it. Follow your dream."
Joel also declared that even though he's currently selling his Centre Island home, he's not leaving Long Island.
"This is my home and it will always be my home," said Joel. "We will come visit this place a lot."
In addition to all the fanfare, O’Callaghan feels there’s an important underlying message to take away from the exhibit.
“I want young people to be able to see that all of this is possible,” he said. “You are not just born into it. You can make this happen. It’s really an unbelievable journey.”
Tickets ($35 general admission, $49 VIP) for the exhibit are available at limusichalloffame.org.