Turning 60, A 'Happy And Contented' Billy Joel Looks Back

It's April in Manhattan but winter is lingering, a fact Billy Joel notices as he looks out the window of his West Village townhouse.

Joel is mildly surprised. "Oh, my God, it's snowing, look at this."

Yet not much surprises Joel as he approaches his 60th birthday, taking a break from the massively successful Face 2 Face tour with Elton John.

He has sold millions of records, owns multiple box-office records, has endured personal and professional highs and lows, and has firmly secured his place in rock'n'roll history. Those who know him best say Joel's in a good place now, although that may not always have been the case.

"It's a different Billy I'm seeing on this tour, a very happy and contented one," John says. "He's always been funny, always been razor-sharp, but this is a very happy and contented Billy, and I'm very happy that he's found that space to be in."

Joel turns 60 May 9, a milestone he plans on marking with "a nice, big dinner, eat really good food and enjoy each other's company. There's not going to be any wing-ding masquerade ball, no over-the-top rock'n'roll affair, just a big family dinner." Joel seems, in a word, comfortable. He's generous with his time, warm and witty in his recollections and seemingly at peace. And he still doesn't take any shit from anybody.

Do you do any kind of assessment at this point of your life and career?

I'm not a looking-back kind of person. What I've realized about turning 60 is I'm not just one age, I'm every age I've ever been. Sometimes I'm 11, sometimes 16, sometimes I'm 25, sometimes I'm 38, sometimes I'm 42, sometimes I'm in my 50s. I'm all over the place. And it comes in handy, especially in this line of work.

Growing up in Hicksville, N.Y., was being a professional musician a dream of yours?

Oh, yeah, I knew when I was a little boy I was going to have some kind of career with music, because I've loved music as long as I can remember. I just didn't know what form it would take. Hicksville is just a blue-collar area, working-class people. Most people after high school went into the service, some went on to college. Being a musician wasn't really a viable option for people from that neck of the woods.

But, we were right next to New York City, so we got all that music coming out of New York. There were always great bands coming through, great music on the radio, always something exciting in New York City.

I knew when I played my first gig in 1964, the same year the Beatles came out. I hooked up with a band [the Echoes] and played at a church dance. I just had such a blast doing it. We were making this great noise, this girl I had a crush on actually looked at me. And then at the end of the night the priest gave us each $15. I guess in 1964 that was like $15,000 to a kid that age. So I said, "That's it. That's what I'm doing." And there was never any question about it after that.