We were incredibly disappointed when we learned that Billy Joel had decided to cancel his $3 million memoir, The Book of Joel, which had been slated to come out this summer. But lucky us, we got our hands on an exclusive excerpt from the unpublished book:
“I was spending a lot of time at the Executive Bar on Wilshire those days, mostly to work and then occasionally afterwards to flip through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with some of the staff and argue about who we most wanted to bone (my answer was “all of them.” Jokes on those guys, huh?).
Those nights all kind of ran together, but I do remember one in particular that serves as a pretty good stand-in for the general tone of things. It was a Saturday, I think, on the trail of one of those early summer evenings when Los Angeles felt steeped in its own heat, the hazy lights of the Wiltern radiating west to La Cienega, where at that very moment Elton John and a Sri Lankan busboy were going though a copy of the Sports Illustrated Cricket Issue, arguing about who they most wanted to bone.
I’d decided to try out some new tunes that night, specifically a more downtempo version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” that got me a couple winks from the waitress. An older man sat at the little table to my right. He clutched a gin and tonic to his breast and kept making eyes at the melting ice cubes that swirled seductively in the pool of tonic water. I watched him trace his finger over the lip of the glass, toying with the condensation. He kept looking at the ice cubes as if to say, you wanna? Finally, he committed and sucked the drink down in one fell gulp. Then he turned to me and asked if I’d play him a song.
“Hey, guy, hey,” he said. “Do you know this one? It goes ‘DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO.’ No, wait, it goes like this ‘DOO DOO DOO DEE DOO.’”
I had no idea what the man was talking about so I shrugged and banged out the first few notes of “Unchained Melody.” The man shook his head. “No, no. It’s was really good one. Kinda sad though, but sweet. I used to have every word to the damn thing, but I left the lyric sheet in the pocket of my jorts and it’s probably gone through the wash by now.”
Everyone always wants to hear something nostalgic. Everyone always wants to hear something melodic.
I signaled to John, the gentile bartender with Davy Jones hair, to pour me another drink. He’s still a friend of mine — he actually just added me on Facebook, what are the odds! (Though he has Mickey Dolenz hair now.) Johnny brought over a double and placed it on my piano. He leaned over and said in that smooth voice of his, “Bill, hey listen. So! An alcoholic, an alcoholic, and another alcoholic walk into a bar. And the bartender says, ‘What is this, some kind of a joke?!’”
John roared and I laughed and then John winked. He moved to light a cigarette for the man with that empty glass of tonic. The old guy took a puff, then pulled the cig out of his mouth and caressed it gently with his forefinger. Then he slipped it up through his pants. I turned away and left him to his business.
John smiled as he walked back behind the bar, but I saw him glance wistfully out the window where a pink Cadillac DeVille was double-parked on Wilshire. In his pocket I spotted a set of sides, coffee-stained and underlined. I asked him about it later and it turned out John had an audition in the morning for an episode of Columbo. The role was called “Bartender” and he didn’t get it.
A guy named Paul was sitting at the bar. He was a real estate agent who was apparently working on some Great American Novel. But then again, aren’t we all, aren’t we all. I’m also pretty sure Paul was gay, especially because of the way he kept talking to Davy, this sailor from Long Beach who had an anchor and the words ’4 Lyfe’ tattooed in Olde English on his bicep. Davy liked to get drunk and ask me to play sea shanties while he swayed back and forth and popped Dramamines. This was one of the reasons I never quite understood Los Angeles.
The waitress was this woman named Daphne. She was a radical feminist and never shut up about it. That night she was spouting Ti-Grace Atkinson to a bunch of businessman. They just rolled their eyes and ordered another round of Lonelinesses, which was one of John’s specialties: orange juice, tequila, Malibu Rum, and a little Drano for effect. These men liked to come here and order the drink because they always screwed up the Drano proportions when they made them at home. That’s what happened to my old friend Captain Jack, may he rest in peace.
Everyone always wants to hear something nostalgic. Everyone always wants to hear “Blue Suede Shoes.”
The place was really starting to fill up. The manager walked in — he was an old guy named Mort who liked to shoot his crooked smile at me from across the room, although maybe that was the stroke. My piano growled and as I leaned forward I caught a whiff of Schlitz coming off the microphone. I licked it and the old man gave me a thumbs up. I peered into my tip jar: it contained a couple bucks, a half-eaten falafel Paul had gotten sick of somewhere around the second verse of “Fire and Rain,” and someone’s coke-tainted SAG card. The night was drawing to an end: Davy had handed out all his Dramamine, John was running lines in the mirror, and Paul was scribbling poetry onto his cocktail napkin.
Just as I was packing up, a half-falafel rumbling around in my belly, the old man leaned forward. He was holding a gin and tonic to his crotch. “I remember the name of the song!” he exclaimed. “It’s called ‘Free Bird.’”