"At the end of the day, he's coasting. I always say, 'Billy, can't you write another song?' It's either fear or laziness. It upsets me. Billy's a conundrum. We've had so many canceled tours because of illnesses and various other things, alcoholism. He's going to hate me for this, but every time he goes to rehab they've been rehab light. When I went to rehab, I had to clean the floors. He goes to rehab where they have TVs. I love you, Billy, and this is tough love.”—Elton John, on fellow piano man and ‘70s icon Billy Joel, quoted in Austin Scraggs, “Elton John: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone, Feb. 17, 2011
Sir Elton John calls this “tough love,” but there’s a simpler one-word description that Billy Joel might more properly appreciate: “honesty.” You know, what’s “hardly ever heard.”
Elton is just the guy to provide this. He not only has delivered blunt messages before (as his Rolling Stone interview recounted, he hilariously—and properly—took Madonna to task at the Q Awards in 2004 for lip-synching at what were supposed to be live events), but he also has benefited from it, personally and professionally.
The above quote hints at the personal “tough love,” in the form of rehab; the professional kind was delivered by Ryan Adams a decade ago, who pushed him toward a return to his old form on the CD Songs From the West Coast. (How well that attempt succeeded is another matter--but at least he tried.)
How much of Billy Joel’s writer’s block is due to creative inertia and how much to substance abuse and/or depression? (This is the man, remember, who composed “I Go to Extremes.”) Hard to tell. But many of us would like to see a break in the pattern.
For his part, The Piano Man isn’t taking Elton’s comments too much to heart, releasing the following statement: "I've worked with Elton for such a long time and I've enjoyed our relationship too much to let something as random as these comments change my affection for him. Elton is just being Elton."
Come to think of it, maybe it would be better if Billy did get mad—and tried to prove Elton wrong about his waning creative energies.