In May, Billy Joel shocked us all out of our New York state of mind when the 26-acre Long Island estate he purchased in 2002 hit the market with a whopping price tag of $49 million.
But at a preview of his new retrospective exhibit “Billy Joel: My Life — A Piano Man’s Journey” at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, Joel hedged about movin’ out from his lavish Oyster Bay property — which is reportedly now off the market — or the LI stomping grounds where he grew up in Hicksville.
“I know [you’ve heard] there’s a house for sale and on the market — that doesn’t mean I’m leaving Long Island,” Joel, 74, told the private audience on Tuesday night before the exhibit’s public opening on Friday.
“This is my home; it will always be my home. We will always have this as our home — and we’ll come and visit this place a lot.”
Certainly, the LIMEHOF — which opened its museum in Stony Brook last year — will feel like home for Joel until next August. The first-ever exhibit devoted to the Piano Man — and with his blessing — traces his journey from a Bronx-born baby who moved to the Levittown section of Hicksville when he was just 1 to the keyboard-rocking king of Madison Square Garden with a record-setting residency that is entering its final shows before ending with his 150th MSG concert in July 2024.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “Have you ever found yourself surrounded by you? It’s kind of a nightmare.”
But as “intimidating” as it was for Joel to see his many achievements being celebrated — whether it was his historic shows in the former Soviet Union in 1987 or the 2008 Last Play at Shea concerts at Shea Stadium before it was demolished — even he had to be just a little bit impressed.
“I guess I’ve lived,” he said in the understatement of the night.
As much of a big shot as Joel has become in his six-decade career, he had always been reluctant for his life to get the exhibit treatment.
But after meeting with the LIMEHOF backstage at his Garden concert last Valentine’s Day, he felt the Long Island love and had a change of heart.
“We were surprised because he had never ever OK’d an exhibition that involved his career or himself,” said exhibit curator Kevin O’Callaghan, a Baldwin, LI native. “He’s a very humble guy.”
Joel’s blessing opened a treasure trove including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle modeled after the one from the cover of the avid biker’s 1980 hit “You May Be Right” to his personal book of lyrics. “It’s got every song he ever wrote in it,” said O’Callaghan. “He carries it with him to performances.”
Then as word spread about the exhibit, there was an influx of fan memorabilia from Joel diehards.
“We got things being dropped off … left in front of the building,” said O’Callaghan. “We had people calling from England, calling from South America.”
Those special fan finds displayed in the exhibit include a 1961 spring recital program featuring a 12-year-old William Joel and an autographed wooden seat that was ripped from the stands in one of his Soviet Union concerts.
Then there is the 9-foot piano that Joel used on his Face to Face Tour with Elton John.
Standing in front of that piano on Tuesday night, Joel quipped, “Where is Elton by the way? He’s retiring [from touring], but I think he’ll show up somewhere again.”
And while Joel’s MSG residency ends on July 25, 2024, he’s not saying goodbye to the stage.
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “We’ll still do the work — we’re just not going to keep working in the same place. We’re going to different places.”
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