Billy Joel has been an open book regarding his psychological disorder(s) throughout his career, and even if you aren’t his No.1 fan, his story will break your heart and make you fall deep in love at the same time. Following dreams, learning to box, trusting the wrong people, hiding from reality, in and out of rehab, riding motorcycles, finding true love and losing it – his biography has all of the ingredients needed to create the Creme Brulee of literature.
One of the most famous aspects of his life is the “Piano Man” story – where he hid from the bindings of a deceitful contract, playing music at a dead-end bar under a false name. My personal favourite element of his biography has to do with his romance with Christie Brinkley, and subsequently his relationship with the daughter they conceived together. Amidst of all of these events, Billy Joel has been open about his mental illness throughout his career, giving insight to his fans and showing support to those who also suffer from Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder (or, manic-depressive) is classified under Mood Disorders by the DSM-5, causing shifts in mood, thinking, and behaviour. Individuals who suffer from it will fluctuate from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of depression on the other. As in most cases, Billy developed an intense substance abuse problem – struggling with an ongoing alcohol addiction. The depressed aspect of the disorder is most easily seen in the history of Billy Joel, and in his music:

“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known.”

“We are only what our situations hand us, it’s either sadness or euphoria.”

“Darling I don’t know why I go to extremes, too high or too low there ain’t no in-betweens. And if I stand or I fall, it’s all or nothing at all.”

“You can get what you want, or you can just get old.” 

“Today I am your champion, I may have won your hearts, but I know the game and you’ll forget my name if I don’t stay on the charts.”

In 1970, during a low period of the disorder, Billy Joel attempted his suicide. This tells us that living a life with this particular illness was more torturous than the idea of ending everything, all at once. Noting the immense talent, brilliance and authenticity of such a man, it puts the power of mental illness into perspective. Thankfully, the suicide was unsuccessful – his friend rushed him to a hospital before the furniture polish could affect his system. What did this mean? A 20 year-old girl was able to take a trip down to Manhattan to see him play live in 2014…… (flips hair). Along with this, Billy Joel lived on to recieve 6 Grammy’s, has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (delivered by Ray Charles), voiced the coolest dog in all cartoon history, owns a motorbike repair shop in NYC, sold a house to Jerry Seinfeld and most importantly, wrote songs that, “meant something during the time in which I lived… and transcended that time.”

In short: Billy Joel is the epitome of cool. He is by far my #1 idol and his songs will forever act as a personal touchstone for when I am hopeful, or hopeless.

One thought on “Mental Health Monday: Billy Joel

  1. I’ve suspected this for some time! I, too, suffer from bipolar disorder and “Summer, Highland Falls” has become my favorite of his songs. The line “Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity, our reason coexists with our insanity and though we choose between reality and madness, it’s either sadness or euphoria” speaks volumes to me. Also, I know why he goes to Extremes. Thanks for the enlightening article!

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