I have some good news for a change: Billy Joel is back and better than ever.
Looking trim and tan, Billy spoke yesterday afternoon at the very moving memorial service held for Billboard editor Timothy White. White died June 29 suddenly from a heart attack at age 50.
Billy's presentation was a complete change from his appearance back in February at the NARAS MusiCares dinner in Los Angeles.
Yesterday, Billy spoke clearly and cleverly. He recalled to an audience that included Bill Murray, screenwriter Mitch Glazer (who brought his wife of 10 years, actress Kelly Lynch, and chatted with his former wife, TV actress Wendie Malick), and performers Phoebe Snow and Jonatha Brooke that he liked to introduce his dates to the much-beloved White.
"He charmed the women I went out with. And he loved musicians. He was always open, and without guile or pretentiousness. He didn't run with the pack. He went with his guts, and his instinct. He leaves a huge space."
In the often corrupt world of the music business, Timothy White "was the cowboy with the white hat," Billy Joel said. "He was one of the good guys."
Earlier, Billy talked about his recent stay at Silver Hills rehab, and what he's doing next. The big news is that he's writing again. "I'm writing snippets, songs, I don't know what they are yet. They may be for a new album, or for a soundtrack."
His musical, Movin' Out, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, will come to Broadway in the early fall after its current Chicago tryout. The show got negative reviews last week in that town, and Billy thinks the critics were right.
"Twyla knows the first act is not good, and that the second act is much better. She's making a lot of changes and doing a lot of re-casting," he said. "I have to trust her to make the right decisions."
The show interweaves 20 or so Joel songs with a story line having to do with Americans going to Vietnam in the late '60s.
Speaking about his rehab, Joel said his incentive to get better and get out was the food. "It was terrible, I mean really bad." He had already lost 34 pounds before he went in, and dropped another six by the time he left, he said.
For his next project, Billy will be introducing pianist Richard Joo at a concert coming up in the Hamptons shortly. Joo played the classical pieces Billy wrote for his Fantasies and Delusions album, but has yet to score a contract of his own. Even Sony Classical has failed to sign him.
"I think there's so much politics in the classical music business, the older guys don't like new guys coming in," Billy said. "It's different in rock and roll. The new guys just sweep the old ones out."
But I guarantee you, folks, Billy Joel is here to stay.
Besides Billy Joel, Timothy White's memorial service was filled with laughter, tears and music.
For one thing, the legendary Phoebe Snow opened the program with "I'll Be Seeing You" and closed it with a rendition of "Danny Boy" that had everyone, including the usually implacable Bill Murray, bawling their eyes out. Another gifted singer, Jonatha Brooke, delivered an a cappella version of "In the Gloaming" that was equally moving.
For sheer poignancy though, it was White's 10-year-old son Alexander singing Paul McCartney's obscure gem "This One," with accompaniment by White's former assistant, singer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi.
The latter, a very pretty young brunette, turns out to be a protégé of none other than Tommy Mottola, who also spoke at the service. Mottola, DioGuardi reports, has helped the young woman place songs she's written on several albums by Sony artists including Ricky Martin, Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, and Marc Anthony.
She corrected the rumor circulating in the room that Mottola has been her co-writer as well as her cheerleader. "He doesn't really write the songs with me," she told me, "but he has a great sense of knowing how a melody should go and expressing it."
Mottola had a harder time expressing himself about White when he rose to speak at the service. He told the audience he feared he wouldn't be eloquent. But in his own way he was, and just by showing up and participating Mottola earned high points. He said of White: "He had fiercely loyal friends and foes. Nothing could stop him on the attack."
And that was the sentiment expressed by all the speakers, including White's wife Judy and his best friend Glazer, who were among those who talked about White's integrity as a journalist in a dirty business and his passion for the music. And for life. "He even did the dishes with a vengeance," Judy observed ruefully.
Some of the other speakers included record producer Russ Titelman, VH-1 editorial director Bill Flanagan and 30-year PR director for Warner Music Bob Merlis.
The latter talked about how his two sons, aged nine and 12, were the impetus for White to feature the group Bad Medicine — whom he'd never heard of — in Billboard. "It was on their advice," he said, marveling at White's continual interest in new music.
It was a beautiful, heartfelt service for someone who exited this world much too soon.
Just in case you've forgotten, this column told you back on April 10 that 'N Sync's Lance Bass was good to go on his Russian space ride.
Since then I've been amused to read varying accounts, denials, press releases, and the like detailing Lance's rocket to Russia.
But the deal has been set for some time, not just this week. It must be something about the Russian space program that they couldn't confirm what Lance told me three months ago.
He said then that he'd passed his tests, made the commitment and that Russia had agreed. The next flight was then scheduled for Nov. 4.
Bass is still working on corporate sponsorship. He certainly didn't plan on forking over the $20 million himself which Russia requires for a coach seat into outer space.