Billy Joel: A Bad Cough?

Billy Joel | Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Vanity Fair | PoGo!'s RipFlash

Billy Joel: A Bad Cough?

The New York Times made gossip headlines yesterday with its review of the Billy Joel-Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden Friday night. Reviewer Kelefa Sanneh suggested Billy had taken something more than cough syrup to cure what ailed him.

"Mr. Joel seemed to have ingested something quite a bit stronger than cough syrup. He sang for a while, and then he gave a rambling speech in which he praised the audience, mocked the Liberty Bell (for being cracked) and listed sites from American military history," Sanneh wrote.

This might have sounded odd to the pedestrian reader, but this columnist witnessed Joel give a similar rambling, semi-coherent speech at the NARAS MusiCares dinner on Feb. 25.

It was clear at that time Joel had had "a bottle of red, a bottle of white," as one of his songs goes. But it had been a long night, with lots of liquor poured. As the honoree, Billy might have been feeling nervous.

A source close to Joel, whom I like and have never heard any gossip about in this regard, said, "Billy's been sick. All the cold medicine and everything else he's taken for his throat just caught up with him. He did have too much to drink at the NARAS dinner, but this was different."

Billy and Elton have postponed their tour until Joel feels better. Elton may be fuming, but I guess that's why they call it the blues.

Rock Hall: It Was Nuts

Since I'm reporting this week from Los Angeles, I was unable to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner last night at the Waldorf in New York.

But according to one spy who's a regular at this event: "There was an open bar for a very short time, with no hors d'oeuvres during the cocktail hour except for nuts. Dinner was a choice of a very small portion of meat or salmon. It was unbelievable considering how much the ticket was" —  $2,500 —  "and how much the Hall of Fame Foundation made."

Among the other gripes: the fact that almost no rockers of interest turned up, that Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder inducted the Ramones, even though there was no connection between them and him, and that Jewel inducted Brenda Lee.

Will the record labels ever stand up and say anything against this annual nonsense? Says my source: "Never." Nevertheless, last night's dinner was absent nearly every major record executive.

But present now as always: Steve Case, enjoying AOL's purchase of TimeWarner. Well, someone should have a good time, right?

Vanity Fair Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Vanity Fair's annual Oscar issue is out, and yes, it's as hefty with ads and pictures of stars as usual. I'm sure it's a bestseller.

Thrown in among the dozen or so posed portraits of celebrities is one that sticks out, however, like a sore thumb. That would be the gauzy picture of Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw gazing into each other's eyes.

Why a big deal about this? Because it's the only one of the portraits that doesn't have a date on it. All the others were taken within the last couple of months. These stars of Love Story, photographed by Firooz Zahedi, appear for what seems no reason.

Indeed, the Love Story lovers' picture was taken five years ago, according to the agency that represents Zahedi. So what's the deal?

One reason might be that Love Story was the crowning producing achievement of Robert Evans, then the head of Paramount Studios. Evans is currently the subject of a documentary called The Kid Stays in the Picture, produced by Vanity Fair's editor in chief, Graydon Carter.

Carter has already featured Evans in the magazine once in the last year, and this tip of the hat would not seem out of the ordinary.

Vanity Fair's publicist, Beth Kseniak, whose picture appears on the contributors page of the same issue this year — left a message with a different explanation.

"We wanted to celebrate Arthur Hiller, who directed the movie and is getting an honorary Oscar this year," she said. Good catch, though no mention is made of Hiller in the long caption beneath the photo.

A source close to Zahedi says, however, that Vanity Fair has in fact called for the picture twice before in the last two years — years when Hiller wasn't getting anything, but the Evans-Carter love story was proceeding apace.

Music Biz Does the PoGo!

I am so out of touch that I thought that MP3 players already recorded all media and converted it into computer files. I was wrong, but if you wait a minute these days, they'll invent it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a company called PoGo! Products from Brea, Calif., has stuck an audio input onto the RipFlash, its MP3 player, and voila! Now you can plug the MP3 recorder into the back of your stereo and record whole CDs or whatever you like right onto memory cards, without a PC.

Before this, your computer was the middle link. Copy-protecting on CDs only kept the digital audio file from being accurately copied — no one figured they'd just take the analog audio output straight to MP3. You can order the RipFlash off the Internet for $200.

I guess that's it — the party is over. The most interesting part of this final chapter in the history of the record business will be watching the executives make a frenzied dash for their hidden treasures before leaving town for good. It will be like a scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.