Buried deep in The New Yorker’s 10,000-word profile of Billy Joel — after all the tales of ex-wives, helicopter rides and drinking (perhaps to excess) — comes this small piece of news: Despite not putting out any new music since 2001 and publicly proclaiming that he never would again, Joel is in fact working on new songs. They’re called “The Scrimshaw Pieces,” and right now they only exist as a series of “tone poems” inside his head.
Here’s writer Nick Paumgarten observing him at work:
In between pieces, he began to explain that these were variations on a motif and that they were telling the story of the history of Long Island, from its pastoral beginnings to the arrival of the Europeans — “I’m imagining the prow of a ship, and a Puritan hymn” — and then the bustle of the nineteenth century. Farming, fishing, the railroad. “Getting busy on Long Island,” he said. “This one’s almost Coplandesque, with big open fifths.”
Too bad we will almost certainly never hear this stuff. As Joel told Paumgarten, “If I put out an album now, it would probably sell pretty well, because of who I am, but that’s no reason to do it … I don’t feel like I have anything to prove anymore.”