It was Winter, 1989 and I had been living in New York City for just a few months. Similar to an actor working as a waiter/waitress to allow the freedom to pursue opportunities, I worked as a doorman/bellman at The Royalton Hotel, owned and operated by Studio 54 founders Steve Rubell & Ian Schrager.
One of our guests that winter was comedian Sandra Bernhard. She was very friendly and developed a rapport with the staff. One morning as she headed out, she mentioned to me and my co-worker about a party going on at the trendy restaurant, Indochine, and if we wanted to go. It was taking place right after a Brooklyn Academy of Music concert that featured the B52’s. Of course we said ‘yes’ and she proceeded to take our names and give us the details.
I didn’t really know what to expect but the thought of seeing celebrities was very exciting. My friend and I took a cab downtown and were dropped off right in from of the restaurant. Getting out of the cab we immediately knew it was an event not just a party. Limos, a velvet rope, security, the whole nine.
We approached the host who held the holy grail (guest list) and gave our names. It seemed like forever as she scanned the list, flipping over pages trying to find us. I was thinking, Sandra probably forgot to add our names. Oh well, it was still exciting just to get that far. My friend then mentions Sandra’s name and The Royalton and boom, we were in.
If I remember correctly, the restaurant was long and narrow with a downstairs dining room where the party would later convene. The bar was on the right with tables along the left wall, extending to the end of the space. My friend and I positioned ourselves at the bar and just hung out as guests arrived. The first familiar face was our boss. He didn’t notice us as he hurriedly walked passed toward the back of the room.
Next in, Madonna. Yup. The Material Girl. I remember vividly what she was wearing, maybe because she looked so cute. Black leather boots with a stiletto heel, skin-tight jeans, a short red leather jacket and curly blond hair. I was star-struck. So this is New York City. I like it.
Up to this point you’re probably thinking, ‘Where’s the part about Billy Joel?” As you may have guessed, in walks Billy. If Madonna made me star-struck, Billy Joel made me AWE-struck. Oh my God, one of my idols was just a few feet away from me. My knees were literally shaking. Billy, along with those in his party which included, I think, Mic Jones from Foreigner, walked passed me to the back of the room. I needed more than that ginger ale to get up the nerve to introduce myself. Well, here goes…
Several minutes later, I proceeded to the back of the restaurant where Billy and a few others were standing and waited for the right time to approach. I can’t believe this. I’m going to meet Billy Joel. I saw an opportunity as he was not in conversation with anyone. I walked toward him, outwardly looking confident but inward scared as hell. I reached out my hand and said, “Hey, piano man, it’s an honor to meet you. Me and my parents are big fans.” We shook hands, he smiled, nodded, I think said ‘Thank you.’ and then quickly scanned (judged) me up and down. His first impression was probably that I looked like a young lawyer or accountant based on what I was wearing (navy blue sport coat, gray checkered dress pants, wingtip shoes). I certainly didn’t look like a wannabe rock star. The exchange was brief and I moved on as not to take up too much of his time.
Why do I regret meeting him? “Hey, piano man…” Are you freakin’ kidding me?! That’s how I greet someone who’s music was the fabric of my upbringing, with a nonchalant “Hey..”! Who’s talent for songwriting was something I would aspire to and who’s advice or encouragement could have a huge impact on me? If I could go back in time, I would have said something a little more eloquent and heartfelt like:
“Mr. Joel, it’s an absolute honor to meet you. I’m a huge fan and you’re one of the reasons I moved to NYC to pursue a career as a singer. It would be an incredible honor to work with you one day. Enjoy your evening.”
I hope I get another chance to meet Billy, sorry, Mr. Joel. I’ll pretend it’s the first time and give him the greeting he deserves.