Billy Joel was born in The Bronx, New York and raised in Hicksville, New York.
Joel’s parents are both Jewish and Joel identifies with his heritage, calling himself a “cultural Jew.” But Joel’s household was not particularly devout and he admits to attending Catholic mass as much as Jewish temple. But that didn’t really take either. Joel said of his Catholic experience:
I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus-pocus. There’s a guy hanging upon the wall in the church, nailed to a cross and dripping blood, and everybody’s blaming themselves for that man’s torment, but I said to myself, ‘Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin. There’s no blood of any sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all of this.’
Now Joel is a self-identified atheist with some interesting perspectives on the topic. He explains choosing atheism as an analogy to a father and child, saying:
You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy – meaning God in all of his imagined forms – for a helping hand when you’re in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can’t, you have no choice but to be good and scared – but that’s okay!
It would seem that, according to Joel, it takes a certain amount of courage to be an atheist.
Politics of the piano man
Billy Joel and politics is a rather recent development in his 40-some odd years as a wildly famous rocker. But when it comes down to it, he’s a Democrat. Of the $13,500 Joel has given to political causes since 1988, $8,000 was to Democratic candidates and the rest has been to the ASCAP Legislative Fund for the Arts–something totally natural for a musician.
When Obama emerged in 2008, Joel jumped on the bandwagon and performed shows with Bruce Springsteen and others to help Obama along. But that was the first time Joel had ever done anything like that. In fact, his policy had always been one of quiet support. He said:
People who pay for your tickets, I don’t think they want to hear who you’re going to vote for and how you think they should vote.
Which explains nearly 40 years of radio silence from Joel on political and social issues.