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Billy Loves Him Some Billy

Monday, 3 June 2013


In my circle of music aficionados, liking Billy Joel is frowned upon. At best he’s overrated, a Springsteen wannabe lyricist with Elton John wannabe piano chops. At worst he’s an alcoholic dysfunctional clusterschmuck. No wait, at worst he's "The Worst Pop Singer Ever," according to Ron Rosenbaum.

The thing is, I kinda like Billy Joel, but I don’t have any snooty music aficionado justification for it, so I just don’t talk about him much in my circle. “Just ‘cuz” isn’t that great a defense, and I don't care enough about the man to fight that hard for him.

The first Joel song I remember vaguely is “Just the Way You Are” and specifically is “Pressure.” The latter shook my young world as a video in the early ’80s of MTV. (I was 10, so cut me some slack.) Riffed scenes from A Clockwork Orange and rock stars being eaten by a shag carpet can spook a pre-adolescent, OK?

Like most Gen Xers, it was An Innocent Man that carved Joel a lasting spot on my radar, yet I didn’t buy an album until Storm Front. While not a stellar cassette, it only contained two songs worth getting up and fast-forwarding, and the first side was flawlessly decent up until Garth Brooks stole “Shameless,” rendering it a much less tolerable ditty.

The real reason I like Billy Joel, however, is because Erin liked Billy Joel. Erin was my first female college buddy, a transplant from Long Island to my college dormitory in Chapel Hill. Her relatives knew Joel’s relatives on the Island or some such, so she was a huge Billy fan. She introduced me to his earlier stuff, but “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” became a chronic occurrence, our number one with a bullet as they say.

Dismiss me as blinded by phil-eros, some strange confusing mix of friendship and love, but I insist “Scenes...” is a damn fine epic... something. I don’t know if it’s pop or rock, but it’s epic and a whole lot of fun. We had a mix tape where an entire 45-minute side consisted solely of:
  • “Scenes...”
  • “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”
  • “American Pie”
  • “Purple Rain” and
  • “Bela Lugosi is Dead”
We thought those five songs proved without a doubt that we appreciated a wide range of music, even though we didn’t really care for “Bela...” and often stopped and rewound it after “Purple Rain.” We did a lot of studying to that side of the tape.

But enough about me and back to the other Billy.

If you love Billy Joel, you’ve probably already read his awesome New York Times interview published May 24. But if you find Joel to be somewhere between "Meh" and "Crap," I highly recommend you go and read it. I virtually guarantee you’ll finish holding the man in higher regard, perhaps not as a human being but certainly as a musician with passion and something approaching integrity. If you've paid attention to the last 40 years of music, integrity isn't a regular bedfellow to modern music, when there's always more money to be made.

Besides, Billy Joel is the centerpiece of a lover's quarrel over music in St. Elmo's Fire between Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson. If he's good enough for a woman who looks like Ally Sheedy, who wears pearls while having sex in a shower, then by God he's good enough for me.

* -- Hey Ron Rosenbaum, not only have you never given me a moment of enjoyment in life, which puts you behind Joel, but you paint the singer as a contemptible ass by making yourself seem like a really contemptible ass with less to show for it. 

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