Monday, July 18, 2011

An Innocent Man


You know how I feel about mockery. When it comes to poking fun at, lampooning or just plain ripping the hell out of something, it's always no-holds-barred and there's nary a topic off limits. You can mercilessly ridicule God, the government, celebrities, dead people, kids, the mentally handicapped and every kind of religion, race and ethnicity for all I care. I'm cool with all of that.

But there's one thing you cannot mock, one thing that constitutes unacceptable blasphemy: Billy Joel.

The Twitter feed of Mike Madden, managing editor over at the Washington City Paper, led me to a throwaway piece written by some hack who I assume is under his purview named Benjamin R. Freed. (His name is really insignificant because he's a moron.) This Freed guy wrote a predictably "snarky" -- a word I use with every ounce of implied derision I can muster -- piece beating up on a Democratic congressional aide who apparently recorded an album. The review pretty much pillories the record, which I can't argue with one way or the other since I haven't heard it. What I have heard, though, is every song Billy Joel has ever recorded -- which is why I take umbrage at Freed's comparison of the supposedly awful musical stylings of this congressional aide with those of the great Mr. Joel; Freed writes, "On at least one track he sounds an awful lot like Billy Joel, that scourge of good taste and Long Island Expressway medians."

Now this is where I could mention that Billy Joel has six Grammys and that he's sold 158 million albums; that he's been inducted into both the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; that he's got millions and millions of fans around the world; but you know that I never put much stock in statistics like that. Celine Dion has Grammys up the ass and she's worthless; the most popular song in America right now is Party Rock Anthem from LMFAO. Fame has never directly correlated to quality. I could also bring up the fact that while it's easy to embrace indie bands that are so far underground they've never even heard of themselves because it makes you look cool and goes a long way toward helping you pick up that girl with the nosering and horn-rimmed glasses at the vintage book store you're always concerned is in imminent danger of being overrun by Barnes and Noble, a true appreciation of music means that your tastes should cut a wide swath -- otherwise you're nothing more than a self-satisfied elitist jackass who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. But that's not likely to have much of an impact. Or maybe I could get into how between 1973 and 1982 -- beginning with Piano Man and culminating with the brilliant The Nylon Curtain -- Billy Joel released more outstanding material than most bands these days see their entire careers; or how while so many rock and alternative musicians like to project the image of being tortured for their art, Billy Joel is the real deal -- a guy with ongoing substance abuse problems who loves passionately and yet can't seem to keep a relationship together to save his life and who has, on more than one occasion, turned that sadness and emptiness into unbelievably lovely and powerful music and who's generally attempted to smile through his pain the rest of the time. Or maybe I could just run down the list of all the modern musicians who cite Billy Joel as an influence or who borrow liberally from his mantle without even knowing it.

I could say all of that. But maybe it's best to keep it simple, in deference to Mr. Freed's obvious sensibilities.

Dude, seriously, go fuck yourself. Billy Joel rules.

17 comments:

Tara van Brederode said...

Or you could describe the experience of seeing Joel in concert, which I tried to do
here. I am sick of people thinking it's hip to hate on Billy Joel. Sure, he's led a tabloid life. So what? Can you get Christie Brinkley to talk to you?

Busayo said...

*stands up and applauds*

John Foley said...

Joel didn't do himself any favors by recording "We Didn't Start The Fire," which is surely one of the worst songs ever.

Alanna said...

In 1988 (?!) he was the first concert I remember going to see at Nassau Colliseum, aged 7. I will always love Billy (and not just because Im from Long Island!)

Chez said...

He's recorded a couple of really shitty songs, but his early stuff is just excellent. And what's interesting is that his incessant nostalgia kind of fits his personality -- which is that of a guy who's never really been happy and for whom the memories are always better than the present or the potential future. I think that's why his later career was consumed by retro-obsessions.

Matt Osborne said...

Hail to the Yeah. I put Billy Joel in the same exclusive category as Maynard Keenan, though their styles are completely different, because both actually have an enormous range and can do anything they imagine. To me, the greatest proof of Joel's awesomeness is that he quit trying to rock out when he got old, preferring to play blues on a baby grand.

Thou shalt NOT fuck with the Joel.

J. Dack said...

While I maintain taste is subjective, it's hard to take anyone seriously who doesn't like "Piano Man," quite possibly the best karaoke song ever.

And unlike most I actually liked "we didn't start the fire" but that's mostly nostalgia.

However, I will say that "Still rock n' roll to me" off Glass Houses is one of the songs I hate most in this world.

embeedub said...

I love my fellow New Yorkish Catholics. I love the Joel.

But when Rickshaw was blasting Keeping the Faith today, I thought, you could just ASK me to leave.

smitmaul said...

Billy Joel is terrific. I appreciate many of his songs as wonderful examples of the art of songwriting; he attempts a range of styles and has a way with a word. It's okay not to like a performer, but jeez...pick on one with no talent. He's never used the Auto-tune, and he actually plays an instrument and writes his own stuff.

Anonymous said...

"... a true appreciation of music means that your tastes should cut a wide swath -- otherwise you're nothing more than a self-satisfied elitist jackass who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."

I take umbrage at that.

While I flirted with popular music in my teens, I'm basically only a listener (and player) of classical music. That's because I just don't like anything else much. 'Cept for jazz.

All that 3-chord, head-banging, tuneless, instrumentally limited drivel that goes around is quite simply very very boring to me. I only need to hear 20 seconds or so of a song, and I know how the rest of it goes, and I never need to hear it again as long as I live. It's intellectually dull, and comes nowhere near getting my heart racing like Brahms' second piano concerto or Strauss' Death and Transfiguration.

I really don't think that makes me a "self-satisfied elitist jackass". I just don't like anything else! :\

Chez said...

Yeah, Mary Beth -- never a big fan of that song. Like I said, I'll defend the crap out of him as a whole but there are a couple of tracks that are pretty much beyond redemption.

MJG said...

Never took you for a Billy Joel fan - I'm impressed!
That being said, If you do not have "The Stranger" in your music collection you are a "self-satisfied elitist jackass". Preferably on Vinyl - Handle it by the edges, please.

FabMax said...

@Anon: Try a few Tool songs for a start and then come back.

I never got into Billy Joel myself. I basically only know We didn't start the fire (which I kinda like), Piano Man (which I like very much) and Uptown Girl (of which I hope someone burned the master tapes). But your entry here actually piqued my interest. Any suggestions?

Alanna said...

Agreed on having the "the Stranger" on vinyl! I have childhood memories of putting it on our record player in the basement and dancing around!

fat arms said...

i sang along with billy joel while doing my math homework from junior high through college. data crunching isn't the same without the piano man... but i doubt my coworkers in the cube farm would appreciate it.

Marc McKenzie said...

Not the biggest Billy Joel fan, but I sure as hell believe that he's one of the best musicians of recent decades. Long after the "flash in the pan" bands of today are gone, zip, vapor, Joel's work will still be played.

"I could also bring up the fact that while it's easy to embrace indie bands that are so far underground they've never even heard of themselves because it makes you look cool and goes a long way toward helping you pick up that girl with the nosering and horn-rimmed glasses at the vintage book store you're always concerned is in imminent danger of being overrun by Barnes and Noble..."

I love this. It's also very true of those some folks who insist on calling themselves "film geeks" while in fact they are just a bunch of untalented elitist @$$wipes who couldn't even write a decent screenplay for a porn film.

drater said...

I pretty much can't stand BJ, but I think a lot that's mostly due to overexposure. If you lived through the 70s and 80s, it seemed like it was all-Billy Joel all the time. The fact that I had my fake ID confiscated at a Billy Joel concert a couple months shy of my 21st birthday could be a factor too, made for a long, dry summer.

Regardless, if anybody has The Stranger spinning on the old turntable, I'm up for a listen.