Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Remember that name.
March 12, 2013 2:53 AM   Subscribe

Billy Joel was recently doing a Q&A at Vanderbilt University when a student named Michael Pollack asked if he could play “New York State of Mind” with him. Something really cool then happened.

Make sure you watch all the way to the end for the awesome piano solo!
posted by lazaruslong (110 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related: A brief interview with Michael about the event in this article.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:56 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guy's got chops!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:18 AM on March 12, 2013


That kid can play!
posted by Jughead at 3:20 AM on March 12, 2013


Maybe it's kind of square, but I like Billy Joel. My parents had a couple of his records that I listened to over and over when I was old enough to work the turntable. I don't necessarily seek out his music much anymore, but .. I like Billy Joel. And I like this very much.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:22 AM on March 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


I love how Billy Joel agrees before he even knows what instrument the kid plays.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:26 AM on March 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


I was never huge into him either, but I absolutely love Movin' Out and listen to it all the damn time. The horns are just perfect.

The whole get-called-onstage-with-your-hero thing has been a fantasy in my head for nigh 20 years now. I'm always so delighted when I get so see an instance of that happening, especially when the person can play!
posted by lazaruslong at 3:30 AM on March 12, 2013


Pretty flawless for someone that must have been very nervous.

Billy Joel has always been a favorite of mine, not everything, but there are certainly some gems in his playlist, New York State of Mind is one of them. This was well done, and fun... Thanks!
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna head on down to Westville
That's where petroleum's refined
I'm in a Jersey state of mind


Zach Braff ftw, wish there was video available online.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:08 AM on March 12, 2013


I saw Billy Joel give a similar Q and A session at the Oxford Union in 1992 and a student asked if she could sing along with him on piano. He played "Piano Man" if I remember and she accompanied him. It was brilliant to see (and hear!).
posted by fishboy at 4:09 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, it's not square to like Billy Joel, I wouldn't say; I rewatched the Inside The Actors Studio show with him recently, and it reminded me, the dude is smart. Yeah, he's done some super-poppy stuff, but other stuff has been musically and lyrically pretty complex.

I also took piano lessons when I was in high school, and I had a really indulgent teacher who'd let me focus on rock stuff; Billy Joel was the go-to person for that, and I loved piano enough to sometimes just play when I was bored (although I favored Streetlife Serenade or Vienna).

I also would try, and fail, to play the bridge solo from Scenes From An Italian Restaurant at full speed - there are Thirty-second notes in that thing, which means you're playing about eight notes per second, basically. But the thing that always killed me was the left hand, which has you playing an octave in sixteenth notes (read: spread your hand as wide as you can, and alternate tapping your pinky and your thumb on those two keys at a rate of four times per second). I'd usually get to the end of that solo and have to stop and cradle my hands in my lap going "....ow...."

Then my best friend and I saw him on the Bridge concert tour when we were fifteen, and I'd brought a set of binoculars so I could watch his hands when he played. He did "Italian Restaurant," and a little bit after the bridge, where there's a bass break and he sings, I saw him shaking his hands out as he sang - and I turned and screamed to my friend, "HE'S HUMAN!!!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 AM on March 12, 2013 [63 favorites]


I also took piano lessons when I was in high school, and I had a really indulgent teacher who'd let me focus on rock stuff

It's really odd how the paradigm for piano teaching seems to be that everyone's goal is wear a tux and to win the Tchaikovsky competition. They usually don't even teach people how to voice chords from a lead sheet, or any kind of skill other than reproducing a written score. Since reading and playing classical music is hard, they start you off with a dreary repertoire of simple 18th century dance tunes. Then they wonder why their students don't stick around.
posted by thelonius at 4:24 AM on March 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


I love how the sound guy who pops in to move the mic is like another Billy Joel.
posted by odinsdream at 4:39 AM on March 12, 2013 [29 favorites]


Billy Joel has performed this on stage hundreds if not thousands, of times.

Michael Pollack has performed it once -- well, once with Billy Joel.

I honestly can't tell who's having more fun.
posted by Frayed Knot at 5:30 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Shared this with Mrs. Gronk this morning and we were both struck by how good Joel's voice still is. Pollack nails the performance and it certainly is a memory for him to cherish.

I got hooked on Billy Joel when I was a ten year old listening to "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me" on the jukebox at a local hole-in-the-wall pizza place. Hung with him through high school but our paths parted ways early in my college years when he put out "Storm Front." As a adult with a disposable income, I've picked up a few of his late 70's / early 80's releases and remembered just how good he is.
posted by Gronk at 5:56 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


thanks for this post... I've loved Billy Joel since I was 14 and Glass Houses hit the school with "She's just a fantasy" ...
posted by infini at 5:58 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's really odd how the paradigm for piano teaching seems to be that everyone's goal is wear a tux and to win the Tchaikovsky competition.

Oh, the classical stuff is what Billy is grounded in; and he's figured out a way to sort of incorporate it into his pop stuff. He's described "Streetlife Serenade" in symphonic terms, and I can't remember which one of his other songs I've heard him say he was influenced by Debussy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:07 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


He says son, can you play me a memory, I'm not really sure how it goes..
but its sad and its sweet and I knew it complete
when I wore a younger man's clothes...
posted by infini at 6:09 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"And that's how you get to be a horn player in NYC."

Brilliant.
posted by nevercalm at 6:10 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, for some reason, this video of a young girl doing a curling iron tutorial and instead burning off a chunk of hair was "also recommended." It's, um, also recommended.
posted by nevercalm at 6:13 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Imho, now that I'm digging into the videos, this is Billy's best with the piano/lyrics
posted by infini at 6:15 AM on March 12, 2013


I have a question, but first, a disclaimer: Please understand that I do not mean offense or that I think you shouldn't gain enjoyment from this or whatever. Now:

Though I do like a couple of Billy Joel songs, I have an active dislike for most of them - not just "not my thing", but they really grate on me, viscerally. And "New York State of Mind" is, to me, one of the worst. But "Something really cool" sounds really cool to me, and I've seen it described elsewhere as "amazing", which sounds amazing to me. So I'm tempted to click.

But I am guessing that perhaps the "really cool" and "amazing" thing is that/how they play the song. Maybe they do a great job at it, maybe even the guy turns out to be a virtuoso, but when it boils down to it, the amazing and really cool thing is that/how they play the song.

So I kind of want to click, but if the really cool and amazing thing is that/how they play the song (or another Billy Joel song, or a bunch of Billy Joel songs, or even songs by people besides Billy Joel), I'm pretty sure I'll wind up hating having done so. Not just "won't have enjoyed" - I will have really, really regretted having sat through "New York State of Mind" or whatever waiting for something really cool and amazing to happen.

So, without giving away too much of a spoiler, could someone please tell me if the "really cool" and "amazing" thing is, when it boils down to it, that/how they play the song(s)?
posted by Flunkie at 6:21 AM on March 12, 2013


I like how, as the song progresses Billy Joel starts to realize that Michael Pollack is not somebody who is going to miss out an an accompanist's cues from a singer - and that he therefore places his trust in him completely with that do-or-die ending. Piano playing virtuosity aside it is amazing to see that tricky chemistry form an effective bond within 3 minutes.
posted by rongorongo at 6:21 AM on March 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


Good thing he didn't play Vienna right after that...

k, i'll let myself out now...
posted by infini at 6:21 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's really odd how the paradigm for piano teaching seems to be that everyone's goal is wear a tux and to win the Tchaikovsky competition. They usually don't even teach people how to voice chords from a lead sheet, or any kind of skill other than reproducing a written score. Since reading and playing classical music is hard, they start you off with a dreary repertoire of simple 18th century dance tunes. Then they wonder why their students don't stick around.

Is that really what most piano teachers are like? I must have been exceptionally lucky. Once I got the basics down, I got to choose what I wanted to learn, and a lot of that was 80s and 90s pop and rock. I absolutely adored Billy Joel as a teen, and playing his music was one of my escapes when things got tough. But man, his music takes skill.


Pollock: But “New York State of Mind” — I actually learned the whole thing by ear. I had to tune up a little and learn the bridge one more time before the show just in case he called on me. But for the most part, it was by ear.

Mad respect for this guy. I think being able to learn by ear is the difference between a pro and an amateur (or maybe I just think that because I can't learn by ear).
posted by DoubleLune at 6:30 AM on March 12, 2013


When I was a kid in the 80s, when boom boxes were all the rage (shortly before the Walkman took over), my brother saved his money and bought a mini boom box. The thing was maybe six inches tall and 18 inches long, with two four inch speaker grills. Who knows how much smaller the actual speakers were. After he bought the boom box he could only afford a couple tapes. He had Men at Work, the Go-Gos, and a Billy Joel greatest hits CD. So, for the next year or two, those were pretty much the only songs I heard.

You'd think that I'd be sick of them all but for some reason I still enjoy most of those songs. I still like a lot of Billy Joel's early stuff even though I can understand why people might not.

And My Life still makes me think of Tom Hanks in drag. So there's that.
posted by bondcliff at 6:36 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sure Billy Joel remembers being just like that kid at some point and knows how much of a dream it would be to get on stage and play with one of his idols.

It's probably one of the big perks of being a mega-successful artist is that you can make some kids dream come true just by saying, "Yes" and taking five minutes of your time (during which you're going to be on-stage anyways) to do the thing you're famous for and probably love doing anyways.

Were I in Billy Joel's shoes, after I got off the stage, I'd be saying to myself, "I can't believe I get to do stuff like this for my job!"
posted by VTX at 6:49 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


of course the kid is from Long Island. WBAB's motto should be "More Billy Joel Every Hour"
posted by JPD at 6:50 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's lovely. I'm not always into these called-to-the-stage things, but the good ones are hard to beat. (This one, too.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:50 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That kid has got New York size balls... and talent.

Billy Joel was cool too.
posted by Leezie at 6:55 AM on March 12, 2013


So, without giving away too much of a spoiler, could someone please tell me if the "really cool" and "amazing" thing is, when it boils down to it, that/how they play the song(s)?

Yes. The appeal is:

a) Big-deal star is cool about letting fanboy actually come up on stage and play one of Big-deal star's own songs, coupled with

b) Fanboy also turns out to be really good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you!
posted by Flunkie at 7:06 AM on March 12, 2013


Previously.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:08 AM on March 12, 2013


That was great. I love late-'70s/early-'80s Billy Joel, but I have no idea whether that has anything to do with the inherent quality of the music (whatever that means, if it means anything)—it's just so tied in with the terror and excitement and joy of my early years in NYC that I can't extricate it. "Uptown Girl" was blaring out of all the storefronts in the city for a while; you either hated it or rode the wave, and I'm not a hater. (By the way, one thing I've never understood is why "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" isn't on any of the Greatest Hits albums—it's the perfect NYC song and it sends chills down my spine every time.) Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 7:17 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


My fanboy-takes-the-stage fantasy involves a "stump the emelenjr" situation.

Not bad. Maybe Billy wasn't warmed up, but he really sounded like he was straining to reach some notes. I absolutely hate the flaccid-sounding electric grand that he always plays (and apparently had on stage there.) You are Billy Joel. You can put "grand piano on stage" in your contract.

Michael Pollack was pretty good, too.

I think I'd rather do this with Ben Folds or Elton John, if I had the chance, although I do love to play a lot of Billy Joel, too. I think I would have picked "Laura" or "Miami 2017," though.
posted by emelenjr at 7:17 AM on March 12, 2013


By the way, one thing I've never understood is why "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) " isn't on any of the Greatest Hits albums....

You don't consider Songs In The Attic to be an ad hoc "Greatest Hits" album?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was that weirdo 90s teenager who owned every Billy Joel album* and had an intense emotional connection with The Nylon Curtain and felt that "Summer, Highland Falls" was just about the most amazingly poignant song I had ever heard. I think I've been to five or six shows of his -- the River of Dreams tour at Boston Garden, two of his shows with Elton John out in Foxborough, two appearances at Madison Square Garden a little while back. And once, when I was in college at NYU, I even managed to get into a signing for his Millennium Concert album and briefly shook his hand.

He always reminded me of my dad, smart and charming and kind of goofy. Only, unlike my actual dad, who lived overseas for most of my adolescence, Billy Joel's company was only ever a button-push away. I'd lie on the floor of my bedroom with the speakers of my little boom box placed on either side of my head, put on "Songs in the Attic" and dream of the day I'd finally write that epic fan letter that would explain to Mr. Joel how much he meant to me.

So it's heartening for me to watch this kind of thing, where Joel doesn't particularly care that he's old and uncool and forever the target of hipster ire, and is just happy to share the joy of music and performance with some kid who loves his work.

His is the celebrity death I dread above all others. I hope he has many years of fan-indulging shameless doofery ahead of him.

*including a long-out-of-print Q&A session wherein he talked about how his younger self didn't actually know the orientation of the Rio Grande when writing "The Ballad of Billy The Kid" and was thus doomed to feel like an idiot for the decades that followed. And now it's killing me that I can't remember the name of that CD and can't find any evidence of it online.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:30 AM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I like some early Billy Joel, but his place in my memory is secured mostly by the joke we used to tell when I was in 4th grade:

Q. How long does Billy Joel spend in the bathroom?
A. The Longest Time

Q. How long does Lionel Richie spend in the bathroom?
A. All Night Long

posted by LionIndex at 7:39 AM on March 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Is it just me or did Joel's movements around the stage look like he had really bad hips or something?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2013


Is it bad that I would like to see examples of this sort of thing where it turns out the fan-musician is really terrible and can't pull it off? (Anyone know of any?)
posted by nobody at 7:45 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is the piano off key?
posted by dfriedman at 7:48 AM on March 12, 2013


Between the sunglasses and opening lines, he sounded kind of Ray Charles-ish.

As a kid I loved Billy Joel. Now I am older, and I am impressed by the thoughtfulness that lets him give ground to Some Random Guy who is a fan and maybe will someday benefit from this chance. A very classy move.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:48 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Billy Joel, great right from the get-go.
posted by chavenet at 7:49 AM on March 12, 2013


That was terrific.

However, he didn't play the high "duh duh da da," that to me is the signature of the song. Strange that he didn't do that--to me, that is the part of the song that conveys a bit of the menace and isolation that is part of what makes NYC great.

NYC boy here. My fiancee is from Texas. She's had me listen to a lot of country. I made sure that she heard some Billy Joel, the proper stuff. No "late '80's Joel!" If you grew up in the Tri-State area in a certain era, he's in your blood.
posted by oneironaut at 7:58 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Another great moment from that old "Billy Joel Talks About His Music" album: Joel playing Root Beer Rag and then bemoaning his 70s decision to have a Moog synthesizer "pissing all over it.")
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:58 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of get the hipster ire towards Billy Joel, because he is/was, for a long time, ubiquitous, and his music has an earnest quality that doesn't lend itself well to ironic listening. (And there was a huge dropoff in quality starting with Storm Front.) At the same time, he has such enthusiasm and such a sense of humor about himself that it's hard to hate on the guy, you know?
posted by pxe2000 at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed this a lot. I would have also enjoyed it if at the end, the kid launched into a 20 minute Cecil Taylor-like free jazz solo prior to the final "mind."
posted by ericbop at 8:13 AM on March 12, 2013


There is a subreddit dedicated to things like this: crowd pulled on stage
posted by mediated self at 8:20 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was great. Imagine being that kid - "Billy Joel said I got chops!"

And I don't know why, but that song always makes me tear up a little. I've never lived in New York, either city or state, and haven't even visited in a long time, but it conveys something about having a sense of home that really resonates for me.
posted by rtha at 8:24 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was indeed great. Maybe it was the low resolution or maybe the fact that I haven't thought that much about Billy Joel since he looked like this, but all could see was this guy.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:32 AM on March 12, 2013


Is it just me or did Joel's movements around the stage look like he had really bad hips or something?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:41 AM on March 12 [+] [!


He's been in a number of car accidents on Long Island. I'm sure that hasn't helped his ability to move around.
posted by etaoin at 8:33 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Billy Joel, great right from the get-go.

There's some epically awful stuff that's earlier than that. Organ and bass heavy metal/prog rock. I give you: Attila. And no, you can't give it back.
posted by yoink at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Totally awesome!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:45 AM on March 12, 2013


I'd lie on the floor of my bedroom with the speakers of my little boom box placed on either side of my head, put on "Songs in the Attic" and dream of the day I'd finally write that epic fan letter that would explain to Mr. Joel how much he meant to me.

So it's heartening for me to watch this kind of thing, where Joel doesn't particularly care that he's old and uncool and forever the target of hipster ire, and is just happy to share the joy of music and performance with some kid who loves his work.

His is the celebrity death I dread above all others. I hope he has many years of fan-indulging shameless doofery ahead of him.


Mr Joel accompanied me through every angsty night in engineering college. The collation of Cold Spring Harbor (I still have ALL his audio cassettes though they got wet in that flood in 1994) where the instant segues between "Tomorrow is Today"_"Nocturne"_"I've got to Begin Again" got me through every heartbreak. They were not separate songs, they were a collection in and of themselves.

I remember I'd accompanied mom to my one and only trip to Japan in 1985 and I was in the bath when mom screamed so I poked my head out to find that Billy Joel was playing on TV and she didn't want me to miss it...

I can hear every beat in my head and know every word and heartbeat's pause when he sings...

Ahhh I've never seen him live. Gotta do it. Yup.

Captain Jack will take you high tonight... to your secret island...
posted by infini at 8:57 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nice. Really nice. Thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, without giving away too much of a spoiler, could someone please tell me if the "really cool" and "amazing" thing is, when it boils down to it, that/how they play the song(s)?

Actually, there's more going on. It's like watching a relationship in progress. In the beginning, they're just getting used to each other but then they start to communicate and by the end they're totally together.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:04 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was nice. My favorite example of a fan coming up on stage:

Can anyone play the drums?
posted by marxchivist at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I got to attend a private party thrown by Sony's Playstation group. The entertainment for this shindig was Parliament-Funkadelic, Macy Grey, and The Foo Fighters. Small party. Dave Grohl was enjoying himself and invited a guy up to the stage who was heckling the band. The guy is really short, middle aged, and just dorky looking, his name is something like Benny he tells Dave who has had a few. Dave hands Benny his guitar and says something along the lines of, "see if you can do better" (note: this is all in relatively good jest, but Grohl is expecting to let this guy hang himself in front of the crowd). Benny straps it on and tears into the solo from Led Zeppelin's Heartbreaker, the awesome one where the band drops out and Jimmy Page just kills it, guess what? Benny kills it at full concert volume and everybody is shocked. Grohl is doing tequila shots and you should have the seen the look on his face when Benny just lays it down. Benny finishes the solo, throws his arms in the air and jumps up and down to the tremendous cheers of the audience. Dave comes up pats Benny on the back and gives him some props and a tequila shot and asks the crowd to give it up and tells then that Benny's with the band tonight. It was so awesome. I guarantee Benny got laid that night.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh, the classical stuff is what Billy is grounded in; and he's figured out a way to sort of incorporate it into his pop stuff.

And of course there's "This Night is Mine" which is just straight-up putting words to the tune from the second movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata. (Which he acknowledges and gives Beethoven credit.)
posted by straight at 9:24 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a loather of Billy Joel, I'm not comfortable with this.

In a 1980 interview (don't remember the source or the exact details) Billy Joel implied that he and Bruce Springsteen were cut from the same cloth. I learned of this when I stopped by the local Springsteen-centric record store as staff were removing the "Billy Joel" divider in the bins and filing all of his albums under "J". Prior to this, I didn't have an opinion about Joel one way or the other. But I had been a die-hard Springsteen fan since about 1975 and Billy Joel crossed a very obvious line when he dared compare himself to Bruce. To this day, I have a negative reaction to all things Joel and I was perfectly happy living with my hatred.

Then you go and post this video, featuring a particularly wonderful version of the only worthwhile song he's ever written, with Joel being charming, etc.

What's next, a video of an elderly, vulnerable-looking Henry Kissinger playing with babies and kittens?
posted by she's not there at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Musically I can take or leave Billy Joel, but that was some serious class when he just says "Sure." and lets the kid come up on stage to play his song. And how good must it feel to have some kid 30 years younger than you love your music so much to play it like that.
posted by GuyZero at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2013


I am an innocent man
I am
an innocent man
oh yes I am...
..
some people say
they will never believe
...
posted by infini at 9:43 AM on March 12, 2013


That just made me plain ol' happy.
posted by michellenoel at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2013


Everything I like about Billy Joel's music (and it's not whole a lot) was done as good or better by Paul McCartney ca 1966- 1973. He perfected the piano/horn-section pop template. Joel just followed it fairly well.

But I did enjoy the linked video. Nice guy for sure.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:59 AM on March 12, 2013


That was really cool.

As a teenager, I loved early Billy Joel. I saw him in concert shortly before Turnstiles came out -- so late 75 or early 76, I guess. That's the last time I was at a concert where it felt like the encores were real. My recollection (maybe clouded by time) is that he came back five or six times and had to play some songs a second time. Even though I haven't enjoyed most of his work since then, I still have a soft spot for him just because of how much I enjoyed that show.
posted by maurice at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll be the lone curmudgeon in the thread to say that just because you can play fast blues licks and arpeggios doesn't mean that you need to do it at every opening in a song like "New York State of Mind." The kid is good, but not uncommonly good.

The more impressive part was when Joel asked him what key he could play it in and he (apparently) said he could play it in any.
posted by cribcage at 10:19 AM on March 12, 2013


My husband and I were amused at Billy Joel's movements on stage -- to us, it just looks like he doesn't know what to do with his hands because he's so used to being the one playing the piano while singing this song.
posted by hmo at 10:27 AM on March 12, 2013


It's really odd how the paradigm for piano teaching seems to be that everyone's goal is wear a tux and to win the Tchaikovsky competition. They usually don't even teach people how to voice chords from a lead sheet, or any kind of skill other than reproducing a written score. Since reading and playing classical music is hard, they start you off with a dreary repertoire of simple 18th century dance tunes. Then they wonder why their students don't stick around.

Which is why people study with me. If you want to learn "classical" piano and win competitions, I will get you there. If you want to learn to play Billy Joel by ear and never learn to read music, I will get you there, too.

Not all piano teachers are crotchety old ladies who make you learn Chopin and have a heart attack if you want to learn a show tune. My colleagues hate me. But I always have a waiting list for students while their studios remain empty. And my kids don't quit on me, either. And my students' recitals are exciting, too, and under an hour; I just have lots of them.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:30 AM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


That's great - I know I was stereotyping, but I have heard a lot of stories about people who hated piano lessons so much that they quit and never tried to learn how to play music that they loved.
posted by thelonius at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2013


I'll be the lone curmudgeon in the thread to say that just because you can play fast blues licks and arpeggios doesn't mean that you need to do it at every opening in a song like "New York State of Mind." The kid is good, but not uncommonly good.

You are not alone. Seasoned musicians can tell the difference and know what to do. It's one of those things that the audience says, "that person is much better at what they do, but I can't put my finger on it." These are the things the audience can't put their finger on.

I had a professor in college who was "famous," and the newer students ate him up. As we got older, we all starting thinking, "wait a minute; hold the phone." Then we realized why he was teaching at a dinky college instead of in the big leagues. I then read some reviews on his performances and recordings, then I realized I wasn't crazy after all. The guy was a complete hack, but his loud, boisterous playing tricked general audiences all the time.

Anyway, lucky kid. Most of my students could do that, too, given the luck and opportunity to do so.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2013


THat's great - I know I was stereotyping, but I have heard a lot of stories about people who hated piano lessons so much that they quit and never tried to learn how to play music that they loved.

Oh, I know. I wasn't offended or anything. Just letting everyone else know that people like me exist, and it is possible to be able to learn whatever you want. Whatever you want.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:36 AM on March 12, 2013


I hated piano lessons for just those reasons: I was taught by nuns in a music conservatory and all it ever was was technique and boring classical pieces. The worst was that at the same time my mother was taking lessons at home (figured if I wasn't going to use the piano to do my required 90 minutes of daily practice someone should) and was learning things from popular songbooks!
posted by marylynn at 10:36 AM on March 12, 2013


The kid is good, no question, and I'm not, really not, taking anything away from him, but those of us who routinely go to small clubs and bars and festivals to see unknown musicians and local bands know that there are LOTS of good kids out there. Sure, there are duds, boy-howdy, but I am repeatedly blown away by the folks I see out there, the woman with the amazing voice who's a stay-at-home mom the other 95% of her time, or the guitarist who makes a better living as a software developer. Seriously, if you want to see more performances like this, support your local music scene!
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:37 AM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I shared this a few months ago in a different context, but it remains my favorite spur-of-the-moment musical pairing: a cross-cultural, completely wordless collaboration between a Russian violin student and Dave Brubeck in Moscow during the frozen heart of the Cold War.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


(By the way, one thing I've never understood is why "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" isn't on any of the Greatest Hits albums—it's the perfect NYC song and it sends chills down my spine every time.)

I grew up with Billy Joel just kinda on in the background in my house - my parents were huge fans. If you'd asked me, I'd have said that I had heard a lot of Billy Joel, that he was fine, but a little bland for my tastes.

Two days ago, that song came on the radio and I really listened to it carefully for the first time. And while I won't say that it made me re-evaluate Billy Joel in general, I couldn't help but admire just how weird it is. I mean really, a post-apocalyptic song full of specific historical references to a yet-to come conflict? From Billy Fucking Joel?

I felt the same way when I realized that "Come Sail Away" is about aliens, but you expect that kind of thing from Styx.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2013


(not that anyone but me cares, but that Q&A album I was thinking of was recorded at Princeton, and is from the Australian box set, "A Voyage on the River of Dreams." And it only took me an hour of googling to figure that out! hahaaaa)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:05 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean really, a post-apocalyptic song full of specific historical references to a yet-to come conflict? From Billy Fucking Joel?

Forgive me if you have since learned about this - the song was written in response to New York City nearing bankruptcy and asking for a federal bailout, and Gerald Ford denied the request (he flat-out said he would veto any bill calling for "a federal bail-out of New York City"). That was the source of the Daily News' headline "FORD TO NEW YORK: DROP DEAD". Things were already feeling pretty dystopian as it was, but that felt like the rest of the country had abandoned New York to its fate, and a city-wide apocalypse felt possible.

It's since become an eerie sort of go-to song for "Benefit Concerts For When Shit Goes Down In New York City"; Billy played it in both the Hurricane Sandy benefit concerts, with some rewritten lyrics. But he won over the crowd at a 9/11 benefit concert when he announced after performing it: "I wrote that song 25 years ago. I thought it was going to be a science fiction song; I never thought it would really happen. But unlike the end of that song, we ain't going anywhere!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


FORD TO BILLY JOEL: DROP DEAD
posted by thelonius at 12:24 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll be the lone curmudgeon in the thread to say that just because you can play fast blues licks and arpeggios doesn't mean that you need to do it at every opening in a song like "New York State of Mind." The kid is good, but not uncommonly good.

I have never, in my entire life, seen a thread on the internet about some young unknown person giving a surprisingly good musical performance which has not had some version of this comment. The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that there is no such thing as a good musician you've never heard of. Also, all the good musicians you've heard of also actually suck.
posted by yoink at 12:30 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Forgive me if you have since learned about this - the song was written in response to New York City nearing bankruptcy and asking for a federal bailout, and Gerald Ford denied the request (he flat-out said he would veto any bill calling for "a federal bail-out of New York City").

I have! But the song as written, without footnotes, really sounds like an episode of Doctor Who. It's an interesting commentary on what was going on at the time, but I was surprised by how deeply buried in metaphor it is.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:30 PM on March 12, 2013


The Nassau Colleseum '77 bootleg out on the torrents is not to be missed. Premier of "Just the way you are". Come for an early "scenes from an Italian restaurant" and stay for the offhand Long Island references shouted to the crowd.
posted by dr_dank at 12:41 PM on March 12, 2013


The kid is good, but not uncommonly good.

WHEW. Thank goodness you were here to prevent anyone from mistakenly thinking this kid was better than he really is.
posted by the bricabrac man at 12:55 PM on March 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


infini: but its sad and its sweet and I knew it complete
when I wore a younger man's clothes...
I've always thought that was truly one of the best song lyrics ever written.

It pretty much sums up the career of John Mellencamp, among others. OK, that may be my personal opinion of JCM as a one-trick songwriter (and I'm sure some will disagree vigorously), but... helluva line.

Now that I'm in my 40s I hear that line in my head whenever I dress to go out. Maybe not consciously...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:02 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's kind of square, but I like Billy Joel.

Yeh, that's my kind of square too. Great, often-overlooked performer. And his voice is holding up well!
posted by Twang at 3:01 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a loather of Billy Joel, I'm not comfortable with this.

If I come across you in the wild, his honor compels me to battle.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:35 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dunno if it's relavant, but at one period in my art school career I was friends with one of what I then called a "polymath trust-fund hippie." The kind of guy who could draw a perfect portait sketch with a ball-point pen on a bar napkin and who played a mean harmonica. I never once saw him practice or work on these skills, he just had the natural talent to do these things. He could do both amazingly at the drop of a hat, and it was pretty much all he did, using both to score drinks, women and respect, in equal measures.

One night we were at a jazz club, and after a few drinks he decides to ask the band leader if he can sit in. Lanky white boy walks up to the front between songs and you can hear the crowd grumble displeasure, then, grumble more when he has the whole band tune to his harmonica (can't tune those things, you know). With the air of a maestro, he tells them to leave it in G and he'll follow along. Smirking, the band starts a standard (I don't remember which, unfortunately) and all go through the motions, half awake, to humor the poor guy. When he gets to his turn at the front he rips off a Stevie Wonder meets Stevie Ray Vaughan style harmonica solo that actually shocks the drummer so badly he loses the beat and my friend starts stomping along to keep everyone in time. Then the bass player starts cracking up and decids to drop into a double-time shuffle just to see what'll happen, and my friend follows right along, playing off the bass riffs and moving into a weird Bird-style beebop solo. They continue back and forth like this while the rest of the club sits slack-jawed. Finally the band leader elbows his way back from the bar or where ever he was hiding and tries to reassert control, but my friend and the bass player own the stage now, and just keep on playing weird atonal polyrhythms, nodding at each other and feeling out this new dynamic they've found between a stand-up bass and a cheap, dime store harmonica. Finally my friend, still playing, walks over to our table, picks up his unfinished drink and plays himself out of the bar. The rest of the band completely loses it, the band leader jumps around trying to call a tune to settle back into his comfort zone and the crowd is rumbling, mumbling and confused, trying to figure out what they just saw. I had no idea what to do but to go up to the bar to close my tab and leave an extra five for the glass my friend just stole and then run out into the street to try and find him. By then, he was already three blocks away, lost in his own time and melody and the last I saw of him that night was him blowing his harp at a streetlight until a taxi pulled up, as if by magic, and made him disappear into the night.

All this typing is just to say that these weird little moments when the wall between the performer and crowd is broken by the audience pushing the performer to higher moments are the moments I absolutely love about live music, when you realize that it's not just magic, but utterly new magic, being created right there, on stage, in front of you. So, yeah, Flunkie, you should watch this for that, not for the song itself, but what it becomes in the right circumstance.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:40 PM on March 12, 2013 [34 favorites]


I grew up in NYC during the height of Joelmania, and in the fandom surrounding The Stranger, I always thought some of the best of his early material got overlooked. In addition to "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" and "Miami 2017," I always loved "The Entertainer," which had, to my taste, some of his wryest lyrics:

"I am the entertainer,
I come to do my show.
You've heard my latest record,
It's been on the radio.
Ah, it took me years to write it,
They were the best years of my life.
It was a beautiful song.
But it ran too long.
If you're gonna have a hit,
You gotta make it fit--
So they cut it down to 3:05."
posted by the sobsister at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The process of coming to admit that I really like some of Joel's songs was long and arduous. The years of his greatest success coincided with my nascent muso snob awakening. I would perhaps spare a sneer for you, over the top of my U.K. and Weather Report albums, if you mentioned him, but I was also likely to just quietly pity you, as I marinated in my superior taste. Joel's music was popular; it was on the radio, girls who knew nothing about music, who didn't even know who Elvis Costello was, or what kind of drums Stewart Copeland played, loved it. These were deadly offenses in my book.

Cracks appeared in the facade. I bought a Joe Pass CD; it had a rendition of "Just The Way You Are" on it. I'd find myself enjoying "Big Shot" on the radio and then remember, I'm not supposed to like this. Gradually I guess it sunk in that high school was actually over and that I could appreciate some of the pop music I detested then, and develop the confidence to enjoy music I liked, without worrying about who else liked it, or if it was braniac enough to be worthy of my precious ears.

I still think he's cheesy as hell, I just like cheese some now.
posted by thelonius at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


You pretty much read my mind or lived my life or something thelonius.
posted by marxchivist at 8:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


(laughs) I just took a closer look at the link I linked you all to when describing "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" earlier. And I didn't notice it's a live gig, and so you can see what I saw:

The bridge with the impossible piano solo, and

Right after the solo, 30 seconds later, when he has a chance to stop playing and starts shaking out his hands all "wowza that hurt".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is great - and what a memory for that student!

I like Billy Joel too. I practically grew up with his music, and have a well-worn copy of his greatest hits somewhere in my house.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:36 PM on March 12, 2013


Wasn't this supposed to be a musical?
Here I am in the balconey...
...
Where's the orchestra?
posted by infini at 9:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that I'm in my 40s I hear that line in my head whenever I dress to go out. Maybe not consciously...

...until I try to button it up around the waist... sigh.
posted by infini at 9:19 PM on March 12, 2013


I have a theory that Bill Joel is regional. I actually loved Piano Man, in part for its self-mockery, but everything after that was kind of, well, cloddish to my ears (filled with punk, new wave, etc.) Iwas stunned in college (Boston) where -- in 1980-81, mind you -- a time of amazing cutting edge rock, several of my friends with great taste worshipped the guy. But all of them went to high school within a few miles of the Acela train, and I never met anyone west of the Pennsylvania/Ohio border who shared that taste.
posted by msalt at 9:44 PM on March 12, 2013


I feel a connection to this fellow. I'm pretty serious about playing the saxophone, and BJ's studio sax players (e.g., Christie Lee!) were a huge initial influence and motivator for me as a kid.
posted by spbmp at 9:50 PM on March 12, 2013


I like talented musicians but I like clever lyrics even more. So many of Billy Joel's songs are that, and to see him emulated by another talented musician is just fabulous. Joel appeared kind of elderly in this video and I'd love to see his spirit keeping on. It's good to be a "cover band" guy but I'd love to see someone do the same things Joel has done with music and lyrics.
posted by bendy at 10:37 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alec Baldwin interviewed Billy Joel for Here's the Thing and it's one of those interviews that I wished would never end. (There are a lot like that in that series for me, the Dick Cavett and David Letterman interviews especially.)

There's a transcript of the interview, but you lose the singing, impressions, and piano playing.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:55 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


That was for me a thoroughly enjoyable way to start my morning.

Yeah, it's cool that Joel went along with this. If the kid was less talented, Billy might have been looking foolish. The song is a standard, but the kid plays a bit of his own version and it wasn't clear in the beginning who was leading the dance. Obviously they had not practiced beforehand?
posted by three blind mice at 2:00 AM on March 13, 2013


He was great with Alec Baldwin on Here's the Thing.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:14 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a theory that Bill Joel is regional.

I was prepared to blow a hole in that theory but realized that Malaysia in 1980 was still technically the "East" right? ;p
posted by infini at 4:18 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope. Not regional. I'd say he was my guilty pleasure when it came to music, if I felt actually guilty.

Fell in love with his music in the back of my parents car on a two day road trip through central east Australia as a kid. "I aaaaam, an innocent maaaan"
posted by panaceanot at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2013


Heh infini... Central East Australia probably counts too. Anyone living in The West able to clarify?
posted by panaceanot at 5:35 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


this is the time to remember, for it will not last forever
these are the days to hold on to
but you won't although you'll want to
this is the time...
time is gonna change
you've given me the best of you
but now I need the rest of you
do you know that before you came into my life
some kind of miracle that I survived
someday we'll both look back and have to laugh
we lived through a lifetime and the aftermath
posted by infini at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2013


msalt: I have a theory that Bill Joel is regional. I actually loved Piano Man, in part for its self-mockery, but everything after that was kind of, well, cloddish to my ears (filled with punk, new wave, etc.) Iwas stunned in college (Boston) where -- in 1980-81, mind you -- a time of amazing cutting edge rock, several of my friends with great taste worshipped the guy. But all of them went to high school within a few miles of the Acela train, and I never met anyone west of the Pennsylvania/Ohio border who shared that taste.
You seem to be implying that Billy wasn't popular west of there. I know that's not true; he was wildly popular in MO. Record sales prove it's not true. Did you mean to say disliking him was an East-Coast thing?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on March 13, 2013


This thread is filling me with happy. I really like Billy Joel, but I've mostly learned to keep that to myself because the sneers and taunts and flung garbage hurt, you know?
I've always been baffled by the sheer quantity of vitriol he attracts. I can see his music not being somebody's particular cup of tea, but a lot of people act like every song the man writes causes their favorite pet to get cancer or dissolve or some such.
Now I am all warm inside knowing that I am not alone.
posted by John Smallberries at 2:34 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Regarding not wanting people to know you like an artist because of whatever reason: Don't Yuck My Yum.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:46 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was amazing... thanks!
posted by RSVP at 9:42 PM on March 13, 2013


You seem to be implying that Billy wasn't popular west of there. I know that's not true; he was wildly popular in MO. Record sales prove it's not true. Did you mean to say disliking him was an East-Coast thing?

Nope, just positing my personal theory based on my personal experience. I think I explained myself clearly, and called it my personal theory cause, you know, sample size of 100 early 80s college kids in Boston.

If nothing else, I've revised my theory to be "within 100 miles of today's Acela line, plus Greater Indonesia". And that might be totally wrong, too. But -- sales records? Have you really seen regional US breakdowns? The Eastern Seabord has such a massive concentration of population that record companies wouldn't give a shit if the a record sold massively there and no where else, it would still be a massive hit.
posted by msalt at 12:05 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, I thought this song was by Nas.
posted by louigi at 7:55 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been on a nostalgia trip, forgive me...

Prelude/Angry Young Man is one of my favorites. The piano into to "Prelude" scared the everloving shit out of me when I was still playing - it was one of a handful of his things where I took one look at the sheet music and just said "Nope." This clip is a live gig from 2006, and you can see from his hands at the beginning just what a feat of strength it is. (The song it leads into, "Angry Young Man," is pretty heavy in its own right.)

And then Goodnight Saigon - when he does this in concert, you can see here, he has all the roadies who were Vietnam vets come out and sing with him on the chorus ("And we would all go down together....")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just love how Billy leans on the piano and takes in the instrumental verse at the beginning, seeing what the kid's got. I like to think that if it were a merely serviceable performance he wouldn't have pulled out the Ray Bans. To me, that's when he realizes "Okay, I just can't phone this in to be nice to the freshman".

Two moments I can't get out of my head for their awesomeness:

-"What key do you do it in?" "What key do you want?"

-Dude made Billy Joel break into a Frank Sinatra impression IN THE MIDDLE OF A BILLY JOEL SONG THAT THEY HAD NEVER REHEARSED TOGETHER BEFORE.

It's like watching a relationship in progress. In the beginning, they're just getting used to each other but then they start to communicate and by the end they're totally together.

THIS!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:47 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older "So after the last blowup, have you been instructe...  |  Blackmailr. Super Goodinator. ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments