He's Got a Way
May 25, 2013 4:35 PM   Subscribe

 
I have grudgingly grown to respect his work but I still can't deal with him looking like a suburban fireplug Dad, who I could easily imagine starting a fist fight at a Little League game.

Most people who get into the vodka-by-the-case game can't go back to having a glass of wine now and then, but who knows. It was weird that they put that in the headline, I thought.
posted by thelonius at 4:50 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Funny thing is that that's the exact same thing he's complaining about in the interview.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:55 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


For whatever reason, Billy Joel's music is one of my earliest music memories, and this coming from a kid who was surrounded by classical and jazz musicians throughout his family. I always liked his music, took it for what it is: something that for whatever cosmic reason has always made me feel happy.

This was a nice, honest interview . A pleasant rarity these days.
posted by tgrundke at 4:56 PM on May 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


A few years ago, I listened to Billy Joel in an extended interview and music session on Howard Stern, and his articulate, honest answers and amazing talent on the keyboard made me respect him in a way that my non-musical (I like music, but I don't really know much beyond "I like this," or "I don't care for that") mind hadn't before.
posted by xingcat at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, I'm amazed at how well he came across in that interview: really honest, self-aware, sensible, and grounded. And even funny. Elton John has mom hair! I'd somehow gotten the impression he was kind of a jerk, but now that I think about it I don't even know how I got that impression.
posted by orange swan at 5:06 PM on May 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Billy Joel on having his head switched with his pug's head in that photo because someone dared me to. And now I know where the hell that photo came from.

I always liked his song-writing even if I had a hard time not being bowled over by the cheeseball production aesthetic he went with a lot of the time; the guy can put a tune together. My college roommate freshman year was a big fan and could play the piano pretty well himself, so I went from glancing radio familiarity to a sort of crash course that year that firmed up both my positive and negative feelings about his oeuvre.
posted by cortex at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


Not my favourite guy by any means but...

I loved the episode of American Chopper where the motorcycle guys made a bike for Billy, they handed it over to him with the reverence of an artist delivering a sculpture... Billy accepted it like a delivery from a contractor "Close, but the headlight should be more like the '53" "Do you think the tank colour is correct, cause I don't" "The wheels aren't bad but let's switch them with the BMA style ones"

and so on, the hang-mouth expression on the chopper dudes faces was sweet.
posted by Cosine at 5:27 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great interview. I've always liked Joel, although I got pretty sick of a lot of his hits for a while there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:29 PM on May 25, 2013


The NYT deigns to notice.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:31 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most people who get into the vodka-by-the-case game can't go back to having a glass of wine now and then, but who knows.

How true this is is almost an unanswerable question. Many of the people who probably could go back to sensible drinking are probably precisely those who are too sensible to take the risk. As far as I'm aware most of the data suggest that alcohol addiction and destructive drinking are both unpredictable and highly treatment-resistant. From an empirical standpoint it seems pretty much all we can do is shrug and hope anyone's decisions work out for them.
posted by howfar at 5:35 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Billy accepted it like a delivery from a contractor

Well, he warned them he was going to be an asshole.
posted by Trochanter at 5:40 PM on May 25, 2013


Good interview, thanks. I saw him in concert a couple of years ago... he does a great job....
posted by HuronBob at 5:41 PM on May 25, 2013


I was an early Billy Joel adopter. 14 years old, on vacation in Maui, bored when the surf wasn't up. The local radio was playing the hell out of Piano Man, which was new at the time. So I bought the album when I got back to Vancouver which, weirdly, nobody seemed to have heard of. Piano Man (the song) didn't even make to AM radio as I recall. And the next couple of albums, Streetlight Serenade + Turnstiles, also got virtually no play. But I stayed true, me and my friend Dave down the street.

So that when The Stranger came out and the hype was finally kicking in, there we were, second or third row, his BIGGEST fans. Except the show kind of sucked. He didn't seem to be into it. He seemed smug (maybe he was drunk). And as I'd recently seen the likes of Yes and Jethro Tull firing at full-throttle, I found it very easy to exit the fan club.

Come the later 70s, into the 80s, I felt embarrassed to even have owned records by the guy, with We Didn't Start The Fire pretty much the nadir.

But a few months ago, I came across a copy of Piano Man in a used bin for fifty cents, so I bought it. And not bad. Hell, I'd say Stop In Nevada is damned near brilliant.

So whatever, glad to see he's still kickin', not getting arrested.
posted by philip-random at 5:42 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whenever I listen to Billy J I like it more than I expect to and less than I want to. That said, terrific interview. And also, Say GoodBye to Hollywood is genius.
posted by unSane at 5:45 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


...with We Didn't Start The Fire pretty much the nadir.

But it led to one of the great joke titles: I Didn't Fart, Ya Liar.
posted by Trochanter at 5:45 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great interview! I always liked his music but never knew anything about him personally.

He seems like a down to earth person, despite his fame. Bravo!

I got the same impression of Bruce Willis when I read an interview he did a few years back.
posted by MoTLD at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2013


Wow, this was the last thing I expected MeFi to suddenly turn around and embrace; this article has such corny framing ("now his haters are all old enough to have heart attack-ack-ack-ack-acks!") that I was on edge before the interview even started...seriously, this is the New York Times? That shit sounds like an episode of Access Hollywood. But what a lame, cheesy hack this guy is. He may be an all right dude as a person, but his songs fall someplace between velvet Elvis paintings and Dan Brown novels on the spectrum of artistic worth. Vomit.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:03 PM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Whatever. Call yourself a rock star. You look like one, right?

Hey I can handle movies that have no character development. Or life stories with no evidence of character development. If Hugh Hefner or Bruce Willis wants to marry the same kind of girl he married 50 years ago, fine with me. But if there's no character development, the movie better have some other redeeming qualities.
posted by surplus at 6:10 PM on May 25, 2013


I thought it was an OK interview, some of it needlessly trying too hard, but whatever. For some reason I started thinking about Tom Waits part way through the article and so ernded up with a 'seems like a decent fellow, but sure as hell is no Tom Waits' feeling at the end..... Go figure
posted by edgeways at 6:17 PM on May 25, 2013


Oh, unfair to be compared to Tom Waits. Few people could come out of that looking good.

A few years ago, my friend attended a private garden party in RI where Billy Joel was the entertainment. Supposedly he charged $1 million to appear. A few gigs like that could clear up any money troubles real fast.
posted by gentian at 6:26 PM on May 25, 2013


"Storm Front" was one of the first non-California Raisins tapes that I owned. I just can't hate on Billy Joel.
posted by drezdn at 6:28 PM on May 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hey, Kittens, being a musical snob about BJ is not exactly a radical position to take, so maybe keep your vomit to yourself. If BJ never recorded anything else, I'd still admire him for this.
posted by unSane at 6:29 PM on May 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


Hey, Kittens, being a musical snob about BJ is not exactly a radical position to take

No kidding.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:32 PM on May 25, 2013


One of my mom's friends once ran into Billy and Christie in a hotel elevator. They couldn't keep their hands off each other, according to her. I like to think of that as Billy Joel's performace of love in an elevator.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:38 PM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Billy Joel and I share exactly the same birthday, May 9, 1949. My only even remote claim to fame...
posted by jim in austin at 6:48 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I based my admiration for artists on their personal lives, I'd have a very short list indeed.

I enjoyed reading this article, and I remember when BJ and Christie had lunch in Newburyport, Mass., and people were gawking at them in the window. It was a thing. He did a lot of great stuff, and it was part of the culture at the time.

It's kind of like criticising, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke," or something. Sure, maybe you liked Velvet Underground, but a lot of people liked Billy Joel, and they are not your music inferiors because music appreciation is what you like. Hell, I live with a classical fanatic and I learn a lot from him, and then one day, I put on Snow Patrol and he started crying. So it takes all kinds.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:53 PM on May 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I put on Snow Patrol and he started crying.

I know what this actually means, but I also know what I'd like it to mean. Because I am a bad person.
posted by howfar at 6:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


If nothing else, this I really liked:
A.G.: Are you cool with Elton now? Basically he said that you’re not writing new songs out of fear or laziness.

B.J.: That’s his opinion. I don’t do it because I don’t wanna. He tends to shoot off his mouth — he shoots from the hip. I think his heart is in the right place. Maybe he’s trying to motivate me, to get me mad or something. He’s kind of like a mom.

A.G.: He actually kind of looks like a mom.

B.J.: Yeah, he’s got mom hair.
For a moment I got excited that I was witnessing the elderly piano-playing singer-songwriter version of rapper beefs, only more passive-aggressive. But then Billy Joel had to get all agreeable later on in the interview.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:05 PM on May 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


[/]doug[enter]

A.G.: Were there tours you went on just because you needed the dough?

Hmm. No mention of what he did to Doug Stegmeyer?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Billy can go fuck himself.
posted by mikelieman at 7:05 PM on May 25, 2013


What did he do to Doug Stegmeyer?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:12 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yikes, mikelieman - google that name and you turn up all sorts of nasty stuff about Joel.
posted by 41swans at 7:14 PM on May 25, 2013


I googled it and found a bunch of innuendo but nothing very specific.
posted by unSane at 7:44 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Billy Joel and I share exactly the same birthday, May 9, 1949.

I was born 11 days after that, jim, and I think (for an elderly gent) Joel comes across very well in that interview. I'm not much for his sappy ballads but I always thought it quite cool that, as an unknown piano-playing lounge singer, he hit it big with a song about what it was like to be an unknown piano-playing lounge singer. I certainly don't think he deserved to be listed, in books like The Worst Rock 'n Roll Records of All Time (1991), as 'the worst rock & roller ever' (just ahead of Phil Collins, Duran Duran, and Paul McCartney).

p.s. The only time I saw him in concert, as a music reviewer not long after 'Piano Man' was released, he wore me out. It was in a small college gym where as I remember he did seven encores. Enough already, I wanted to tell him, I have to go lie down. And unlike you, I'm not going to be able to afford a hip replacement in 40 years.
posted by LeLiLo at 7:47 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


elderly piano-playing singer-songwriter version of rapper beefs.

Oh my god this would be so awesome. Elton John putting out a track that straight up disses Joel for hanging it up. Then Joel shakes off the cobwebs and comes back with a response track that enlists fellow New Yorker Jay-Z.
posted by mcmile at 7:54 PM on May 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was growing up on Long Island as Billy Joel was becoming famous.

That's all I've got.
posted by tommasz at 8:07 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time
>Duran Duran

Well no shit. Duran Duran isn't rock 'n' roll. Might as well write a book of the Worst Prog Rockers Of All Time and include the Sex Pistols.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:15 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm from Long Island, so I both love and hate Billy more than most people. I worked in a snack shack for a few summers that sat across the water from his mansion and had to suffer through customer after customer pointing it out to me every time I served them a Creamsicle. I've sat near him and his girlfriends at cafes and he always talks about his business incredibly loudly so that we all know who he is and what exact amount of money he spent renovating whatever. Once he ogled me and my mother when we were crossing the street in front of his car at a stop light, which was extraordinarily creepy (he did the full-body examination to both of us), especially since neither of us are particularly notable; I think his brain just registered FEMALES. I find his songs weird and sexist on occasion. I hate pugs and goatees.

But put "Piano Man" on and I'm like every other melting, nostalgic Long Islander who grew up with his brand of cheesy crap. I unabashedly adore it.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:21 PM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would also like to thank Billy for introducing me to weed since my parents took me to his NYE show in like 1991 for some reason I do not know, and I smelled a beautiful smell and was like, "What IS that?" and my dad was like, "That, my little darling, is a thing called grass."
posted by pineappleheart at 8:29 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


All I know is that I spent a great deal of time driving around in my parents' car with Billy Joel's greatest hits Vol II in the tape deck. Maybe my dad was a fan? And I got Glasshouses out of the library and remember staring at the album cover. His songs are nice, familiar and I think sort of profound in a way. And he is very good on the piano to state the obvious. I am always happy to hear Billy Joel on the radio or in a piano bar as a result.

I was just in London also in April and came home on the last tube with a Scottish guy singing "you don't have to tell me it's time to go home" "this is my life" over and over, from one train, through the tunnels and on to the next train. I really liked it and so did everyone else in the car- well, probably not, but the close by people looked slightly amused anyway.

Marrying Katie Lee was a low point but hey. Give the guy his due, he is very talented.
posted by bquarters at 8:49 PM on May 25, 2013


I enjoyed this interview, but I still can't stand his music. "Piano Man" is basically the Piano Man telling the people around him that their lives suck while they all tell him how wonderful he is.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:52 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan. I like Pressure. I heard it the first time when I was 13 and thought, "Ugh, is this what I'm in for?" But for some reason I like that tune; maybe it's the unresolved tension thing between the major and minor notes going on that grabs my ear, but it's one of the first songs where I really paid attention to the lyrics, also, and they weren't about stupid boy-girl crap or an exhortation to dance. R.E.M. soon followed, and I forgot about Billy except when hearing his more schmaltzy stuff in the waiting room at the dentist's office. In those instances, he and his ilk were promptly ignored.

Sounds like he's doing all right now, though, so good for him.
posted by droplet at 8:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am a completely out of the closet, unashamed Billy Joel fanatic. The one and only autograph I've bothered to keep over the years (on display in the very office I type this comment, in fact) is a personally autographed photo of Joel I and both of my siblings received well over 30 years ago after our parents discovered that a (very) distant cousin's husband was his agent (not the person referred to in the article who ripped him off)

I can understand to a degree why Joel doesn't get the respect some other artists do. His music is never going to be mistaken for avante garde. I doubt English majors will ever study his lyrics to discover the deep, hidden meanings behind their complexity. I suppose the piano will never have the allure or sexiness of an electric guitar. But, to me at least, songs like "Rosalinda's Eyes", "Summer Highland Falls", "New York State of Mind", "Miami 2017", "Big Shot", "Allentown", "Leave a Tender Moment Alone", "All About Soul", "Laura", "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", "Just the Way You Are", "Movin' Out", "Roberta", "The Stranger" are just great, relatable songs that have held up over time.

Reading this article, the one thing that jumped out at me is how awful is must be for Joel to constantly see himself referred to in the press as "the ugly one" in a "Hot Woman/Average-Looking Guy" relationship. I know he says he doesn't let it get to him, but I know it would bother me.
posted by The Gooch at 9:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Billy Joel even inspired fellow pianist Terre Thaemlitz:

Resistance to Change

8. Commentary 1:12
9. Resistance 0:49
10. Resignation 3:20
11. Transformative Nostalgia 3:09

Statistical: Edit, filter and resynthesize a 'politically regressive' pop standard so that the end result presents a restructuring of the original sound source while triggering an overtly nostalgic desire for that source.

Rationale: "I Love You Just The Way You Are," by Billy Joel, was chosen for its general ability to evoke a pleasant sense of nostalgia, as well as for its historical lack of appeal as an "anti-Feminist" anthem against concepts of change. A resistance to social change may be fueled more by a fear of unfamiliarity than any conspiratorial malice or cultural consensus that things are 'fine as they are.' Similarly, direct action groups must typically develop discourses primarily in response to their oppositions' fears of cultural loss (the threat of lower material and/or ethical qualities of life) rather than simply engaging 'positive' desires for social and/or personal betterment. In order for resistance to resign itself to change, resistors must find some semblance of their current objectives within new communal initiatives. Therefore, the long term impact of social change seems to involve transformations which engage nostalgia, rather than radical historical breaches of context which may result in repressed desires that erupt in conservative backlashes. The difficulty lies in adapting deconstructive discourses which evoke a sense of nostalgia sufficient to establish familiarity without overwhelming the resulting scenario with a desire for the past.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can understand the dislike for Billy Joel too, and everyone is certainly entitled to dislike his music if it's not to their taste, but to call him a hack and his music crap is, frankly, ignorant. You might as well dismiss all of pop music if that's how you feel, because you don't have a clue about the craft of pop songwriting.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:05 PM on May 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


I too am a unashamed Billy Joel fan. I was born within sight of (the very top of) the Twin Towers. At the age of eleven I got a cassette recorder and two tapes. One of them was Turnstiles. I think the other one was a Beatles album—maybe Meet the Beatles!—but honestly I don't even remember. I've been a fan ever since the piano kicks in on song one, side one. I listened to that tape so much I wore it out. He's put out albums I didn't like very much, but it never diminished my love for the great ones that I still listen to.

When they made a joke on The Office about playing Rock Band: Billy Joel and some critic snarked Joel responded,
"the critic wrote something like, 'God forbid that ever should happen.' So I called my people and said, 'Get me (on) that Rock Band game.' Then I wrote the critic, saying that every time I get a check, I'll give him a little nod."
I own all 12 of those tracks, and when I get together with my friends to play it, we almost always do at least one or two of them. Hell, just yesterday, I got a compliment on my rendition of Miami 2017 from a friend who had to move away, heard the song on the radio and thought of me.

Billy signs off his shows with, "Don't take any shit off of anybody!" That, and the advice to take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while, has always stuck with me.


P.S. Just because it must be linked: That one time Billy Joel and Band performed "New York State of Mind" on The Old Grey Whistle Test and Richie Cannata took one of the greatest saxophone solos of all time and when Joel stood up gestured towards him and the crowd finally gave Cannata the appreciation he deserved, he just nods his head in acknowledgement.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:41 PM on May 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


He's really talented and wrote some great songs, for sure. And I'll put my music snob bona fides up against anyone's.

He's also purported to be a smug, entitled asshole.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:47 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only positive thing I can say about Billy Joel is that he inspired my favorite Weird Al song.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:17 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Singing the lyrics of Piano Man to the tune of Botany Bay is quite queasy-making.
posted by Wolof at 1:39 AM on May 26, 2013


I like Pressure. I heard it the first time when I was 13 and thought, "Ugh, is this what I'm in for?" But for some reason I like that tune; maybe it's the unresolved tension thing between the major and minor notes going on that grabs my ear, but it's one of the first songs where I really paid attention to the lyrics, also, and they weren't about stupid boy-girl crap or an exhortation to dance.

The videos for Pressure and Land of Confusion (Genesis) really scrambled my impressionable young mind. I realize they were a few years apart, but in my head, they were all about just what a scary, scary world was waiting for me.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:15 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I adore Billy Joel. Have adored his songs since I was a teenager. Sang them throughout high school and college. Got really annoyed when my friends only knew "We Didn't Start the Fire" and actually thought that one was worth anything.

This was fun to read, thanks.
posted by bardophile at 3:33 AM on May 26, 2013


I will always love Billy Joel because for some reason the opening line of Summer Highland Falls gave a young me a kernel of perception about life. When you're young, odd things can trigger epiphanies. "They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I'll ever know. " Make the best of what you have; it may be all you get. End nostalgia. ..
posted by umberto at 4:14 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Until a couple years ago, when the tape deck died in my car, Best Friend and I had a very particular routine for curing crankiness. Whoever noticed the foul mood would grab the Best of Billy Joel and the passenger was in charge of fast-forwarding so that we only heard our agreed-upon Best of the Best of.
This recipe cured bad moods 100% of the time.
That's why I'll always <3 Billy Joel.
posted by MsDaniB at 4:45 AM on May 26, 2013


What, no love for "And So It Goes"?

I also admire though don't care for "The Downeaster Alexa". Yes, the song is total ball of poorly aged cheese. But Joel actually wove the rhythm and feeling of being on a shipdeck into the song, which is a pretty fantastic accomplishment. The man has serious talent. You may not like the forms into which he channels it, but he does.
posted by orange swan at 5:33 AM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joel also inspired my favorite Weird Al song.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:42 AM on May 26, 2013


the one thing that jumped out at me is how awful is must be for Joel to constantly see himself referred to in the press as "the ugly one" in a "Hot Woman/Average-Looking Guy" relationship. I know he says he doesn't let it get to him, but I know it would bother me.

He probably reserves that anger for those who critique and ridicule his daughter Alexa Ray Joel for looking like him rather than like her mother. I've seen Christie Brinkley on some talk show discussing the matter, and she was certainly very indignant about it. As she should be — that shit is just inexcusably cruel. Not to mention rather ignorant. Alexa Ray Joel seems to have done well enough in the genetic draw.
posted by orange swan at 6:17 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


My Russian-emigre wife loves Glass Houses, can't stand anything else - go figure.
posted by newdaddy at 6:41 AM on May 26, 2013


I tried writing an update to "We Didn't Start the Fire" and all I got was "Dot commers/suicide bombers" before I gave up.
posted by josher71 at 6:45 AM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I blame Rolling Stone for a lot of the anti-Joel animus; it was so pronounced and prolonged that even they commented on it when they finally put Joel on their cover (looking a bit smug, I must say). It seemed like they went through a prolonged period, starting around the mid-to-late seventies, where they were more than a bit full of themselves, even though their best writing--that is, the peak of Hunter S. Thompson's work--was already past them. Their critics went through a severe power-pop infatuation and seemed to hate anything that didn't count, and while I can understand a certain amount of backlash to prog rock, it expanded to include all sorts of things. (I can remember shaking my head with disbelief when I checked out the book of their rock album ratings, and looked up the mediocre to low grades they gave almost all of Bowie's albums.)

Anyway, I just got The Essential Billy Joel recently, and while there are a couple of startling omissions on it (no "The Stranger"? Or "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"? Bwuh?), it holds up quite well, even that old prom favorite, "Just the Way You Are", although the naivete of "I need to know that you will always be/The same old someone that I knew" is a little heartbreaking. I was in my early teens when Joel was really starting to crank out the hits, and while "The Stranger" may not seem mindblowing to a lot of people, hearing a line like "But he isn't always evil/And he isn't always wrong" really gave thirteen-year-old me some food for thought.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:52 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well no shit. Duran Duran isn't rock 'n' roll. Might as well write a book of the Worst Prog Rockers Of All Time and include the Sex Pistols.

Also hilarious that the guitarist from Duran and the guitarist from the Pistols later did an album together...
posted by ovvl at 8:02 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hinted at in the interview, Billy's 'classical' album, Fantasies and Delusions.
posted by ovvl at 8:05 AM on May 26, 2013


Halloween Jack: As someone who worked at Sony at the time, Italian Restaurant was only left off because there wasn't room on the discs, time-wise. that sucker is 7 minutes something.

Anyone who thinks they dont like billy joel should go look at the track listing for his greatest hits double disc collection and reconsider.
posted by softlord at 8:33 AM on May 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


OK, softlord, I could see that. (I notice that the collection was re-issued with a third disc which does include it, and some others.) But there are one or two other songs that easily could have been omitted for "The Stranger".
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:44 AM on May 26, 2013


I blame Rolling Stone for a lot of the anti-Joel animus

That's a heavy load to put on Rolling Stone; there are plenty of artists--Led Zeppelin being a prominent example--who survived its derision. I recall shortly after Tony Curtis died, reading a blog post (sorry, can't find it now) that said he had the same problem as Billy Joel: each loudly and frequently complained that he was not properly respected as a Serious Artist. Such an attitude is like blood in the water to critics. It'll start a feeding frenzy.

Anyone who thinks they dont like billy joel should go look at the track listing for his greatest hits double disc collection and reconsider.

Done. No change.
posted by ogooglebar at 9:32 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


No no no no no no you had to be a beeeeeeg shot, deeeeencha!


He's someone who knows a thing or two about songwriting. You'd be a fool to dismiss his songs out of hand. Listen to that swing of Movin Out or the jazz breaks in Zanzibar. Sounds like NY to me.
posted by petebest at 9:34 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Piano Man" is basically the Piano Man telling the people around him that their lives suck while they all tell him how wonderful he is.

"Tonic and gin" always bugs me.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:36 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean no value judgment by this, but to me Billy Joel and Krusty the Clown (when out of his makeup) look so similar that in my mind they're the same person.
posted by COBRA! at 9:45 AM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess I don't have much to add to the discussion other than this: I like some of Billy Joel's songs, but I feel the same away about him I do about James Taylor -- I think their songs would be better if somebody else sang them. Which is a very, very subjective position, but one which also acknowledges that both men can write a pretty darned good song.
posted by wintermind at 9:51 AM on May 26, 2013


Piano Man is a little more sympathetic when you realize it's more about him having an existential crisis as a struggling musician while observing the fatalistic agitations and depression of his clientele. The theme of the song is actually "life is a series of terrible disappointments that we cope with only by distracting ourselves with chemicals and spectacle (and I as a source of spectacle am complicit in the furthering of this ultimately meaningless and self-destructive dynamic)".

It's only when you read the song as a straightforward anthem of praise for the noble and talented pianist elevating humanity that it gets weird.

The problem of course being that people see someone at a piano and are like "OH HEY PLAY PIANO MAN THAT'S SUCH A FUN SINGALONG WOO" without really grappling with that. Like celebrating the opening of a new town hall by hiring the local band to play "My Home Town".
posted by cortex at 9:54 AM on May 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


people see someone at a piano and are like "OH HEY PLAY PIANO MAN THAT'S SUCH A FUN SINGALONG WOO"

I promise never to do this.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:12 AM on May 26, 2013


I mean no value judgment by this, but to me Billy Joel and Krusty the Clown (when out of his makeup) look so similar that in my mind they're the same person.

I now want a Billy Joel covers album done by Krusty the Clown.

On the serious tip, while it was almost 20 years since I've last seen him in concert, his live shows are/were ELECTRIFYING, and I say that as a not-all-that-big Joel fan.

FWIW, I think the secret of his success and popularity is that his songs are very relate-able for most people (Sure, his songs tend toward the middle-brow but they're still deeper than most pop music) and the fact that they're performed by a guy who humble-brags about his middle class, "common man" credentials at the drop of a hat and who does not "look" like a Rock Star only helps endear him to people.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:16 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I stand by what I said in the last thread about Billy Joel.
posted by chavenet at 11:16 AM on May 26, 2013


He did a lot of great stuff, and it was part of the culture at the time.

I was a part of the culture at the time, too -- a kid consumer of culture. The 1970s. I wish 2013 Billy Joel and his pugs and antique motorcycles and small drinking problem the best, but I fucking hated Billy Joel every time his songs played on the AM radio in the 1970s. It was the sound of the fabric of the culture tearing. It was the overture of the plunge into the Republican culture of 1980 to the present. Billy Joel rose to fame stimulating the aromatic sphincters of Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes with his golden tongue. Listening to the radio in the 1970s required alternating ecstasy and nausea as Billy Joel and his ilk destroyed popular music and cemented the Republican death monument on which Rush Limbaugh fastens his ass and where the talentless performers of the present project their worthless work, bewildered by the fact that they're trying to express authentically but are just going through the Billy Joel motions.

Billy Joel was one of the major villians who wrecked late 20th-century popular music. Let him live out his remaining years in peace -- he needs no more punishment than the recorded legacy he leaves -- but do not attempt to rehabilitate his humiliating legacy. Driving his pugs around on a Vespa is really the perfect end for him.
posted by gum at 11:35 AM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Billy Joel and his ilk destroyed popular music and cemented the Republican death monument on which Rush Limbaugh fastens his ass

Blaming Billy Joel for Reagan and Limbaugh is pretty comic hyperbole, but I always thought "Angry Young Man" was the ultimate conservative dismissal of people who give a shit about things, so I see your point in a way.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:42 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought "Angry Young Man" was the ultimate conservative dismissal of people who give a shit about things

Didn't even think of that. Precisely.
posted by gum at 11:46 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could see "Angry Young Man" as sort of self directed. The bridge... well, I see Billy Joel as kind of a mechanic -- he needs a bridge, so he writes a bridge. Does it undercut the self criticism of the rest of the lyric? Ah, well.

I don't forgive him, but it seems a bit much to blame him for Reaganism.

He did, after all, also write "Allentown".

I'll tell you one, though. Just on reading this thread, I played "Still Rock and Roll to Me" in my head. Ye gods. He did get bad.

Pop careers in those days (and probably still now) were illustrations of the conservation of momentum. Once you broke through, you could just keep going.
posted by Trochanter at 2:08 PM on May 26, 2013


Billy Joel and his ilk destroyed popular music

Yeah, the rise of a type of music that disdained the ability to actually play well (yeah, that's what Punk is, I said it) totally had nothing to do with pop music going downhill after 1976. Kindly get a clue, sir. Again, Billy Joel actually knows how to play an instrument and play it well, and this bugs the hell out of people who think that they can just write "songs" about "oh, this is what I'm feeling, look at me I'm so deep". I guess the popularity of people like Taylor Swift shows that those type of people ended up getting their way and now we'll never have someone as talented as Billy ever again, not as anything but a niche artist anyway.
posted by MattMangels at 2:14 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh dear lord, please do not do that technical ability = songwriting ability thing. If that were true, Primus would be more than a one-trick pony and Rush would be the greatest rock band in the world.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:23 PM on May 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I guess the popularity of people like Taylor Swift shows that those type of people ended up getting their way and now we'll never have someone as talented as Billy ever again

The audience for Taylor Swift would never have been into Billy Joel, who seems to have been a crotchety old fart from about the age of twenty onward. It's just that the Billy Joel audience is no longer an audience that spends a lot of money on popular entertainment, whereas the Taylor Swift (and Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and et cetera) audience does. Who is the audience for the new Billy Joel? In all seriousness. God knows it isn't me, but it must be out there. Who were the people who bought Hootie and the Blowfish albums, or like Counting Crows or whatever? Some of those people must still be alive, right?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2013


ogooglebar: The fact that Joel wasn't the only one that got shabby and unjustified treatment at RS' hands kind of proves my point, I think. And, no, I don't think that he was asking for it.

gum: Billy Joel rose to fame stimulating the aromatic sphincters of Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes with his golden tongue. Listening to the radio in the 1970s required alternating ecstasy and nausea as Billy Joel and his ilk destroyed popular music...

Thanks, if I'd wanted to make up an example of the ludicrously hyperbolic sort of stuff that people wrote about Joel and other artists at the time, I couldn't have possibly done better than that.

Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I always thought "Angry Young Man" was the ultimate conservative dismissal of people who give a shit about things

Alternatively, it's a reflection by someone who lived through the sixties (and may have even been something of an AYM himself, back in the day) and had seen what became of all that youthful rage and enthusiasm. It's terribly reductionist and simplistic to assume that everyone either becomes Jerry Rubin or Abbie Hoffman, but it's a song lyric, not a dissertation.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:00 PM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


gum, that has got to be the dumbest, most overwrought thing I've read on Metafilter yet. I'm not even sure it's worth trying to engage, but what the hell -- even if you think he's mediocre, it's not like AM radio wasn't loaded up with plenty of mediocre music before that. Neil Sedaka, Henry Mancini, and Sonny & Cher weren't exactly cultural revolutionaries.
posted by tavella at 3:03 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Point of information: it is eminently possible for alcoholics to return to controlled drinking. However, the more severe the alcoholism, the less likely it is for this outcome to occur. Nonetheless, there's lots of data showing that people who at one time meet DSM criteria for alcohol dependence (DSM 4 term for the most severe type of drinking problem AKA alcoholism) return to controlled drinking.

In fact, in the study linked above, roughly equal numbers recovered via abstinence and return to low risk drinking. Most people with alcoholism never receive treatment or go to AA— but AA members like Elton John continue to spread misinformation about 12 steps and abstinence being the only route to recovery.

That said, abstinence is the easier and safer course and for anyone who is already successfully abstinent, it's generally not advised to try to find out.
posted by Maias at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I stand by what I said in the last thread about Billy Joel.

Me too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:39 PM on May 26, 2013


Alternatively, it's a reflection by someone who lived through the sixties (and may have even been something of an AYM himself, back in the day) and had seen what became of all that youthful rage and enthusiasm.

I could appreciate that more if the lyrics didn't include the whole "oh yeah, I used to care about things, too, but then I grew up" attitude. Reflecting on what becomes of radicals with age is one thing; singing from some high horse about how he has, in his age, risen above such trivialities as "consciousness" and "I once believed in causes too" but he grew up and got over it is kinda smug, and sounds like exactly the kind of thing someone who sold out their principles would preach to someone who still believes in them.

That said, musically it's a killer song, and one of my favorite examples of his playing ability.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:24 PM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I could appreciate that more if the lyrics didn't include the whole "oh yeah, I used to care about things, too, but then I grew up" attitude.

What if it's a guy ashamed of and hiding from his own loss of idealism. I haven't thought about it for years, but I think that's what we used to think. The song is, after all from Turnstiles. He was still trying, then.
posted by Trochanter at 6:27 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The Ballad of Billy the Kid" doesn't get enough love.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:41 PM on May 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Alec Baldwin does a fantastic interviews with Joel - they're both in top form, even if you don't like either of them they're an a fascinating pair for 45 minutes

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/heresthething/2012/jul/30/
posted by Berkun at 9:21 PM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


betweenthebars: I enjoyed this interview, but I still can't stand his music. "Piano Man" is basically the Piano Man telling the people around him that their lives suck while they all tell him how wonderful he is.
In the sense that Cinderella is a story about how important foot size is when wooing a prince, yes, that's what it means all right.
Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: Oh dear lord, please do not do that technical ability = songwriting ability thing. If that were true, Primus would be more than a one-trick pony and Rush would be the greatest rock band in the world.
He didn't.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:07 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a casual fan of Billy Joel's music growing up and someone not otherwise super into pop music I always thought, until this thread, that Billy Joel was sort of universally well liked. The rabid anti-Joelness displayed here is totally news to me. I didn't realize this was a thing in music snob circles.

Billy Joel is one of the best selling musicians in the entire world and has like 30 or 40 top hits to his name over the years in the US alone. Popular, sure whatever, and if you are not into pop music for the sake that is is pop music I get it..but a hack? Just...What?
posted by jnnla at 1:28 AM on May 27, 2013


I was a teenager in the late 70s. For me and most of my friends, our main knocks against Joel were that the radio overplayed "Just the Way You Are" (our parents' cars only had AM radios, so we were stuck punching back and forth between various Top 40 stations), and he wasn't sufficiently "Rock 'n' Roll" for us. We preferred Boston, Journey, Styx, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Foghat, etc. Glass Houses failed to change our minds.

In addition to the perception that he whines, other criticisms include the view that some of his hits fail to go beyond his influences: "You May Be Right" is passable Rolling Stones, "Only the Good Die Young" is failed Springsteen, and "Uptown Girl" is such a faithful re-creation that it increased sales of Four Seasons records.

The Nylon Curtain was especially criticized for the shallowness of Joel's attempts to tackle serious issues. "Allentown" was defeatist, even for a song about unemployment, and "Goodnight Saigon" bordered on obscenity because a pop songwriter who had lived through the Vietnam War failed to develop an attitude about it one way or another.

For me, the tipping point from take-him-or-leave-him over to active dislike was "Only the Good Die Young." Songs about trying to get into a girl's pants have a long and honorable tradition in rock and roll, so initially I was on Billy's side with this one. But even as a callow teenager, I came to find the idea of him putting down a girl's religion so viciously and casually, just to get her to give up her virginity, to be reprehensible. Besides, "Catholic girls start much too late"? He doesn't know the first thing about Catholic girls. "I might as well be the one"? She must have been overcome with passion when he said that! And naming her Virginia was subtle. As a flying mallet. The final nail was when I eventually heard "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and saw how a master handled the same material.

Now I have to spend the next 24 minutes and 47 seconds listening to side two of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.
posted by ogooglebar at 3:31 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread amuses me. Just the day before yesterday, I was thinking about this AskMe question about ColdPlay and the OP was asking why their favourite band sucked. And I was pondering the precise question of why one of my favourite pop musicians, Billy Joel, was also someone about whom I could ask the same question. Then BAM! This post came up the next day.
posted by bardophile at 4:02 AM on May 27, 2013


Oh dear lord, please do not do that technical ability = songwriting ability thing. If that were true, Primus would be more than a one-trick pony and Rush would be the greatest rock band in the world.

Your point?
posted by Daily Alice at 6:02 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reflecting on what becomes of radicals with age is one thing; singing from some high horse about how he has, in his age, risen above such trivialities as "consciousness" and "I once believed in causes too" but he grew up and got over it is kinda smug, and sounds like exactly the kind of thing someone who sold out their principles would preach to someone who still believes in them.

I always took that a bit differently; that rather than being about abandoning ideals, it was about the tempering of ideals, and against the black-and-white, all-or-nothing zeal that a lot of the young kind of radical espouses. You know? More of an accepting that that kind of change is a long game, and noting that the zealous all-or-nothing, do-it-now, do-or-die thing doesn't really work, and sometimes alienates people.

I'm paranoid that that sounds kind of like a defense of the tone argument, actually, but it's what I've found myself, and how I feel; that kind of "the world is burning now and we have to ACT FAST" feeling I had when I was younger turned out to be not quite so accurate, and that...well, there was definitely bad shit, but it wasn't at quite the Defcon-1 state I felt like it was at. And that it was okay to relax a little. And then, relaxing a little let me slow down and actually do more in terms of making change, because I was calmer and more approachable when talking to others about those issues; and better able to actually change their minds than when I was shouting angrily. More interestingly, I found that there were people who then turned around and told ME that I wasn't doing enough any more.

That's actually why I've started humming "Angry Young Man" to myself when I see a certain kind of radical activism - not because I disagree with the aims, but rather with the techniques.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like "Only The Good Die Young" better as a sort of occultist threat. Like, he's not offering aphorisms, he's making a logical argument about the consequences of withholding physical affection: the rules say that virginal do gooders will perish too soon; to prolong your earthly existence, you should remove yourself from that threatened category via sexual encounters; I am here if you would like to avail yourself of my services. All hail the dark lord, may he consume the world in fire.
posted by cortex at 7:07 AM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


"...and Rush would be the greatest rock band in the world..."

Are they not?
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:08 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I took a quick poll of my twentysomething sons' friends who were over last night. For context, these are guys who mostly listen to contemporary music, but they revere the Beatles, admire the Stones, and respect Led Zeppelin and the Who. When I asked them what they thought of Billy Joel, the response was "Don't know much about him," "Isn't he kind of pop-rock?" and lot of blank looks. Then the conversation turned to something else.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:13 AM on May 27, 2013


...you should remove yourself from that threatened category via sexual encounters...

"Come with me if you want to live." Literally. Well, there are plenty of guys who've tried worse lines.
posted by ogooglebar at 8:24 AM on May 27, 2013


I always thought of "only the good die young" as being about a character. Not saying that 'these are good values about sex and intimacy' or even 'these are my values about sex and intimacy,' but a music snapshot/story of a pretty relatable (from both sides) character. There are some compelling lines, cheesy ones, and stupid ones, but together they tell a story that feels realistic and sounds catchy. I also really like some of Eminem's songs that really create a character that I have feelings about, and wouldn't assume they're all either biographical or aspirational. These musicians are more story tellers than preachers or documentarians...
posted by Salamandrous at 10:52 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nowadays, you can't be too sentimental.
posted by box at 12:10 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]



I blame Rolling Stone for a lot of the anti-Joel animus; it was so pronounced and prolonged that even they commented on it when they finally put Joel on their cover


Maybe they had their doubts about him at first. But I recall (late-80s sometime?) when they did a 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list that Uptown Girl slotted in at around #99. Cue cries of scandal as apparently, it was well known that Jann Wenner and Billy were buds at the time.

I've already registered my feelings about Mr. Joel already in this thread, though I will add that I'm mostly with gum when it comes to anything he did from the Stranger onward (ie: once he finally started to cash in). Which I guess is my final point here. The guy achieved huge things in his career, sold mega-millions of records, got his face on mags etc etc ... and none of that can be taken away. But one thing that none of that guarantees is respect.

Not from me anyway.

May time mostly forget him, while it remembers all his "better" contemporaries who didn't get near as much notice at the time. It's only fair.
posted by philip-random at 12:19 PM on May 27, 2013


I always thought of "only the good die young" as being about a character.

Oh, dude, totally, it's all a guy trying to get into the pants of his goody-two-shoes uber-Catholic girlfriend.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Listening to the radio in the 1970s required alternating ecstasy and nausea as Billy Joel and his ilk destroyed popular music and cemented the Republican death monument

There were plenty of reasons for the rise of Reagan. I don't think we need to hang that rap on poor Mr. Joel.

Still, I'm pretty indifferent to Joel. I can bear hearing him in a car if I have to—and in the right mood I might even find it vaguely pleasant—but he isn't a performer I'd ever choose to listen to on my own in any mood. My response to Joel's musical peers, other piano-playing male singer-songwriters, ranges from adoration (Nilsson), to affection (Neil Diamond, Joe Jackson, Jackson Browne, Jools Holland), to respect (Elton, who's buried some real gems beneath a lot of crap), but Joel's never appealed to me, despite his talents, for two reasons A) his grating voice and his shouty delivery which only exacerbates the voice and B) much more importantly, the loutish characters of his songs who, even at their best seem smugly satisfied with their life, and at their worst, seem to bear it a grudge. There's always a kind of pigheaded bro-ishness to the speakers in Joel's songs, even when they're being witty and eloquent.

Strangely, by the middle 80s, in songs like "Pressure" and "Allentown" (the monotony of that song is like the sound of a machine that can't stop) and "We Didn't Start The Fire" these same characters seem to begin to exhibit fears of age and desperation. The songs become more theatrical and over the top, but more interesting (to me) as pop songs because of that.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:05 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


philip-random: " But I recall (late-80s sometime?) when they did a 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list that Uptown Girl slotted in at around #99."

Uptown Girl isn't even Billy Joel's 99th best song.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:13 PM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]




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