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Thursday, November 8, 2007

You May Be Right; I May Be Crazy

posted by on November 8 at 11:38 AM

music-fol-2-500.jpgIllo by James Yamasaki

So yeah, I love Billy Joel.

Actually, I used to love Billy Joel. Now I cherish his music like a first kiss—an awkward memory that I’m happy to own, glad I got past, and hardly ever trot out anymore. There’s a reason that his peers—most significantly Springsteen—bask in continued critical praise and constantly refreshed fan adoration, which I get into in the story.

Megan quoted the piece’s main point in her post below, but here’s the part that most interested me:

Talking to friends and colleagues about this story, I learned that many people my age had an early period of Joel appreciation (surprising), though nobody’s rocking Glass Houses on their iTunes (not surprising).

It’s true. Several people—people you know, people who write for The Stranger about far, far different types of music than Billy Joel—had a thing for him way back when. Since writing the piece and talking about it further, more former fans have come out of the woodwork. But everyone agrees: They’re not listening to his music on an even semi-regular basis. The people I know who do are musically, um, unsophisticated, to put it nicely.

I look back at those songs, like the one this post takes its title from, and I love them, but only in a kitschy, nostalgic way. They’re teriffic songs, but they work better as artifacts than art. At one point in my life, he was an obsession. Then I grew out of Billy Joel.

Something I didn’t get into in the story: How much of my generation’s broken love affair with the guy has to do with Christie Brinkley? Joel was this hound dog-eyed goofball singing about Italian restaurants, as suburbanly awkward as anybody, and then he married the most beautiful woman in the world. He was slingshotted into idolization for that reason as much as his rock star status. Then she dropped him and he was just a regular schmuck all over again. Pretty disillusioning. But all Joel ever wanted from his music was to bag him a supermodel, so he succeeded on that front. His return to realness had just as much potential to lock in some cred as to cast him as a loser, but it didn’t work out that way.

RSS icon Comments

1

Dude, Christie Brinkley happened sooo after he had already jumped the shark.

Posted by Paulus | November 8, 2007 2:17 PM
2

This highlights a phenomenon I was thinking about when I saw that Blender list of the supposed "Worst Lyricists" a while ago. Namely, that the writers who they seemed to punish the most harshly (with Sting topping the list) were those whose efforts at penning "serious" lyrics earned them a "pretentious" label. As far as nostalgia goes, it seems to favor songs that were intentionally vapid over songs that tried to be deep.

Witness Elton John versus Billy Joel: Bernie Taupin's lyrics sound good, but when you think about them they're actually borderline infantile. "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids?" The fuck? And yet Elton has enjoyed a much loftier role in our collective pop consciousness than Joel on the strength of his melodies and arrangements, unencumbered by any dated attempts at relevancy.

This preservative effect of vapidity is the only rational explanation I can come up with for why I still hear a song like "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight" on a regular basis.

I'm not sure how Springsteen ended up getting a free pass, but I suspect it's because he never recorded "Uptown Girl."

Posted by flamingbanjo | November 8, 2007 2:20 PM
3

Well, I loved Springsteen, John, and Joel back when they were in their prime. It was the kind of music my friends and I all listened to then.

I don't listen to any of them anymore. Oh sure, I still have some of their best songs on my iPod. But I'm as likely as not to skip them if I'm listening in shuffle mode.

And Springsteen's new album: Same old same old.

Posted by rkpetersen | November 8, 2007 7:03 PM

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