3 things to make you
reconsider Billy Joel
If you are like me, you never really gave a shit about Billy Joel. But the past couple of years, Billy Joel has been popping up on my radar, and whatever you think of his music, here are 3 things you might want to seek out, not because they’ll make you like his music, but because you might learn something.
1. His interview with Alec Baldwin on Here’s The Thing
Holy crap, is this a good interview. AB and BJ sit down at the piano and talk like a couple of old friends. Here’s BJ talking about his technique:
I know what good piano playing is and I’m not good. My left hand is lame. I am a two-fingered left-hand piano player. As opposed to somebody who knows what they’re doing with their left hand. I never practiced enough to use all my fingers on my left hand, so I just play octaves, bass notes. My right hand tries to compensate for my left hand being so gimpy, so I overplay on my right hand. My technique is horrible. I can’t read music. I used to but I don’t anymore. I forgot how…. It’s like a language. If you stop speaking it often enough, you can forget… Remember in Dances With Wolves, she forgot how to speak English? That was me.
The whole interview is that candid.
2. His interview that ran today in the New York Times.
Here he is talking about the fact that he hasn’t made an album in a couple of decades:
Everybody is different. Some writers can write reams of great books and then J. D. Salinger wrote just a few. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies. They were all phenomenal. Mozart wrote some 40 symphonies, and they were all phenomenal. That doesn’t mean Beethoven was a lesser writer, it’s just some guys are capable of more productivity, some guys take more time. Mozart pisses me off because he’s like a naturally gifted athlete, you listen to Mozart and you go: “Of course. It all came easy to him.” Beethoven you hear the struggle in it. Look at his manuscripts, and there’s reams of scratched-out music that he hated. He stops and he starts. I love that about Beethoven, his humanity shows in his music. Mozart was almost inhuman, unhuman.
3. The chapter on Billy Joel vs. Neil Young in the book Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music.
You might be thinking: fuck you, dude. “Cowgirl in the Sand” vs. “Uptown Girl”? Well, you’re right—I’m not going to make that argument. But, consider:
Doesn’t Neil Young have to play a part just like every other performer? […] how is he realer than any of the American superstars who were his contemporaries[?]
…there was one other American superstar of the 1970s who was also emphasizing honesty at all costs and saw himself as the avatar of a new, white soulfulness. Also a self-professed loner and intensely private person with a massive ego, he too was subject to frightening spells of anger and pique. Like Young, he was born in the 1940s and his dad left the family when he was a kid; like Young, he avoided heroin but indulged heavily in alcohol. He too was reluctant to sing at first, thinking of himself primarily as a songwriter and band member; after his first few records, he too preferred to record live with a minimum of overdubs. Both became stars who dedicated themselves to constantly reinventing their music and image; both reacted to the advent of punk rock in the late ’70s by releasing records that were far angrier and louder than what had preceded them.
Neil Young was voted artist of the decade by the Village Voice in 1979. But Billy Joel had outsold every other performer in history.