I Know Way Too Much About Billy Joel

Billy Joel in AtillaAlbeit deserved, the tarnishing of Billy Joel’s legacy makes Stereogum sad. Growing up as a young Strong Island blogger in the ’80s, I had no choice but to love the Piano Man, especially because my parents were making me take piano lessons. There was no way around it: at the time of your Bar Mitzvah, Nassau County begins issuing you one mandatory Billy Joel CD per month, starting with the sappy but underappreciated Cold Spring Harbor. What’s more, Greatest Hits Vol. I And II is the official soundtrack of every Jewish summer camp.

In junior high, my friend Evan and I collected shitty soundcheck tapes (from Bleecker Street bootleggers), 7″ records (for the b-sides), and rare CDs by Billy’s early psych-metal bands Atilla and The Hassles (which I’ve since sold on eBay). We prided ourselves on liking only the obscure cuts.

My friend Marji says I know way too much about Billy Joel. But I’m gonna go the Chuck Klosterman route and embrace it.

Music fans stopped paying attention to Billy Joel at “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (I remember one book named him the worst rock star of all time simply because “a list is not a song”). Blender’s recent countdown of the 50 all-time worst songs included the rap-rock ballad at #41, citing special hatred of the line “China?s under martial law/ rock & roller cola wars!”). But here’s a fun fact: the original line was “Poison apples in the stores, rock & roller cola wars.” Then the whole Tiananmen Square thing replaced the alar scare headlines. Like I said, I know way too much about Billy Joel. Did I mention I did a fifth grade book report on an unauthorized Billy Joel biography? We were allowed to pick anything.

Skipping ahead to the soporofic River Of Dreams album (whose cover featured a laughable portrait painted by then-wife Christie Brinkley), we find Billy losing interest in pop music. He thought he could quietly slip out of the spotlight, marry a twenty-year old (he’s actually older than his father-in-law) and earn enough money from touring with Elton John to buy a new fishing boat.

But despite the non-pop music success of a #1 classical album and Tony Award winning musical, Billy’s been a laughing stock since a March ’02 NY Times concert review (and later a Magazine piece) painted him as a lonely, has-been lush: “When Mr. Joel emerged for his set, there was sympathy as well as adulation: The audience had been warned that he had a cold. But Mr. Joel seemed to have ingested something quite a bit stronger than cough syrup.”

Billy likes to drink. But in his defense, he always has. In the early ’70s the former boxer checked himself into a mental institution after chugging furniture polish in a lame suicide attempt. Seriously.

And a year ago, BJ voluntarily entered rehab in an attempt to put all the bad press behind him. But then he went and crashed his car. THREE TIMES. Even I admit that’s pretty funny.

Here’s Horatio Sanz as the drunk driving Piano Man from this weekend’s SNL:

“A bottle of red, a bottle of white … I think I’ve got a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps in the backseat there, Lindsay Lohan.”

In light of the latest accident, Lasagna Farm thought up some new song titles.

Meanwhile, two enterprising L.I. radio DJs have collected the grill of Joel’s ’67 Citroen from the site of the latest crash. You can bid on the car parts on eBay.

Poor Billy. Maybe it’s time for a new album? Or at least a chauffeur.

One bright note: a scene in the current hit movie 13 Going On 30 features the song “Vienna,” from the Grammy-winning Stranger album. It stands out like a sore thumb, but the music on that soundtrack is totally anachronistic anyway. It takes place in 1987 and the character is obsessed with Rick Springfield. Huh? Anyway, here’s Joel’s contribution:

Billy Joel – “Vienna”

Why Vienna? Check out track #47 on the Q&A section of his boxed set.

Billy Joel never considered himself a poet (last year he apologized to Entertainment Weekly’s L2T section for “the worst song I ever wrote”: the French-sung “C’Etait Toi.”). He penned lyrics by default, and most of them were pretty lame. But as a musician, he was equally informed by a love of the Beatles and Beethoven — the result is a catalog of hits that will never go away. “Just The Way You Are,” “You’re My Home,” “New York State Of Mind,” “She’s Always A Woman” … yeah, I’m sick of them too, but they’re great songs regardless. He’s been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Braid. Even my fiancee has come around and admitted to liking two (!) songs: “All For Leyna” and “Downeaster Alexa.”

OK, now that I’ve turned into an Internet punchline (see The Onion’s “Area Man Hasn’t Told Co-Workers About His Billy Joel Fan Page Yet“), I’ll wrap this up.

Billy Joel turns 55 this Sunday. When you’re on the couch watching The Sopranos (sadly, Adriana and Christopher never did attend that BJ concert in Season 4), have a drink or eight in honor of the birthday boy.