Piano Man, AntiChrist
It's tough to pinpoint the exact moment Billy Joel became my personal antichrist. It's an attitude that hardened over the decades to the point where hearing Uptown Girl while shopping at the Market Basket would send me clutching for my blood pressure medication that my doctor had never prescribed for me for just those kind of sudden onslaughts of unprepared Joelness.
I don't deny my own culpability in all this and I won't back down from my many well-earned layers of musical snobbery. But overall, I have softened over the years. Look through my record collection! You'll see a goodly number of (early) Jackson Browne and Elton John records. I no longer wage a losing war against the entire soft-rock industrial complex. There are even days when I can listen to an Eagles song, an entire Eagles song (as long as it's not Hotel California) with something approaching, if not enjoyment, at least an attitude of live and let charge $500 for concert tickets towards Mr. Henley and Company. I enjoy the music of Spoon, which, if I were forced to honestly describe it, sounds much like Billy Joel without actual Joel-like components.
There was even a time, way back in the days of eight-track tapes, when I enjoyed the songs of Billy Joel. My parents had copies of 52nd Street and Shattered Glass. I would singalong to Big Shot. I was seven, and I also enjoyed the Village People's YMCA unironically. My musical tastes were far from fully formed.
I know there are many good, kind, loving people in the world, some of them are even my friends and family, who enjoy the musical stylings of Mr. Joel and I don't hold that against them. God bless each and every one of them. At this point, though, most people who know me expect me to turn red in the face and get the shakes whenever a Billy Joel song comes on the radio and would check for my pulse if I didn't.
But when it comes to the root of all Billy Joel evil, Piano Man gets at least 90 percent of the blame. Even thinking about the song, catching a whiff of the insipid singsong melody in my head makes it hard for me to focus on rationally explaining how much I hate that song.
Breathing. I'm breathing ...
If there is a hell below, it is filled not with fire and brimstone, but with endless badly balanced stereos blaring the Satanic strains of Piano Man for 23-1/2 hours per day, broken up only by just enough of a daily dose of We Didn't Start the Fire just so I can be faced with the mindracking contemplation that there is the possibility that Billy Joel may have written a song that was even worse than Piano Man.
The damned sing-songy swaying tempo, the interminable length of the thing in the neverending American Pie vein, those awful lyrics that sound like there were written by John Updike's four-year-old grandson on a sugar high after eating a carton of Cocoa Crispies and then trying to translate a bad Bruce Springsteen song into Latin then to Russian and then back into English. The fact that no one ever sings along to the song in public. No, no, no ... every half-drunk moron who hears it come on the jukebox at the bar has to shout along to this fetid piece of musical kryptonite.
Where's my inhaler?
Joel's intrinsic need to prove that he is both a tough-guy ROCKER as well as a serious ARTIST only makes it worse. It would be easier to buy if you didn't make us try to sit through all 13 minutes of Scenes From an Italian Restaurant aka as the really long Billy Joel song that isn't Piano Man whose only saving grace is that it doesn't get played on the radio is much and if it is played in public no one really knows the words.
Still. People grow. People soften. Insufferable new music comes along to make the insufferable old music seem not so bad, or at least create an aura of misty-eyed nostalgia around it. I've seen the Youtube videos of Billy Joel approaching a level of human sincerity and pulling fans onstage to sing with him, much to the delight of the people who enjoy the music that Billy Joel plays. I approach something close to a level of appreciation for that. I mean, the video being on mute helps, but I can begin to feel seem melting of my Joelgrinch heart.
And then yesterday. I'm in Bull Moose Records in Salem and I overhear a conversation between two of the young, presumably hip record store cashiers. They are talking about how they had to shut off the music they were playing because it made one of the customers uncontrollably angry, angry, they said, like they have never seen anyone angry about a song before. I'm assuming they were playing some industrial/screech/gangsta rap/goth shit that sounds like a powerdrill mutilating cattle while yelling various forms of the words fuck and bitch over and over.
I'm just about to chime in with "shoot, the only music that makes me that angry is Billy Joel ... hahahaha" when the purple-haired cashier girl hits play on the CD player again. I hear
It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in ...
Damn you, William Martin Joel. If there's a hell below.