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Some Days in the Life - The Ballad of Billy Joel

Posted 5/3/99

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Billy Joel's retired from performing, which is a fact that impacts my life not at all, but I'm going to comment. Why? Because it's what I do.

It's a good time for him to stop performing, since he's hit that point where his live performances only serve to remind you how good his live performances used to be. His voice is -- and I use the term affectionately -- shot. His skill on the piano is still there, but his fire isn't. It's like the old prostitute retiring -- not because she doesn't like her job or she minds having sex for money... but because "if I have to climb those stairs to the room one more time I think it's going to kill me." Billy's been up those stairs one too many times.

It's a joke to the youth of today, it seems. (God, I really am thirty-something, aren't I?) They don't understand why Billy Joel's been revered by the Baby Boomers and the generation immediately following (I'm in the latter -- I missed the Baby Boom by five years. Technically, in terms of 'ridiculous labels that mean nothing' I'm in the first generation of Generation X) for so long.

It's a fair question. Pop music was different in the seventies and eighties, really. On the one side, there was Madonna and Michael Jackson and Hall and Oates and the like. On the other, you had Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp and Billy Joel. The latter folks mostly tried to sing about the cult of the individual trying to get by. Counting Crows would probably be the modern spiritual equivalent to them. ("Raining in Baltimore" is a very Billy Joel song). So, it's not "River of Dreams" or "And So It Goes" we revere, it's "Captain Jack" and "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" and "Miami 2017." Even "Pressure" and "An Innocent Man." It's from the days when Billy Joel seemed to give voice to our insecurities, to the unfairness of life, and to the little things we noticed in life around us.

Sometime around 1989, Billy Joel released the last album with gasps of that kinship -- Storm Front. "Downeaster Alexa" is another powerful song. Following that... well, Billy Joel got wealthy and raised his children and sort of lost that connection. He's not really singing to today's youth and he's not really singing to the thirty and forty year olds any more. He was more reminding us of the songs we remembers, and how it felt to hear someone put the stuff inside us to music.

I only know two people in my generation who don't like Billy Joel. My former housemates -- Bill and Dominic. Bill doesn't like him for Billish reasons, which I can respect. Dominic thinks he's crap -- which is very Dominic, so I can respect that too. I'm sure there are lots of others who don't like him. But simply put, he was the voice of our youth, and we've grown up and so has he, and it's time to set him aside and let him walk away.

Besides, his Classical Music (which he drones on and on about) is total crap. It's pop music with a few flourishes thrown in for good measure. If that's his passion right now, better to leave him alone on Cape Cod for a while.