My Google-Fu isn’t quite bringing the quote up as quickly as I’d like, but I once read an interview with Jesse Malin in which he said something to the effect that there were ten Billy Joel songs he could truly get behind. (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.) I’d up the number by a few, but I think Jesse’s concept on this one is sound: aside from the small handful of folks I’ve known who hate the piano man outright, everybody’s got their handful of Billy moments on their iPod.
I got to thinking about this on my walk tonight, during which “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” beamed its way into my headphones direct from Hackensack-ack-ack-ack and I had a revelation: Billy Joel was the fresh-scrubbed face of punk rock that it was okay to play in front of mommy and daddy. Seriously, listen to his lyrics carefully sometime: the best of ‘em are smart, obnoxious, narcissistic and clever enough that were they to be given louder, more frantic backing, they’d have been right at home down at CBGB. I’m not really kidding: the next time you hear “My Life” on the radio, imagine it with New York Dolls-y backing and up the (already very present) sneer in the vocals by about ten percent. If it doesn’t work for you, well, to hell with ya. I never said you had to offer me a second chance.
Just as I was forming a mental picture of Billy’s Secret Mohawk and finding myself particularly glad that the old drunk hasn’t managed to turn himself into fly food during any of his many car crack-ups, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” invaded my cranial space and made me do an immediate 180: I now wanted to kick his smarmy ass halfway back down schmaltzy Broadway. This reminded me of the other half of the Truth About Billy Joel: that everyone also has their list of Billy moments they’d like to see bulk-erased. The moments of his music that just crawl right under your skin and won’t stop itching, no matter how hard you try to distract yourself from them.
Just like the most obnoxious punk rock does, actually. Unfortunately, it also assures any listener that whatever compilation they buy will probably be about one-third useless; really, is that all you get for your money?