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Billy G.I. Joel

Billy Joel’s oeuvre seems more like a collection of songs from a musical about rock music than the career-long output of an actual rock artist. Or maybe like the earnest attempts by a squarish prodigy named Billy Joel to imitate … Read More

By / December 11, 2007

Billy Joel’s oeuvre seems more like a collection of songs from a musical about rock music than the career-long output of an actual rock artist. Or maybe like the earnest attempts by a squarish prodigy named Billy Joel to imitate a rock singer named Billy Joel. He’s a session man who, through some freak of DNA, has a talent for writing hooks. None of which has ever bothered me. In fact, his studied recreations of the Beatles, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen make for fine listening. However, excepting their ability to embarrass, one could safely call his lyrics dead weight.

From “Piano Man”: Now Paul is a real estate novelist Who never had time for a wife And he’s talkin to Davy who’s still in the navy And probably will be for life That’s not a lyric; it’s a census. And an unremarkable one, at that. A real estate agent who writes and a career military man hardly rise to the level of barstool tragedy. The funny thing is, after about 25 years of trying to prove he’s a rock singer he found, in retirement, something like rock and roll authenticity. As a wine-soaked dumpling of a man with a penchant for wrapping his Mercedes around trees in the Hamptons, he was as close to Keith Moon as he was ever going to get. He even drank after rehab and married a pretty young thing. So, why are we now subjected to a Joel-penned holiday single entitled “Christmas in Fallujah” with lyrics like these?

It's evening in the desert I'm tired and I'm cold But I am just a soldier I do what I am told We came with the crusaders To save the holy land It's Christmas in Fallujah And no one gives a damn The answer comes in the next verse: And I just got your letter And this is what I read You said I'm fading from your memory So I'm just as good as dead Billy Joel claims he received letters from fans of his fighting in Iraq. Soldiers disgusted with the war reached out to him and told of their pain. I believe him and I believe them, but perhaps some Care packages and a USO tour would have been more appropriate. “This song is totally, completely, historically, inaccurate,” Joel said. Except he was talking about his “Ballad of Billy The Kid” from 1973. You’d think he owed his soldier fans a little more, but there isn’t a single concept about the war and the history of the region that’s not conflated beyond meaning in his grab-bag of placard slogans. We came with the crusaders To save the holy land So this is an Israel thing. We are the armies of the empire We are the legionnaires of Rome And an imperial thing. We came to bring these people freedom We came to fight the infidel And a . . .wait, what? They say Osama's in the mountains Deep in a cave near Pakistan But there's a sea of blood in Baghdad A sea of oil in the sand Actually, that’s a fair summation of the state of things before the coalition invaded Baghdad. Now, we can say that Saddam is no longer slaughtering his citizenry and depositing them in mass graves and that the sea of oil is being tapped by Iraqis for Iraqis. And I, for one, am not convinced that Osama is in a cave anywhere anymore. For this song Joel managed to find a young imitation rock singer—a Colin Farrel look-alike with a moniker constructed out of the names of two rock icons. One Cass Dillon has the unfortunate task of being Billy Joel’s mouthpiece for this wrongheaded endeavor. When Joel himself was about Dillon’s age he released his first album “Cold Spring Harbor.” The second song on the record is a lovely faux McCartney number called “You Can Make Me Free.” Looking around pop music today, it’s depressing to note that a watered-down realist isolationism (think Neil Young’s "Living With The War") has overtaken the supposed sound of revolution. Amazingly, Billy Joel never had to worry about being a real rock and roller. It turns out he just had to wait until rock and roll slowed down to his pace.

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