One of my colleagues, knowing my affection for music, was telling me about a Billy Joel song called We Didn’t Start the Fire, which you can hear here, after a short ad. I was never a huge fan of the song. But she explained to me that the historical references in the piece made her want to look up the background behind those events. So, I have rethought the song and deem it OK, especially after I came across this teacher’s guide to it.
Actually, I rather like Billy Joel, even though it was never really cool to like Billy Joel. The only time I saw him live in New Paltz in 1974 (I think). Buzzy Linhart opened for him. Joel and the entourage got lost getting to New Paltz and was over two hours late. Billy was practically glued to his piano bench. The song I love most from that period was Captain Jack.
I got rather fond of much of his music, which seemed to dominate MTV in the early years.
Big Shot, which I always thought was self-referential
Allentown, with the industrial sounds
Pressure, with the specific reference to Channel 13, the PBS station in NYC. He tells the story about when the instrumentation all drops out, it was an accident, when he was playing with the knobs and feared he’d ruined the recording.
But probably my second-favorite song, after Lullaby, is Big Man on Mulberry Street, probably because of that fantasy piece on the TV show Moonlighting, a program I loved early on *(and then not so much…)
There was a recent piece in Salon that called Billy Joel a Misunderstood American Master, and I think he is right.
I’ll end this with BJ’s rendition of New York State of Mind, a great version from right after 9/11/2001.
BJ turns 61 on Sunday.