…in his prime, was he ever cool?” someone recently asked me.
“Billy Joel? Not cool?” I said/screamed, spitting out my (hypothetical) coffee.
I was shocked — shocked to find there were Billy Joel-haters here. So I’m going to let you guys all in on a little-known secret. Billy Joel is, in fact, perennially cool.
Okay, I admit I may be a little biased. The first show I ever saw was Billy Joel. In 6th grade I watched this man play the piano with his forehead and I was immediately hooked. I still remember when he played Stiletto. It was the first time I’d ever heard it, and I cannot explain to you what that bluesy, eighth-note piano hook did to me. Nothing had ever sounded so cool to me before. And maybe not since, either.
It didn’t take long before I started teaching myself how to play the piano — which then led to me teaching my cousin how to play the piano. We’d sit at this old keyboard I had and try to figure out how Billy Joel ever managed to play Root Beer Rag, let alone write it.
Seriously, check it out — how the fuck does he do that?
Not only is he a musical virtuoso, but he’s written some of the greatest pop songs of all time, ranging from the badassery of You May Be Right (how is this not the epitome of cool?) to the light-hearted good times of Uptown Girl — a song that could so easily become corny and trite if it weren’t for the excellent melody lines that Billy Joel brings to the table.
(That said, if you want to watch the same concept behind the Uptown Girl music video done better, check out Springsteen’s I’m on Fire. If there’s one lesson I’d like to impart on my esteemed reader, it’s that noir wins out every time.)
If that’s not enough, Billy had an NYT interview in 2013 entitled “Not Working and Not Giving Up Drinking” (yes, folks, that’s a real title that exists). Check out this line:
If that’s not rock & roll, I don’t know what is.
Okay, jokes aside, here’s the real reason why Billy Joel is cooler than you: he’s spent his life in pursuit of greatness, got it, and made it look easy.
There’s something about him that, when you see him play, it looks effortless — the way he can sound like anyone when he’s singing (he’s pretty well-known for his terrific impressions) or play virtually anything on his piano no matter how difficult, or how he’s managed to achieve pop perfection over and over again seemingly without breaking a sweat.
I know enough about his biography to know that none of it was as easy as it looks. But he’s like some mythic Renaissance legend: you don’t see the brushstrokes.
Plus, Only The Good Die Young will forever be one of the greatest songs of all time.