Monday, October 31, 2011

40 Songs, 40 Days (2011 Edition), Day Twenty Seven: A Hard Day's Night by Billy Joel

This is going to take a while.  You've been warned.

This is a live performance taken from the the old VH1 series Storytellers. You remember Storytellers, don't you? From when VH1, like its brother station MTV actually was interested in showing music-related programming? What the show did was take a big name musician, place him or her in VH1's tiny studio on Eleventh Street, invite a slew of fans to come in, and let them perform for an hour, telling the stories behind their hits. I loved Storytellers; at their best, they serve to illuminate the artist in ways I never considered before. But sometimes that isn't for the best.

What's strange about the Billy Joel Storytellers is how little of Billy Joel's songs are in that episode. He spends a lot of time talking about all the songs that influenced him, what it was like growing up to be Billy Joel, why his favorite songs worked for him....pretty much anything but why he wrote the songs he was famous for. When he does get to his own songs, he tends to only play a small snippet and return to stuff like, 'hey, weren't the Beatles great?'

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. After all, I have a very complex relationship with Mr. Joel. Bouyed by discovering Piano Man in Junior High and The Stranger in High School (hell, one of my teacher actually bought me a vinyl copy of this one to encourage my interest in music), he was my favorite artist through much of my formative years. My first live concert was seeing him at Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve in support of The Nylon Curtain...

And then An Innocent Man happened, and my feelings changed...I speculated at the time that Joel's then-recent marriage to Christie Brinkley had somehow sanded off the edges of Joel's 'angry man with a piano' sound I admired. But to be fair, if I listened more closely to that album's 'Christie Lee,' I should have realized what was happening is I was discovering something about him I didn't care for...something that pretty much is at the core of all his music.

Namely, that Billy Joel's music boils down to one statement. It's Not My Fault.

Think about it. Every one of his songs seems to be about how he doesn't get what he wants, and how dare the world do that? It's not his fault that Virginia won't sleep with him; it's her Catholic upbringing. He's not like the denizens of that piano bar in L.A. he's earning nickels and dimes playing for; even they recognize he doesn't belong here. He's not responsible for his romance breaking up; it's the fault of the woman he's in love with and her mercurial, childish ways. Billy Joel wants the world to return to the time when he was the 'king of the Village Green,' his teen years when he was still chewing sin-sin and getting gals were easy. And while the world continues to evolve, he refuses to accept any part of it--after all, he didn't start the was there when he got there.

I haven't bought a Billy Joel record since An Innocent Man, but I have kept up with his career, and it's almost sad seeing him become more and more the kind of person he used to sneer at in those early songs. And in the context of him as a person struggling with how popular music has changed (this episode was recorded to promote Stormfront, Joel's last commercially successful album), it doesn't surprise me that he spent the lion's share of his time reminiscing and playing the songs he wished he wrote when he was a kid.

I know, I know. I haven't said much about his interpretation of this early Beatles classic. It's a meticulous recreation, adding nothing of Joel's....but then, maybe that's the point. Maybe what's being added is Joel's envy.

Here's Joel performing this song during the sad-in-more-ways-than-one concert at Shea Stadium...

No comments:

Post a Comment