Today I went to Wal-Mart so that I could finally spend that $10 gift card the nurses on my unit got me for Christmas. The Essential Billy Joel was on sale for $15, so I bought it. After a very, very, very long internal struggle.
You see, I don't know what to make of Billy Joel. I never get the urge to listen to him. I never think, "You know, I'd very much like to listen to 'Movin' Out' right now, but I simply don't have the necessary CD. Pity." On the other hand, I might know the words to every Billy Joel song that has gotten any play on the radio in my lifetime outside of "We Didn't Start the Fire," so I'm obviously not indifferent to his music. I like it enough to remember it, but I've never listed Billy Joel among my favorites. He's in Music Limbo.
Or at least he was. Lately I've discovered that I can pick up 103.5, an oldies station from Cincinnati on my way to work, and for about a two week stretch, I could count on hearing Billy Joel at least once on my way to or from work. On a couple occasions I heard him on the way to and from both. For reasons that are utterly unclear to me, two out of three times the song they played was "Only the Good Die Young". This doesn't make sense to me because I imagine oldies radio's target audience is very old and thus wouldn't react well to a song that mocks the Catholic Church and by extension organized religion in general. But I digress. Billy Joel comes on the radio, and I instantly begin singing along and get in a better mood. I even began joking with myself that the station had better not deny me my Billy Joel fix if it looked like I was getting close without hearing one. I make jokes to myself while I drive quite frequently, by the way, and I might add that I find myself most hilarious.
But then, one day, I heard the screen door slam, and a big yellow taxi took away the old man. And don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Or, more directly, I haven't heard a Billy Joel song in over a week, and Eddie Freaking Money seems to be following me everywhere I go. And now, I've got Billy Joel stuck in my head at least once a day. And if I hear "Baby Hold On" one more time, I'm going to be curt and snippy with a patient. Yes, both curt AND snippy. No foolin.
So now I have a Billy Joel CD, and I really don't know what to think of myself. I've heard people a generation ahead of me talk about how much of a hack Billy Joel is, but I don't see it. Michael Berube, for example, named him in his "What artist should've been a one-hit wonder?" game. (For those not clicking through, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" was the hit Joel should've kept, and the correct answer to that question remains Alanis Morrisette and "Uninvited". Thank you.) I've also heard people of my generation compare him to Elton John, but I don't see that either. Elton John has nothing like "You May Be Right" and Billy Joel never comes close to "Rocketman".
I never expected to hear Joel on an oldies radio station, but it doesn't seem like he belongs on a classic rock station either, and he appears just off of the playlist of the "80s, 90s, Now!" format. I can't seem to make fun of him, but I can't find much praise for him. I feel like I should be indifferent to him, but I'm not. He strikes me as a guy who just wrote some catchy, inoffensive pop songs, but he seems to instill wrath or love in too many people for that to be an accurate depiction.
So really, what is it that makes Billy Joel so polarizing? I can see getting into an argument that the endless airtime reserved for "My Life" and "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" would be better off given to "The Entertainer" and "She's Always a Woman", two songs that I've inexplicably never heard on the radio in my life, but at the end of the day, he remains an artist who has had some catchy hits, and a regular share of forgettable songs, which ranks him well below Tom Petty or Elton John but significantly above, say, Avril Lavigne, who Yahoo!'s front page described as a 'punk princess', implementing a phraseology that irked and troubled me enough that I used Google instead. That oughta show them. I think I should end this post now.