Sunday, October 26, 2008

Billy Joel

As one tactic to distract herself from the stress of next week's presidential election, Betty has been exploring the ouevre of Billy Joel.

Recent purchases from the Used CD store (soon going the way of the CD itself) include "The Stranger" (1977) and "The Nylon Curtain" (1982). The first one contains the hits "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song), "Just the Way You Are", "Only the Good Die Young," and "She's Always a Woman". The latter is a concept album about baby boomers and opens with the amazingly audacious and awesome trio of "Allentown", "Laura", and "Pressure".

Betty thinks that Billy Joel is stunning in so many contradictory ways. He is a searching, careful, and even beautiful melodist, he always sings in tune, and he plays the piano like a dynamo. He even has vision: some of his songs have more "chapters" than a novel, more "eras" than the twentieth century. Have you ever heard "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"?

But there is also something about Billy Joel's songs that makes Betty start laughing and snort-laugh-repressing uncontrollably when she is by herself on the subway. Is it the theatrical flourishes and unplacable, perhaps completely made-up, accent with which Joel garnishes his singing? Is it the words which go from perfectly cutting ("then these careless fingers, they get caught in her vice") to absurd and hilarious ("and then start bleeding on my coffee table") in a matter of seconds? Is it the idea of the songs and albums having so many chapters that seems so over-the-top? How can someone so gifted also be so cringe-inducing? How can someone so awesomely talented and massively beloved get so little respect?

This topic will be explored in greater depth in the days and weeks to come.

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