He is a man on a mission... and has been since he was 14
I'm on a mission; a mission that I’ve been on since I was 14.
Back then, I was taken to see Billy Joel in Wembley Arena, although I barely knew who he was. I knew he had a song called 'Uptown Girl' about a beautiful woman whom he had managed to talk into marriage, and that he played the piano. But I didn't really care, I was 14 and happy to be going anywhere.
Then the short and stocky pop star blew me, and the rest of the arena, away. Punching his piano keys like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Bruce Lee, he sang songs that sounded like you'd known them all your life. Two hours laterm as the house lights came on and the crowd sang back the Chorus of his signature tune 'Piano-Man', I knew I was hooked.
But it wasn't cool to be a Billy Joel fan returning from the gig to Dublin in the early '90s. My class mates were all into greasy-haired grunge rockers from Seattle and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers; wild men who sang of angst and sexual fantasies. My new fondness for Piano man was a source or ridicule among my peers. One pal told me no woman would ever go to bed with me if she saw that I owned any Billy Joel CDs.
Yet I wasn't for tuning. All through my teenage years, and into my 20s and 30s, I held my Billy Joel Fandom as a badge of honour. Of course, I listened to all sorts of other music and went to all sorts of gigs too. I tried thrash metal, I dabbled in hip-hop, and I danced to dance music into the early morning. Yet, I kept my love for the New York troubadour alive.
Despite my friend's concerns about my fondness for Joel's music, and it presenting a road block to a successful union with a woman, I defied predictions and managed to get married. I knew we were meant to be when, at the wedding, my wife secretly organised a Billy Joel impersonator to play as guests arrived. She was clearly a keeper.
And a few years after that, as I lay on the coach one night with my now pregnant wife watching a Joel Concert at New York’s Shea Stadium, the unborn boy in her tummy starting kicking like a maniac when one of Joel’s hyper piano playing bits came on. It seemed this was going to be a family affair!
But it appears that the world is slowly starting to catch up with me and cotton on to the fact that Billy Joel rocks. In the fullness of time, people have started to reprise his songs and critics have began adding him to the 'Legend' category. A headline earlier this month in LA Weekly even went so far as to say that "Billy Joel Is Every Bit the Equal of Bob Dylan."
Some of Joel's best known songs like 'Uptown Girl' or the dentist-drill sound of 'We Didn’t Start the Fire' aren't the best ambassadors for his considerable back catalogue. If you look slightly deeper, you'll find songs about everything from manic depression to the plight of commercial fisherman in America. He can also nail a love song like nobody else, with even Paul McCartney saying that the one song he wishes he had written was 'Just the Way You Are.'
He hasn't released an album of new songs since 1993's River of Dreams, and thus we haven't had to witness the diminishing returns that are so often the remit of aging rockers.
Plus, Joel is a real bad-ass rock n roll guy who's refreshing in a world of manicured and politically-correct rock stars. He's on his 4th marriage, having tried matrimony many times with a string of beauties. He's let himself go bald, and refuses plastic surgery. He recently said that the problem with America is that there are too many men with flat stomachs.
Despite his lack of new material in over 20 years, he still plays a sold-out show every month in Madison Square Garden, and he comes to London and Germany next week to play two more massive gigs.
So it seems that my mission to champion Joel is nearly over, and I no longer have to apologise for my fandom. But one thing still remains for me to do: I've seen Joel every time he's played in Ireland and will travel to Wembley Stadium next Saturday for what may well be his last gig on this side of the ocean.
The problem, however, is that despite the many times I've watched the man himself live, I've never been in the front row. Through a series of bad pre-gig decisions (staying too long in the bar) and poor ticket allocation, I've never been that close. When the tickets for Wembley went on sale, I was at my computer counting down the seconds with my credit card in hand. But I kept getting kicked out and ended up with seats quite far away from the stage again.
Joel began noticing that the front rows of his concerts were full of "corporate types" who clearly weren't into the gigs, so he demanded that the front seats be kept for serious fans. His road crew would distribute tickets to fans fitting the bill that they found in the audience. Given that the crew were mostly men, they would often hand out the majority of the tickets to women. Joel would look down and see a front row of smiling female faces looking back at him, which he admits made him play much better.
While I'm not a pretty girl, my wife (and concert companion) is, so I'm hoping Joel and his crew might look favourably on us both and get me some of that front-row action I've been dying to be there since I was 14.