Writing in Slate Ron Rosenbaum has a very funny, but very mean, polemic against…Billy Joel. What the aging pop star did to deserve this I don’t know, but for anyone who grew up in the eighties it’s worth a look:
But let’s go through the “greatest hits” chronologically and see how this “contempt thesis” works out.
First let’s take “Piano Man.” You can hear Joel’s contempt, both for the losers at the bar he’s left behind in his stellar schlock stardom and for the “entertainer-loser” (the proto-B.J.) who plays for them. Even the self-contempt he imputes to the “piano man” rings false.
“Captain Jack”: Loser dresses up in poseur clothes and masturbates and shoots up heroin and is an all-around phony in the eyes of the songwriter who is so, so superior to him.
“The Entertainer”: Entertainers are phonies! Except exquisitely self-aware entertainers like B.J., who let you in on this secret.
(Compare The Band’s beautiful, subtle tribute to Dylan’s entertainer insecurities in “Stage Fright.” I love the line in that song, “he got caught in the spotlight”: such a haunting image of a shy entertainer.)
“Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” Hollywood is phony! Who knew? God, doesn’t B.J. ever get tired of showing us how phony the phonies of this phony world are? Could someone let B.J. know he’s phoning it in with all this phoniness at this point? Isn’t there something, well, a bit phony about his hysteria over phoniness?
Goodness! I’ve always liked Billy Joel. When I got my very first CD player some of the first things I bought were a bunch of his albums. Never actually thought to hard about the lyrics…