The Worst Pop Singer Ever
Why, exactly, is Billy Joel so bad?
"Anthony's Song"—straight up contempt for lower-middle-class aspirations. B.J.'s down with the authentic stuff in life. This is the one with the line about the "heart attack-ack-ack" where he attack-ack-acks people who work two jobs so they can "trade in their Chevy for a Cadillac"-ack-ack, something B.J. would never do. No phony "movin' up" for him!
"Only the Good Die Young": Contempt for the Catholic religion. I know: It's spirited if anti-spiritual, but, still ... I've heard some Catholic girls opine on its most famous line ("Catholic girls start much too late"), and they ain't buyin' it. B.J. is no James Joyce.
"She's Always a Woman": First, has there ever been a more blatant—or blatantly inept—case of attempted artistic theft than "She's Always a Woman"? It's such a lame imitation of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman." (B.J.'s woman "hides like a child" where Dylan's "breaks just like a little girl.") B.J.'s woman also: is prone to "casual lies," "steals like a thief," "takes care of herself," and "carelessly cuts you and laughs ..." Poor B.J., recycling every misogynist cliché in the book.
At this point, reader, perhaps you have some questions for me about this tirade? Fair enough.
What right do you have to criticize such a popular artist? Aren't you just being elitist?
No, you don't understand: Billy's from my 'hood, mid-Long Island—Hicksville, to be precise (I'm from Bay Shore)—so I'm sensitive to his abuse of our common roots. Once I wrote something about the curse of being from the Guyland. In it I said something heartfelt: New Jersey may have a rep as a toxic dump for mob victims to fester in, but at least it brought forth Bruce Springsteen. The ultimate Guyland humiliation is to be repped to the world by Billy Joel. So I feel entitled to be cruel—may I continue?
OK. But isn't there anything you like?
Fair question. I've always liked "The Longest Time" and "An Innocent Man." May I get back to the contemptible crap?
OK, but focus.
Well, I really can't stand the "man of the people" stuff. Like "Allentown" and "The Downeaster 'Alexa.' " Yeah, he's a real working man, that B.J. Sure, other artists strike that pose, but somehow with B.J. the strain of his pretension is just too much to bear.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Billy Joel by Henny Ray Abrams/AFP/Getty Images.