Meat Loaf never made it in L.A. Spin "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and an Angeleno will be flummoxed. Who’s Phil Rizzuto? Sure, decades later we’ve heard it, but "Bat Out Of Hell" was in no one’s collection, the record got no airplay. And Billy Joel got little more.
Sure, "Piano Man" was a hit. And "The Stranger" made headway, but on the left coast Billy Joel was not a superstar. Even to this day, he might be able to sell out Yankee Stadium, but in the City of Angels he’s lucky if he can sell out an arena.
When we get nostalgic for the seventies in LaLa Land, we think about Van Halen, we wax rhapsodic about the new wave club scene. The concept of a Billy Joel radio concert on KMET is laughable. But surfing the Web over the weekend I found just that, an FM broadcast of a Billy Joel concert at Nassau Coliseum back in 1977.
Over dinner, I’ll tell you how to find these things. Then again, if you don’t already know how, the information will be useless. You’ve got to search blogs, download via RapidShare or Megaupload, and then decompress the .rar file with an application you’ve downloaded from the Web. In an era where most people who might want to hear this show don’t even know where files download on their computer, this info might as well be etched in hieroglyphics. But if you’ve got a bit of savvy, the rewards are endless.
Not everything’s a hit. That Zeppelin show from Long Beach might be straight from the soundboard, but one listen was enough. But those Rolling Stones alternative takes were magical. And this Billy Joel concert is pristine.
They’ve even got the soundcheck. It’s an aural backstage pass.
And it takes a couple of numbers to get the sound right.
I thought Billy Joel was a joke until 1981, when he released "Songs In The Attic", a live reworking of his overlooked material from the seventies. I mean who wouldn’t hate a guy posing with an instrument he didn’t play on the cover of his album? I still don’t love "52nd Street", but "Summer, Highland Falls" brings me right back to my youth, working at a camp in the Catskills. And it’s not pure nostalgia, I can’t forget where I am now.
We are always what our situations hand us
Either sadness or euphoria
Ain’t that the truth. Maybe it’s because I hate the middle of the road. But that seems to be the story of my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I fall on my face reaching for the stars, it’s a small price to pay for that warm feeling inside when I triumph.
I was high in the mountains, listening to this concert on my iPod, and I could see the history of our business in relief.
Billy Joel could certainly play. You could hear all those piano lessons. And his voice was still high and clear. And the lyrics, Billy was saying something.
Billy didn’t make it the first time out. He failed with the Hassles, his deal with Artie Ripp didn’t deliver a hit album. He ended up in L.A., playing in a bar. And ended up with a song, the aforementioned "Piano Man". And trying to follow it up, executing upon the same formula, "The Entertainer" immediately ejected serious listeners from his fan base. An artist doesn’t repeat himself, he keeps exploring.
Slow down you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
Today’s artists are built in a day. They buy a Mac, fire up GarageBand and record a track, post it on MySpace, immediately e-mail you an MP3, insist you pay attention. Whereas it used to be much harder to make it. You had to practice, play endless gigs, fight for a chance to get a deal. Where it still might take you multiple albums to break through.
But today it’s as if anybody who buys a ticket can play for the Yankees. And you wonder why we’ve stopped watching?
The major labels say they purvey the official merchandise. But if they’re not selling kids wet behind the ears, they’re selling safe shit like "The Entertainer". And suddenly able to have a voice, outsiders insist you listen to them, now they can broadcast their desire to be famous, even though they should be home practicing.
In other words, Billy Joel is fuckingfantastic.
And that’s a surprise three decades on. He was a niche player back then. A journeyman. And his multiple marriages and car wrecks have made him a modern joke. But at least he’s smart enough to stop recording. Oh, he can still play, but he seems to have run out of things to say.
And he used to have plenty he wanted to tell us. Especially when he still hadn’t made it, even after his first hit, when no one seemed to care.
In other words, we’re no longer getting the best and the brightest. They’re going into tech. Where you can operate unfettered and make real money. Shit, you can’t get rich in music, you can’t get enough people to pay attention. It’s not efficient. And maybe it’s this lack of efficiency, the wasted effort, that will finally deliver music worth hearing in the future.
There are no shortcuts. You aren’t born being able to program in C++, nor can a three year old play the piano. And those thirteen or fourteen, even seventeen or eighteen, haven’t lived enough to have anything worth listening to. It’s the rough edges, the hard life, that makes your stories interesting. Billy Joel ran away from his record label and played in a piano bar to survive. Today’s kids quit the soccer team and cut a record on their computer and now they’re ready for world domination. Huh?
They say that these are not the best of times
But they’re the only times I’ve ever known
That’s the problem, we baby boomers lived through the sixties and seventies. And today’s generation, our brethren purveying pabulum, want us to forget this golden age. An alternative take of "Gimmie Shelter" came over my iPod and I got goosebumps. I remembered hearing it for the first time in my buddy’s bedroom and being transfixed. Hate to tell you, nothing Wilco’s ever done is close.
Get pissed off. But as good as Wilco might be, bands of that caliber never made it in years past. Wilco was Poco. A good band that had fans, but not superstars. I’m waiting for superstars to return.