Flashback Friday Playlist: How Billy Joel's "Piano Man" Ruined My Life!


"Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?." - Nick Hornby in "High Fidelity".

Up until the time a young woman I was madly in love with called me a "music snob", I honestly had no idea that not everyone felt the same way about music that I did.  It had yet to dawn on me that most folks are more than happy to simply take what the radio or TV gives them and that the idea of seeking out new music on their own is as foreign a concept as string theory (not guitar strings, by the way).



While I loved her with all my heart, I must admit that it felt damn good chucking my girlfriend's Billy Joel "Piano Man" cassette out the window of a moving car.  All these years later, I can still hear the sound it made as it hit the road behind us and the way she shifted angrily the entire trip back into town.  I can also remember the physical pain of enduring Billy Joel at his most pandering and needing to stab Miles' "Bitches Brew" into the tape slot of her MG convertible just to wash the bad taste out of my ears.



See, as much as I love music, I just have absolutely no patience for bad music.  What's funny, though, is how the definition of good and bad music can vary wildly from person to person.

For example, I love Wax Trax! era industrial acts like Front 242, Pailhead and Revolting Cocks (actually wore one of their shirts to church once, oops!), but I can also see where some folks are coming from when they take their first listen to Ministry's groundbreaking album Twitch and immediately recoil in horror at what they're hearing.  My own first impression of the album was that I had been sold a defective copy, but I also couldn't stop listening and, before long, I came to love everything about it.



So when I moved to Chicago and happened to bump into Ministry's Al Jourgenson at a local recording studio, I took the opportunity to thank Al for making the album and to trumpet the album's brilliance, to which Jourgenson nonchalantly responded, and I quote, "Pffffftt."  I then watched as he folded a dead mouse into a gyros sandwich that a band mate had left unattended.

Years later, living in L.A., I had the good fortune of witnessing Sting and Annie Lennox sing karaoke at a Christmas party thrown by a major label exec.  Never mind that this particular exec was a tin-eared sociopath who had singlehandedly killed off one of my favorite record labels in his meteoric climb to the top, once I saw that Annie was there, all I could do was hope that I could strike up a conversation to tell her how much I loved her work.

And then it happened.  I found myself standing next to her as we both listened to a sommelier tell us more than we ever needed to know about the night's extensive wine choices, noticed her stifle a yawn, and saw my opportunity.



After a brief introduction, I told her how much I enjoyed her work on one of my favorite albums of all time and how I don't go a week without blasting the album from start to finish, she responded by saying, and I quote, "Really?!"

She then went on to explain how painful and drama-filled the sessions had been, how the band had been on the verge of breaking up out of sheer poverty, and how once the album was done, she and Dave Stewart immediately began wood shedding some new songs that would take them in a completely opposite musical direction and make them household names.  In other words, if the album of which I spoke (The Tourists' Luminous Basement) had been a success, as it should have been, there would have been no Eurythmics.



But is that a good thing?  I mean, the only real difference between the Eurythmics and the Tourists is that one band got some nice promotion and the other did not.  Many would argue that the Eurythmics were the better act and name any number of smash hit songs to prove this, but when has mass popularity ever been a signifier of superior quality?   Does that make the latest "Spider Man" reboot a better movie than "Station Agent", or "Exit Through The Gift Shop", or the above-quoted "High Fidelity"?


(song credit: Richard Hawley "Tonight The Streets Are Ours")


Of course, the reason I'm writing this in the first place is because there's no one here at the moment to have this discussion with so I have to type it out in hopes that some kindred spirit will read it someday and go "Yes!"  But, really, what's the pay-off?  Let's face it, I will never know that you or anyone else even read this and the rest of my days will be spent in a self-imposed cocoon of loneliness with nobody to share such thoughts with, just me and the music I hold dear.

Part of me wants to go back in time to that moment when the idea of chucking my girlfriend's Billy Joel tape first crosses my mind.  Instead of giving such a shit about Billy fucking Joel, this time I'd like to just look over at my beautiful girlfriend and cherish the fact that she wants to share her time, her life, her body with me.

Perhaps if I'd done so, "Piano Man" would be a song that reminds me of a completely different moment in my life and I wouldn't be sitting in a room surrounded by albums the world will never forget because they never knew they existed in the first place.

Maybe, just maybe, that's why most folks who are fortunate enough to have a life filled with husbands, wives, kids, and cherished friends are just fine with what they hear on the radio.

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