Next week, the final concerts will be played at Shea Stadium by Billy Joel.
As we have written extensively here in Loge13, Shea is truly the rock and roll hall of fame.
In fact, there may be more rock history on our hallowed ground than even baseball history. And there's lots of baseball history.
Some were not pleased by the selection of Billy Joel as the last music act at Shea, for many reasons. Short of a Beatles or Ruttles reunion, there was bound to be controversy. I think Billy Joel could do a great job and is not above pulling some surprises (is Ringo in town next week?). I don't have tickets so I hope there's some movie plans in the works. And if anyone has leads on tickets, Kingman's sister is a big big fan!
Meanwhile, this little piece is running in the NYT this Sunday. Definitely a good read.
SOMEONE must sing a proper song of farewell
for Shea Stadium, the nice try of a coliseum in Queens, as its
dismantling draws near and a new ballpark rises just yards away. But
that someone must be able to convey emotions specific to the place,
emotions beyond the sadness of many lost Mets summers and the euphoria
of two World Series championships. There is so much more.
The romantic idealism and the yeah-right realism. The quickness to
mock and to take offense. The need to prove oneself better than any
Upper East Side twit and the guilt from having conceived such a hollow
ambition. The restlessness, angst and ache of the striver. The Long
Island of it all.
Of course the meeting of Shea muckety-mucks to discuss who should
sing this farewell probably lasted as long as it took to say: Billy Joel.
Those of you who detest Billy Joel, you self-assured music critics
and self-appointed cultural arbiters, you who have Reagan-era
flashbacks of being stuck in summertime traffic in a car with only AM
radio and hearing “Uptown Girl” or “Pressure” or “Tell Her About It” no
matter what button you push and traffic still isn’t moving — consider
When tickets went on sale several months ago for an absolutely
final Shea concert, starring Mr. Joel and taking place this Wednesday,
more than 50,000 were sold in 48 minutes; a sellout. Promoters were so,
um, touched by this response that they added a final, we mean it this
time, absolutely final show for Friday; those tickets sold out in 46
That’s a lot of Brendas and Eddies buying tickets. Not bad for a
59-year-old piano player who hasn’t released an album of new pop songs
in 15 years.
A few weeks ago, during a sound check just hours before another
sold-out Billy Joel concert at the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern
Connecticut, the drummer tested his drums, the saxophone player his
sax. Then a short, stocky man in a T-shirt and baseball cap limped up
the steps and gimped over to the piano, looking every bit the
road-battered stagehand making one last check for Mr. Joel.
He sat down, turned his cap around, propped his coffee mug on the
piano — oh, the boss ain’t gonna like that — and started fluttering
with the keys. A medley of opening strains to old Billy Joel hits
echoed through the empty arena, then segued into a little of Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto.” Satisfied, the man collected his mug and hobbled offstage to have a cigarette.
Two hours later, this same balding, gray-haired man — Himself, of
course — sat before the same piano, in a dark blazer and blue jeans but
still looking just as short and stocky. As 10,000 people rose to their
feet, a not so angry, not so young, but energetic as hell Billy Joel
ripped into the first of two dozen songs, most of them written before
the births of the women worshiping him from the front rows.
And here’s the thing. He gets it. “I’m just this shlubby guy who plays the piano,” he says later.
He knows that save for those large, please-don’t-hurt-me eyes, he
looks nothing like the bushy-haired young man communing with a white
mask on the cover of “The Stranger,” the album that launched him into
the stratosphere, now being released in a 30th-anniversary deluxe
package. (What happened to the 25th anniversary?) Nothing like the
baby-faced entertainer asserting in old video loops playing in the
casino gift shop that he didn’t start the fire — a fire that,
post-9/11, seems almost innocent.
While Bruce Springsteen
has stalled the aging process through blessed genes or some Faustian
bargain, Mr. Joel looks like every heartbreak, bad review, car crash
and attendant tabloid dig has exacted a physical toll, so much so that
if those adoring young women were to encounter him at the mall, he
says, “they wouldn’t look twice at me.”
But he clearly understands this; he even seizes upon it to mock the
myth of the ageless, unapproachable rock star. “I’m from Long Island;
I’m not going to delude myself,” he says. “I know what I look like. And
I want them to know that I know how absurd all this is.”
He lets them know by often announcing the release dates — “This
next song came out in 1977” — as if to suggest both the song’s
endurance and a disbelief that he still gets paid to sing it. And he
lets them know by poking fun at himself. During this particular Mohegan
Sun concert, he recalled a tabloid photograph many years ago of him on
the beach, reaching up to hold hands with the tall model Elle Macpherson.
“I looked like Bubbles the Chimp,” he told the audience.
One could argue that Mr. Joel can afford to be so self-deprecating. According to the Recording Industry Association of America he is ranked sixth among the top-selling artists of all time, behind the Beatles and Elvis Presley but ahead of Elton John and Barbra Streisand.
He has the financial wherewithal to surprise his wife, the cookbook
author and television correspondent Katie Lee Joel, with the darnedest
thinking-of-you gift: a house in the Hamptons worth roughly $16 million
(not to be confused with other multimillion-dollar properties he owns,
including an estate in Oyster Bay).
Sitting in another of his homes, this one facing his boat basin in
Sag Harbor and large enough so that his collection of vintage
motorcycles takes up little space, Mr. Joel says he knows what I am
thinking, since I too am from the lower-middle-class middle of Long
Island, having grown up 15 miles from Hicksville, his hometown. “I
know: rich bastard,” he says. “I used to feel awkward about it, but I
shrugged it off. It’s all luck and sweat. But I earned it — though I
can’t justify the amounts.”
Mr. Joel often expresses an opinion or emotion, then almost
immediately holds that opinion or emotion up for analysis, as though
running it through some internal truth check. He expresses pride in his
work but doesn’t want to brag. He makes crazy money but isn’t saying
he’s worth it. He mocks himself before someone else gets the chance.
If you’re tired of hearing “Just the Way You Are,” well, he’s tired
of playing it. (“It’s a wedding song,” he says. “I also feel
hypocritical. I divorced the woman I wrote it for.”) If you wince when
you hear “Honesty,” well, so does he, on the inside. (“You hypocrite,”
he says he thinks to himself. “Since when are you Mr. Sincerity?”)
And if he doesn’t sing “Uptown Girl,” he mimics what you’re
thinking with a slight rise in his voice: “He’s probably mad at
Christie.” In fact it has nothing to do with Christie Brinkley, his
second ex-wife, but with the lost ability to hit the very high notes
He may be one of the most successful performers in the world, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
an extraordinarily gifted musician who can move from rock to ballad to
soulful doo-wop, who can capture with a few spare words the dreams and
disappointments of clerks and secretaries rocking their lives away on
the Long Island Rail Road.
But he acts as though he still worries what the guys standing
outside some 7-Eleven in Hicksville might say, because the worst that
they can say is:
He forgot where he came from. He’s full of it. A fake.
Mr. Joel is occasionally dismissed as inauthentic, as more of a Tin
Pan Alley jinglemeister than a rock musician. While he says the
question of authenticity is contrived, he defends himself by
resurrecting a couple of pet conspiracy theories. First, he plays
piano, suspect instrument of the rich, rather than guitar, revered
instrument of the poor. And second, he comes from Long Island — and
really, the thought goes, what hard-knocks artistry could possibly
emerge from the land of suburban tracts?
The truth is, if rock-star authenticity means having endured pain
and tribulation, self-created and otherwise, then Billy Joel sits in
the V.I.P. room.
His Jewish grandparents fled Europe to evade the Nazis, leaving
behind a successful business. He was 8 when his parents split up and
his father returned to Europe. His mother worked as a bookkeeper,
paying a few bucks a week for her gifted son’s piano lessons. He took
up boxing to answer the bullies who teased him about playing the piano;
he’ll gladly show you the unevenness of his damaged nose. He didn’t
graduate from high school because he was already a working musician,
helping his mother pay bills by performing in bars and clubs from
Mineola to Montauk.
Along the way he identified and teased out certain themes about
Long Island, his world. He cites a few as he sits in his Sag Harbor
home, sipping coffee: how the city that our parents escaped became the
first place we wanted to go; how we Long Islanders have an inherent
inferiority complex; how we use ridicule and sarcasm to show affection.
“Everything was testing, testing, testing,” he says. “Testing your
manhood, testing your humor — really, testing your friendship.”
He attempted suicide when he was 21 and spent three weeks in a Long
Island hospital’s psychiatric unit, where he says his time with the
profoundly troubled gave him perspective. “I’d go up to the nurse’s
window and say, ‘Hey, I’m O.K., but these other people are really
crazy,’ ” he recalls. “They’d just hand me my Thorazine.”
He made it big, really big, then lost money and his trust in some
close advisers. He made back his money and more, smashed up cars and
motorcycles, and married for a third time, in 2004, to Katie Lee, a
woman more than 30 years his junior. A few months later he went into
“I realized I was still drinking too much,” he says. “And I wanted to fix it.”
All this has given deeper resonance to his lyrics, many of them
written during his precocious youth. When asked which of his songs make
him think, Ah, at least I got that one right, he immediately cites two:
“Vienna” (1978), a celebration of a life’s worth at every age, and
“Summer, Highland Falls” (1976), a meditation on emotional extremes.
His back and forth between sadness and euphoria may have led to
effective songwriting over the years, he says, but he now strives
toward the more comfortable middle ground of contentment.
There was a time when he would read a bad review aloud onstage,
fulminate and dramatically rip up the article to the cheers of an
audience that “most of the time didn’t know what I was talking about,”
he says. Now a bad review doesn’t ruin his life. “I think that was a
Long Island thing,” he says. “Someone would take a swipe, and I felt
compelled to swing back.”
There was a time when he resented his signature song, “Piano Man,”
when he simply refused to sing about its Paul, the real-estate
novelist, and Davy, forever in the Navy. Now he accepts his role as
patron saint of all those who provide wallpaper music in open
obscurity, like the slumped man playing for the early-bird crowd at a
Sag Harbor restaurant just around the corner.
“I made peace with it,” he says — so much so that the song now often closes his concerts.
None of this should suggest that Mr. Joel has achieved a constant
state of inner peace. “When I’m low, I’m very low, and when I’m
euphoric, I’m very euphoric,” he says. “Which is why I seek
contentment. And I wish I was less discontent.”
These days Mr. Joel works on original instrumental compositions,
preferring what he calls a more abstract form of expression. Still, he
continues to perform in concert, singing songs he has sung 1,000 times,
Because he can. Because it’s the greatest job in the world. And, he says, “Because people still want to see me do this.”
They do, because they get it too. The Brendas and Eddies of
yesterday, who long ago “bought a couple of paintings from Sears,” and
the Brendas and Eddies of today, buying their wall decorations at
Target. Those who moved out and wish they hadn’t; those who didn’t move
out and wish they had. Those who didn’t start the fire but lived
A few nights from now they will file into a doomed stadium that
will be remembered as much for its tragicomedies as for its triumphs.
They will fill those uncomfortable seats. And when a short, stocky,
bald man appears onstage, they will roar in recognition.