Billy Joel’s ‘maligned’ career and more — Speaking Millennial podcast
By Jay Black
Antony Johnston is a fantastic writer (Atomic Blonde) and podcaster (Unjustly Maligned) and he spent almost an hour with Bill, Jessica and me talking about all kinds of things.
But who cares about any of that? The man loves Billy Joel as much as I do and that’s what we should be talking about!
First, a little background: Antony Johnston is the host of The Incomparable Network’s “Unjustly Maligned,” which is a podcast that looks at pop culture that has, for whatever reason, gained an unearned reputation for being bad. Every week, he and a guest choose one item — an album, a movie, or, more recently, something like the planet(?) Pluto — and discuss why it’s been so unjustly maligned.
During the course of our interview with Antony, he revealed that the genesis of “Unjustly Maligned” was a conversation he had about Billy Joel’s “The River of Dreams” album. He and a friend were talking about how no one seemed to like the album, but that it was actually pretty good, and, well, it’s not easy to connect the rest of the dots.
This made my head spin (literally: my neck looks a bad Celtic knot tattoo on the lower back of a woman in front of you on the Wildwood boardwalk). Because I love “The River of Dreams” and more than that I love Billy Joel, who I feel has had a whole career that’s been unjustly maligned.
Antony disagreed with me on that point, saying that someone who has sold (conservatively) 200 bajillion albums and who can sell out Madison Square Garden whenever he has a free weekend can’t really be said to have a maligned career. And, while I agree with Antony on that point — people love Billy Joel, even when he crashes his car into your house — I don’t think he’s ever gotten the critical respect he deserves.
Billy Joel writes music that’s beautiful and catchy and unfortunately, critics don’t like that. It’s the same reason that the most entertaining movies of the year are not usually the ones that win Best Picture at the Academy Awards: for a lot of critics, something that’s Important with a capital “I” also has to be Difficult with a capital “Duh.” To put it another way, if vegetables tasted like chocolate cake, food writers would complain about “too many carrots” being served at every meal instead of marveling at a universe where something that tastes so good can also be so good for you.
Because that’s what Billy Joel manages to do with his music. Billy Joel has spoken openly about his struggles with depression and if you look closely, many of his songs are a nuanced exploration of it. Like few other pieces of pop culture — “Hamlet,” “BoJack Horseman” and no, I’m not kidding! — Billy Joel’s music manages to talk about depression in an honest and (gasp!) entertaining way.
Any listener of the podcast knows that I buy my Wellbutrin by the bale, so when I hear a song like “Blonde over Blue” from “River of Dreams” or “Summer, Highland Falls” from “Turnstiles” or “Tomorrow is Today” from “Cold Spring Harbor” (although you’ll want to listen to the WMMR concert version of the song from the “Piano Man: Legacy Edition” album), I hear someone who is speaking to me, about me and for me. I hear a nuanced and human voice about a terrible and heartbreaking subject who just happens to wrap all that in a beautiful, melodic package.
So, if you’re someone who thinks Billy Joel writes good music for your grandparents to listen to when they’re on the elevator, slap yourself twice, crack open your iPhone and give his stuff another listen. And if you’re a critic for Rolling Stone, maybe go pitch your boss about writing that re-evaluation of Billy Joel that we all know is coming.
Oh, but before you do that? Listen to this week’s podcast, where you can hear Antony Johnston talk about Billy Joel and much, much more! Seriously, this guy is tremendously insightful and engaging and, for the ladies, has a melodic English accent.
I mean, the guy wrote the comic book that the hit movie “Atomic Blonde” was based on. And then Bill asked him how much he made from that for his FIRST question. What are you waiting for? Download this podcast and get listening!
Oh, and as always, make sure you go to iTunes and rate and review us. I’ll say that again: Rate and Review us. One more time, but this time you say it with me: RATE AND REVIEW US! It’s how we get known to more people and very soon, we’ll be reading all of our reviews on the air, so even if you don’t like us, now’s your chance to be heard!
As always, thanks for listening!
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