Billy Joel Still Has A Bit Of The Angry Young Man Left In Him

Last week, the New Zealand newspaper the Sunday Star-Times ran an interview with Long Island songsmith Billy Joel that had a little bit of criticism mixed in with its boilerplate profile-quotes. Writer Grant Smithies said that while much of the Piano Man’s ’80s and ’90s output was “sentimental rubbish,” he had an affection for Joel’s earlier material and pugilistic persona an opinion that sounds familiar to this writer. (Although she would like to posit that “A Matter Of Trust” still owns.) But Joel wanted to know why, exactly, Smithies hadn’t shared these sentiments with him during the interview, since it would have at the very least opened up the floor for some lively quotes. After the jump, Joel asks why, exactly, Smithies had to be a big shot, and why he didn’t elect to open up his mouth while the two of them were on the phone:

“I had no idea when you interviewed me that you considered much of my later work to be `sentimental rubbish’, or that you thought songs like “Uptown Girl” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” were `abominations’. And your back-slapping, buddy-buddy style of conversation betrayed no indication that you actually compared talking with me to `sleeping with an inflatable girlfriend’,” Joel fumed.

“You didn’t bring any of this up during the interview, and I certainly would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss those kinds of things, person to person. I believe that it’s always best to be upfront with someone when you have strong opinions about their work or their image, simply as a gesture of respect, or if the respect isn’t there, then purely as professionalism. Had I known you felt this way, I still would have done the bloody interview, but your comments reveal you to be already critically predisposed and somewhat insincere. You are still welcome to attend our concert in Auckland, but just as a safety precaution, please wear a hockey mask.”

Smithies, as it turns out, will not be attending the Auckland show. But Joel’s objections do raise a good point about the line between “critic” and “profiler” being blurred, and what a writer should do when faced with covering a subject who may not be all that appealing. Do you ask, head-on, “hey, so what were you thinking when you wrote ‘River Of Dreams,’ because that shit is straight-up garbage?” Or do you keep your mouth shut and save your opinions for print? Or do you just keep your mouth totally shut in your “professional” capacity, and spill your guts on a friends-only Livejournal? While the first option obviously seems more straight-up–the “stabbing a subject in the face” option, as opposed to putting the knife in one’s back–it does open the door for things like being hung up on. Or punched out.

Billy Joel’s fuming: We’ve gone and started a fire [Sunday Star-Times via Gawker]

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  • Ned Raggett

    Had I known you felt this way, I still would have done the bloody interview

    What, is he turning into Madonna or something?

  • Rob Murphy

    Maura, are you asking us how “upfront” or “face-stabby” you should be in your upcoming interviews with Nicole Scherzinger and Katy Perry?

  • Bob Loblaw

    Either do your job or don’t, you insufferable hack. No one cares that you consider yourself above it.

    I can only assume Seacrest isn’t actually interested in what Karina Smirnoff thinks about Lorenzo Lamas’s daughter, but at least he doesn’t roll his eyes when she tells him. Earn your paycheck, then go home and buy something with it.

  • GhostOfDuane

    @Ned Raggett: I feel he’s consumed the requisite amount of irish whiskey over the years to be eligible to use expressions like ‘bloody,’ ‘wanker,’ and ‘bloody wanker poofter.’

  • Mike P.

    The only time I ever wrote a letter to a magazine was around ’95 or so, to complain about Musician Magazine‘s cover story on Hootie and the Blowfish. The introduction was fairly blunt in discussing the band’s deficiencies, but once the Q-and-A got underway, everything was all buddy-buddy. My letter didn’t get published, but the writer of the piece was nice enough to write back to me explaining his P.O.V. He wanted to draw the band into a conversation about how they’re received by critics etc., not goad them into a showdown by saying snarky things to their faces.

    Of course, this Joel story is a whole other issue, since he’s got such a big persecution complex re: critics. It winds up being a a big deal in all his press, because he won’t shut up about it.

    And why did I write that letter to Musician? It was my favorite music magazine back then, and it was going in a direction I didn’t like. My letter was horribly smug and self-impressed — well I was a college freshman. I’m relieved it didn’t get published.

  • Al Shipley

    As much as I hate it when musicians come off thin-skinned about criticism, I think Joel has a point; it’s a little two-faced to lob softballs in an interview and then bring out the knives when it’s time to write the feature. I would say, if you want be nice and overlook an artist’s less material at both points, or approach the whole thing as an attack piece, either way is fine if you do it right. This guy just tried to have his cake and eat it, too, and Joel had a right to call him out on it. I’ve never really interviewed anyone where I felt obligated to talk down on their work in the article, but if I ever did, I’d like to think I’d have the balls to bring up some of my criticisms in the article. I mean, you can always get the basic chat out of the way first and then ask the tough questions, so that you have some quotes you can still use in case they get offended and walk out/hang up.

  • weezy f lazy

    ^^^^ Shipley OTM.

    really it’s the intro where the knives come out — all that stuff about how ugly joel was is pretty nasty and has nothing to do with the music.