Don’t Forget Your Second Wind: Baiting Billy Joel

mariasci | November 24, 2008 10:30 am

Last week, the lit blogger Ed Champion posted an ostensibly innocent request for a song ID. When it turned out to be Billy Joel’s “A Matter of Trust,” Champion promised to “track down Mr. Joel and get him to answer for this atrocity.” Well, apparently he was successful, because Joel (or someone claiming to be him) responded succinctly: “Here’s my ‘ouvre’ – Fuck You. Sincerely, Billy Joel.” Champion replied with another mocking post (“Yes, it can’t be easy to take some constructive criticism when you’re sitting on millions of dollars. And it can’t be easy when you’re a major pop star now relying on AutoTune to sing the national anthem on live television.”) and the exchange then continued, getting into issues of pitchiness, performance, and past Joel hits:


Wrong again, professor. The ‘Fuck You’ was meant for you and your pathetic assumptions . I don’t owe you a lengthy explanation for anything. The representative melody notes you wrote in your constructive criticism” were wrong, your theory regarding what kind of radio format the song was intended for were wrong, your description of the vocal performance was wrong, [ I was actually trying to sing like Robert Palmer – although I probably failed miserably ], your inability or your refusal to follow a simple lyric pattern is symptomatic of either a mental disorder or a hearing defect, and your accusation that I used an ‘Auto Tune’ device is an outright lie. I’ve never used a pitch-corrector and I never will. As for your insistence on referring to my work as my ‘oeuvre’ – that is about as ‘fey’ as it gets. I don’t write for you OR an audience, Champ; I write for me. And if I don’t wish to continue providing pleasing little tunes for you, or remaining in the comfortable little box that you insist I should stay in, that is your problem – not mine [ as is your insipid comment about my millions of dollars ]. So Fuck You once more – just for old times sake. Sincerely, Billy Joel


Okay Billy: Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt. How do you explain the odious modulation in pitch in the above clip? Obviously, SOMEONE was fucking with your voice. And I highly doubt that a guy who has your resources would NOT have been aware of this. There are these things called soundchecks. So don’t even begin to declare me “mentally retarded” when the evidence above indicates that you were singing very much like a mental retard due to AutoTune or some other wretched pitch modulation, which you claim that you “never use.” Except that’s exactly what happened here, didn’t it, Billy? Boy, it must suck to be caught with your pants down. And you can’t even provide an explanation for the above video clip! Which if you are such a pure artist and all would seem to me the thing to do.

And Robert Palmer? Don’t even begin to tell me that mimicking Robert Palmer is your way of standing out like fucking Paul Robeson or Enrico Caruso. You write for YOU, you say? Just be honest, Billy. You did it for the cash. The guy who wrote the sardonic anti-yuppie song “My Life” is gone. (Indeed, you’ve BECOME that yuppie.) Just come clean. We’d totally respect you for that. And after all, this little exchange is all about respect in the end, isn’t it?


Okay Know-it-all. Here’s the problem with that broadcast. I was asked to pre-record the National anthem like many others have done. I refused to do so. All I needed was a working set of sound monitors so that I could hear myself. I rehearsed the song while watching a stopwatch because the performance had to be timed exactly with a jet fly-over at the end. The rehearsals went just fine. When the actual show was set to start, it began pouring rain on the open field, and the television technicians never turned on my monitors. I had to sing the entire National Anthem without being able to hear my piano or my vocals in a giant stadium in a downpour while watching a stopwatch to try and time the fly-over. I assume because I couldn’t hear my piano and had no idea what key I was singing in at first that my pitch was bad at the beginning of the song and some bright boy in the television control booth decided to use whatever auto-tune equipment THEY had to correct my pitch. I had absolutely no idea that they did this and never authorized it. I asked the television producer afterwards if they did this on their own and never got a satisfactory answer. You have no idea how television people fuck up what musicians do. You’ve got some god-damned nerve accusing me of using some kind of goddamned phony gimmick to do what I’ve been doing all my life, and then calling me a liar on top of it. And you don’t have a fucking clue why I do what I do, so don’t throw that “you did it for the cash” bullshit at me. THIS IS MY LIFE. This is what I do and who I am, and your ignorant, self-righteous ’sellout’ attack is typical of a dilettante, an amateur, and an abject failure. It was never about “the cash”. You will never know the joy I have known, and you will never accomplish anything in your life until you learn humility the way I have : The hard way. Not by posting your miserable opinionated blogs about what other people actually DO. So Fuck You for the last time. And for Christ’s sake – DO SOMETHING!Sincerely, Billy Joel

Someone named “DrMabuse”:

I’m certainly not the first to suggest that you’ve sold out. And I’m hardly a dilettante. If you’re so joyful about it, why do you keep coming back? Why did you spend more than a decade not writing or recording any new material? I won’t take the cheap shot of delving into your personal life, Billy, because I’m not about that. But judging from the slivers we’ve seen through the wall, it seems that honesty remains a lonely word for you. Which is a shame. Because your best work has always been predicated upon being honest, as opposed to being Robert Palmer or somebody else who you’re not.

Some thoughts: I am a big Billy Joel fan, but it seems really weird to accuse him of “selling out,” no? More importantly, this vision of Billy Joel’s personality is fantastic, but it never really comes through in his music, except in unconvincing pastiche (the above-referenced “My Life”) or passive-aggression (“Just The Way You Are”). He seems to be somewhat stuck for new material–why not go down the bitter-old-man route that others have trod so productively? Why not let it all out, Billy Joel? Let it all out in song! Get like Xiu Xiu or Trent Reznor to produce some tracks, do a duet with Leonard Cohen (possibly called “Fuck You, Sincerely”?), let the hate flow! Just tell everyone to fuck off musically. It will be awesome.

Billy Joel: “Fuck You” [Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits]