Monday, May 03, 2010

Music Monday ~ Billy Joel

Though never a fan proper of Billy Joel, I do recognise and enjoy several of his most popular songs : We Didn't Start the Fire, Movin' Out, Just the Way You Are, New York State of Mind etc. There's a concise rundown of Billy's biography at Astrodatabank, so apart from noting his problems with depression and early suicide attempt, I'll not repeat it all.

Research for this post took me down a couple of on-line sidestreets where I hadn't expected to be wandering.

Down sidestreet #1:

I was surprised to read in an article by writer/journalist Ron Rosenbaum, that among the "in-crowd" Billy Joel is not considered hip, cool or worthy of their adulation. In a piece at Salon The Worst Pop Singer Ever Why, exactly, is Billy Joel so bad? the author is relentless in his attack, and for the life of me I can't understand why. Billy's songs are in the same broad genre, and as popular with many, as those of other stars who are lauded as legends by all and sundry, in-crowd included. The criticisms levelled in this article could be equally directed to almost any successful singer-songwriter.
An extract:

This may seem an odd moment to bring up the subject of Billy Joel. But the recent death of the painter Andrew Wyeth revived a long-standing debate over whether his art is respectable or merely sentimental schlock. (Say it: good or bad?) .......................................................Which brings me to Billy Joel—the Andrew Wyeth of contemporary pop music—and the continuing irritation I feel whenever I hear his tunes, whether in the original or in the multitude of elevator-Muzak versions. It is a kind of mystery: Why does his music make my skin crawl in a way that other bad music doesn't? Why is it that so many of us feel it is possible to say Billy Joel is—well—just bad, a blight upon pop music, a plague upon the airwaves more contagious than West Nile virus, a dire threat to the peacefulness of any given elevator ride, not rock 'n' roll but schlock 'n' roll?

I'm reluctant to pick on Billy Joel. He's been subject to withering contempt from hipster types for so long that it no longer seems worth the time. Still, the mystery persists: How can he be so bad and yet so popular for so long? He's still there. You can't defend yourself with anti-B.J. shields around your brain. He still takes up the space, takes up A&R advances that would otherwise support a score of unrecognized but genuinely talented artists, singers, and songwriters, with his loathsomely insipid simulacrum of rock.
There's much more.

I decided to find out more about Ron Rosenbaum who has written several books as well as contributing to many well-respected journals and newspapers. From other articles of his at the Salon archive and elsewhere, he seems like a good guy. He aimed a few well-timed broad-sides at the Tea Party crowd recently, upbraiding them for their insistence on likening Obama to Hitler and confusing socialism with Naziism. He has written other pieces about musicians, must be reasonably well-versed in that subject, I guess. So what makes him feel so anti-Joel? Answer follows shortly.

Sidestreet#2 :
The Jazz Wax blog and a 2-part Billy Joel interview by Marc Myers:
Part 1
Part 2

Billy Joel's relationship with jazz fans has always been a bit tenuous. Much of the rancor dates back to Billy's 1978 album 52nd Street. With jazz on the ropes in the late 1970s, Billy's followup album to The Stranger featured the young singer-songwriter standing on the cover holding a trumpet and posing in a New York City alley. Though Freddie Hubbard played on one of the album's tracks, 52nd Street's cover sent an unintentional and chilling message - Rock's dominance of the music business was so complete that one of its stars felt comfortable enough posing as a jazz legend. In effect, the rocker was perceived by jazz fans as using their art form as a kitschy prop, which only rubbed salt in a festering wound....Ever since, there has been a latent hostility among jazz fans toward Billy and his style of narrative-rock.

And a comment from BJ himself under Part 2 of the interview:
Dear Mr. Myers, Thanks for the interview. It was nice to talk about music for a change. I don't usually get asked about it much. I guess that's why I pretty much stopped doing interviews. Also, I forgot to mention that we named the album '52nd Street' because we recorded it at the old A&R Studio on the corner of 52nd and 7th -right on the corner of 'Swing Street'. I wanted to give a nod to all the great musicians that used to play in all those jazz clubs there -so I held a trumpet for the cover photo - .just as a gesture of respect - I never could play the damn thing. Regards, Billy Joel.

Better get to the astrology!

Billy Joel was born on 9 May 1949 in Bronx, New York at 9:30 AM (Astrodatabank).

I've just noticed my typographical error on the top left-hand corner of the chart - "Bully" - it does fit Billy's Sun, Mars and Venus in Taurus, sign of the bull, but it was quite accidental. I doubt Billy Joel is a bully. He was an amateur welterweight boxer in his youth, and boxers are not natural bullies - odd as that might seem.

Venus is conjunct Sun in Taurus. Venus, planet of the arts - including music, is ruler of Taurus. Billy was drawn to his art early on, coming as he did from a musical background, both parents were trained musicians, his father a classical pianist.

One slightly troubling factor is that Venus at 24.32 Taurus was very close to Fixed Star Algol, considered by astrologers to be the most unfortunate star in the skies. I'm wondering if this might connect to his bouts depression, which then trigger bouts of alcohol abuse. I've noticed that sometimes depressive personalities have several oppositions on their natal charts, but not so in this case. Algol's position might be key here.

Mercury in its home sign Gemini lay in harmonious trine to Moon and creative Neptune in Libra, linking clearly to his song-writing talent. In fact, there's a Grand Trine in Air signs in Billy's chart :Mercury - Moon/Neptune - Jupiter underlining an ease in coming up with new ideas and vision for his songs and melodies.

The only Water in his chart comes via Cancer rising (provided his birth time is accurate). I have the same ascendant in much the same area of the sign too. Cancer rising represents an ultra-sensitive nature, tendency to shyness, and sentimentality, verging on the maudlin at times. I have no means of knowing how much of that applies to Billy Joel, however.

Now - back to that article by Ron Rosenbaum and the question of why he doesn't like -really doesn't like - the music of Billy Joel.Here's Rosenbaum's natal chart (a 12 noon version only), click on it to enlarge.

Jupiter, Venus, Mercury lay at 13, 19, 22 degrees of Scorpio respectively. These three planets are in direct opposition to Billy Joel's Mars, Sun, Venus at 7, 18 24 degrees of Taurus. Rosenbaum's Moon would be in Cparicorn whatever his time of birth, and that, more likely than not, would be opposing Billy's Cancer ascendant. I see astrology at work.....again!

Speaking of astrology....has anybody ever seen Billy Joel and astro-guru Jonathan Cainer in the same room together?

Super version of New York State of Mind - nice saxophone solos!


Wisewebwoman said...

I've always liked him T. Not a superfan but that said "Piano Man" never fails to 'get' me.
Sadly, his daughter seems to have inherited his depressive nature and attempted suicide, I think last year.
Will come back and 'tube when I'm in civilization once more.

Shawn Carson said...

my son was also born with venus in the 26th degree of taurus, conjunct algol, which is said to indicate danger of strangulation, beheading, problems with the neck and throat. his birth was by emergency c- section as he was trying to emerge from the womb feet first.
the doctor later explained to me that in these cases, there is danger of strangulation with a vaginal birth because the cervix often does not open wide enough for the head to emerge.
i credited the 2 doctors with saving his life and gave my son 2 middle names - the first names of each of the doctors who saved him.
i hope my son has the type of monetary success that billy joel enjoys, but i hope his personal life is not nearly so turbulent.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ I hadn't read about his daughter's problems. That's very sad to know. He seems to be in a calmer phase these days, at least.

Twilight said...

Shawn Carson ~~~ Oh my! That must have been a very trying time for you all!

I'm always wary of mentioning Algol, because it doesn't always indicate bad stuff. sometimes it simply seems to indicate a very passionate individual. But in the interests of finding out which bits of astrology seem to work best, I do mention it in cases like this.

Your experience is another tick in the box, so thank you for telling about it.

Rossa said...

Interestingly, one of Billy Joel's hits "She's Always a Woman" has hit the headlines this week in the UK as it is the theme tune of the latest TV commercial for John Lewis. It's been re-recorded by Fyfe Dangerfield (no I've not heard of him either) who I think is the lead singer of a band called The Guillemots.

It's now so popular with over 325,000 hits on YouTube that it has been released as a single and may well top the charts again. Here's the ad on YouTube.

So good song never dies as they say.


Twilight said...

Rossa ~~ Thanks for pointing that out - I wasn't aware of the ad.
I'd forgotten that particular song too, but the minute I heard the first notes I remembered it, without realising it had been one of Billy Joel's.

In fact until I researched this post I didn't know a lot of the songs I'd liked were his, whereas I know the Beatles and Simon and Garfinkel's off by heart, the minute I hear them.

Could it be that Billy never had the right kind of public relations assistance, I wonder. His name was never pushed forward (as I recall) half as much as some others of the same ilk.