Truth be told, I don’t actually hate Billy Joel. I just recognize I’m not the target audience for his music.
Nor am I the target audience for Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. My music experience pretty much started with Duran Duran, although ABBA did lay a bit of ground work. So I don’t see much point for dumping on music that’s not intended for me.
At the same time, I understand why my peer group would despise Billy Joel.
If I had any disdain for Joel during the years I was exploring Duran Duran and all those invading British bands, it was rooted in sibling rivaly. My brother liked Billy Joel, and if one of us four siblings claimed an artist, we weren’t going to share.
So I kept my mitts off his Billy Joel, so long as he stayed away from my ABC and Tears for Fears.
That sibling Cold War started to defrost in the late ’80s. I encroached on my brother’s monopoly on Sting, while he warmed up to U2 and Sinéad O’Connor.
By the time Storm Front came around, neither of us really gave much thought to Billy Joel. He was so ubiquitous during the first half of the decade that he induced a No Jacket Required-level of fatigue.
The minimal album cover — a red flag against a dark gray sky, the title in a stark sans-serif typeface — caught my attention. The darker hue of the songs also seemed to line up nicely with the weirder music to which I was starting to gravitate.
Also, a guy I had a crush on liked the album, and I wanted to figure why he liked it.
“Downeaster Alexa” probably cinched the album for me. It’s one of those songs I can find myself humming without any prompt. “And So It Goes” appeals to the incompetent pianist in me.
Mick Jones’ big production gave Storm Front an edge that made me momentarily forget about “Uptown Girl” or “Tell Her About It”.
I liked Storm Front depsite myself.
But that wouldn’t suit well with my peer group.
I was playing the album one night at work ca. 1998, and my co-worker asked why I was listening to Garth Brooks. I hadn’t realized Brooks turned the song into a country music hit. Her question dripped with disdain.
When the Dot-Com Bubble burst, I had to cull my music collection for cash. Remembering that exchange, Storm Front went on the chopping block. I did back it up on CD-ROM, though — just in case.
At another job ca. 2008, a different co-worker professed his love for Billy Joel, and I kept my poker face on. I could no better understand his love for Billy Joel any more than he could understand mine for Alfred Schnittke.
Slate explained what makes Billy Joel ripe for ridicule, and yeah, I see it. If Joel were an actor, he’d be the kind who tears the scenery. He can’t come across as anything other than a blowhard.
And yes, Storm Front is not immune to those moments where you just have to roll your eyes at Joel’s earnestness. See “Leningrad”. See “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.
I found that CD-ROM with a rip of Storm Front and gave the album a listen. And I remembered “Downeaster Alexa”, and I remembered “And So It Goes”.
If I can make peace with the inner homophobia that prevented me from re-embracing ABBA, I can certainly get over the judgmental comment of a co-worker from the distant past.