Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Man Who Hates Billy Joel

I just read a lengthy article in some on-line publication excoriating the musical work of one Mr. Billy Joel.  To the writer Joel wasn't merely a hack, but the hackiest of hacks who had taken his hackitude to new levels of hack-dom.  All of which was a little hard to accept with a Billy Joel CD playing on my home office stereo at the time...

But it led me to wonder why people/critics get so angry at guys like Billy Joel, or Thomas Kinkade, or Meatloaf (both the singer and the mushy food product), or any other critical punching-bag de jour.  I can understand a certain amount of wrath for politicians, whose decisions can directly impact the lives of folks.  But the Billy Joels of the world are easily avoided, especially these days, when you can fine-tune your musical experience(s) to the Nth degree.  Yes, I suppose Billy Joel haters may occasionally be exposed to a random play of "Just The Way You Are" at the supermarket, but that's the price we pay for living in "society."  And it hardly rises to the level of some capital offense..

What intrigues me is that it's not enough for this critic to hate Billy Joel's music -- it's appears to offend him that any sentient being would dare to enjoy a musical experience that he deems unworthy.  Same with the late Mr. Kinkade's work.  I don't have much interest in fairies and magical cabins, but if it floats your float, more power to you.

I guess you could make a case that the public affection for popular but critically disrespected art/TV/film/comic books drives out better material.  But it's a weak case.  It's been my experience that somebody who loves NCIS isn't going to switch to Boardwalk Empire because NCIS is cancelled.  They're going to switch to another procedural, or watch NCIS reruns, or do something else.  Erasing Billy Joel's music from the planet will not send his former fans scurrying in search of jazz-fusion song cycles.  They'll just miss trying to sing along to the acapella parts from "The Longest Time."

What really annoys me is now I have this guy's critical screed in my head.  I mean, I was just sitting here blithely tapping my toe to "An Innocent Man" when this pissed-off critic took a proverbial poo on my musical choices.  Yeah, well, screw you, man.  It's only rock and roll but I like it (oh Jeez, shoot me now)...


Blogger Muldfeld said...

Interesting point (and I don't have strong opinions on Billy Joel; the first song I heard of his was "We Didn't Start the Fire", which I enjoyed at age 9, but, a few years ago, he explained how he thought it was some profound history lesson to youth; a LIST as a history lesson! But I digress...).

However, I do think certain artists take up attention because the media (especially ratings and popularity-driven TV critics, as opposed to more thoughtful film critics) supports unworthy things when they could be supporting more worthy things. The guy whose work I hate is J.J. Abrams and anyone associated with him. It's just the most shamelessly commercial, cliche, unthoughtful, unoriginal stuff. He and his associates are probably not bad, immoral people, but there's no sense that they dig into their soul to express something about themselves or their understanding of life. Listening to Ira Behr or Chris Carter or Ron Moore, you really do get a sense that they're trying to say something. I also got that feeling from you and other writers on BSG; I recall Michael Angeli talking about how Romo stealing things was a kind of explanation of how he was losing things all the time in real life and the themes explored in "The Son Also Rises" spoke so much to me about my life, including Romo's speech wondering why people forgive.

You're right that elected officials deserve our hatred more and I reserve it for them, but it really bugs me that "Battlestar Galactica" barely got mentioned by the mainstream media, except as a snarky insult, especially by that twit Anderson Cooper, who enjoyed the show but called himself a nerd for doing so; if he applied BSG's lessons about power and corruption and the dehumanization of "the other", maybe he wouldn't be such a nationalistic, superficial tool, basically encouraging US torture.

It made me so upset that the worst actors on "Heroes" (the cheerleader and Hiro) got nominated for Emmys, but James Callis (the greatest actor alive!) didn't. (I know you later worked on the show and mean absolutely no offense to you, but I felt that way from Season 1). I was also so mad that an imperfect, but, in many ways, thoughtful show like Ira Steven Behr's "The 4400" (which spoke to the War on Terror and War on Drugs, unfettered capitalism (picking on Bill Gates' destructive impact), and understanding terrorism -- and all for a miniscule budget and ratings better than BSG!) was cancelled by NBC Universal, as it embraced "Heroes" instead.

I'm mostly upset that more deserving artists don't get their due and, thereby, have less impact than they might. Ira Steven Behr is, as far as I know, the father of politically insightful sci fi TV. It was under him that Ron Moore got to stretch his wings politically. And so much of what happened on DS9 was predictive of what the mainstream media focussed upon after 9/11. Even when I was a kid, watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on TV in Newfoundland with my big brothers, I was shocked at how Spock wept for V'ger -- the enemy who had killed so many. His desire to understand was so inspiring. Yet, what does Abrams do with Star Trek? He makes a film not only with horrible dialogue, cookie cutter characters, and the most embarrassing origin story for Kirk -- just as "Fringe" lacks all the intelligence, peripheral exploration of political issues, and subtlety to invoke tension and fear of "The X-Files" -- but he makes a film that's fundamentally about validating the "shoot first and ask questions later" mindset. Gone is any of Kirk's (and I can barely stand the original series!) strategy or intelligence. What kind of message does that send to the audience?

2:27 PM  
Blogger Muldfeld said...

Look, there are those who say entertainment is just that, but it DOES influence us. There is a link between what we experience as a culture and how we react. Very few Americans knew anything about Islam or Muslims or how to approach any "other" after 9/11, but those thoughtless "get tough" notions about how to perceive "the other" came from where? Mostly TV and movies. It explains why Bush said he wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive" -- like some awful movie cliche.

That's one of the reasons I love BSG and now also enjoy "Boardwalk Empire" -- because they're about confronting issues in their complexity, rather than just caricaturing everything to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Yet, you'd have to wonder, what if they and other great shows, whose artists seek to express true understanding, could reach a wider audience? What if we saw "the other" the way Odo expressed on DS9, as he walked a tightrope between his persecuted Founders from whom he came and his newfound family of solids that looked the other way when genocide was being committed against the Founders? It might only be a small thing to have more thoughtful art in our political discourse, but it's a constructive, vital thing.

To return to your comments on music, there was something sick about 2000s U2 winning all those Grammys for lackluster albums; Many artists like Arcade Fire or Bloc Party deserved to win in 2005 for Best Album of the year, not "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Also, there was something perverse about how U2 used its connections to dominate the BBC the week before their 2009 album release -- such that an inquiry found wrongdoing by the BBC.

I think when bad artists have massive power, that's a bad thing because it adds to the vacuousness of society; I think about all those kids growing up now with either the most superficial, objectifying music videos or the most crass reality TV on MuchMusic (which used to have many diverse artists) and how they imitate what they see. Yet when great artists like Radiohead or Ron Moore or Ira Steven Behr or Mr. Angeli or yourself have that deserved power and recognition, it's a much better thing for society.

While your point about HBO having "Boardwalk Empire" is well taken, it's sad that we increasingly have to go to more costly, niche markets to get less commercial music, TV shows, movies, and even news. Fox Network used to make great shows like "The X-Files" and "Millennium" Season 1; no longer. How many thoughtful films weren't made because "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Transformers" were?

2:27 PM  
Blogger Muldfeld said...

It also may just be jealousy. One of the few factoids about Billy Joel that I know is that he had a supermodel wife. I want a supermodel wife...

2:54 PM  

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