Sing us a song you’re the Piano Man!
Wow, Billy Joel has really sold a lot of albums. I’m not going to look up Wikipedia to find the exact numbers but I can always be sure that when the people of Edinburgh pull out a box of records (Songs) from the Attic to bring into the shop there will always be hefty Billy Joel contingent and I’m afraid we are struggling to cope. We currently have 5 copies of Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. I believe him, he didn’t do it.* We are guilty though, throughout the 1970s and 80s we all did it. We bought Billy Joel albums by the truckload.
Anyone who has been into our Backroom lately could be forgiven for thinking they were browsing the LP section of Woolworth’s in their heyday. Elton John, Phil Collins, Genesis, Rod Stewart and the ubiquitous Billy Joel. Our Backroom was getting a bit tired and I’ve pulled out all the double/trebles. There were 30 albums! 10 of which were our friend BJ. They’re all in good nick and are already literally as cheap as a bag of chips -£1.50 each.
So how does an otherwise thriving Edinburgh record shop sell a classic yet now unfashionable Billy Joel album?
It’s not nostalgia for those who have never heard these records before. Some VoxBox customers weren’t born when they came out and it’s the older folks that are bringing them in. I’m not sure this will work.
Maybe ironic coolness?
You can be a retro-record-relisher! Be ahead of our time by looking to the past. You could be the coolest person in Edinburgh as you walk out of VoxBox with a stack of BJ albums under your arm. “No Bag for me George, not today! Hahahahahah!! I want all of the people on the Street to see that I just LOVE Billy Joel. I’m absolutely crazy for the curly haired Piano Man! Save me those Elton John albums too, I’ll pick ‘em up next week! I’m gonna have an Elton vs Joel piano duel for the VoxBox DJ night!** Toodle-ooo!” As you head back uptown, girls will be throwing themselves at you seeing how retro-cool you are. Needless to say, you’re a Billy Joel sensitive guy and you can be sure that everybody loves you now!
OK, so you will look a bit like a lunatic but you will get the people passing by thinking again… ‘Hmm, I’ve got some Billy Joel records in my attic, I’ll maybe sell them to VoxBox’
Hip and bearded frontman and Scottish songwriting superstar Scott (Rabbit Hutch) Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit once wrote a handful of intense and emotive songs powered by an evening of Billy Joel music and a bottle of whisky. You too could emulate this by pouring some big shots and attempting to write break up songs with emotional honesty and a clutch of Billy Joel albums from VoxBox!
I’m reliably informed that Scott’s all-time favourite Billy Joel album is the genius, The Stranger. Incidentally, The Stranger was once rated as the 70th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Sheer talent, honesty, tragedy and black humour?
If only the good die young then BJ has turned out to be a whole lot badder than MJ.
He’s undoubtably a great songwriter and add to that, he’s a performer with a tragic past. He battled divorce and alcoholism. In his early years, he left a suicide note (which inspired the lyrics to Tomorrow is Today) and attempted to commit suicide by drinking polish. This wasn’t the Tyskie lager that your European joiner likes.
He said later, “I was just lookin’ for poison. I looked in my mother’s closet and there was bleach, and it had the skull and crossbones, and then there was furniture polish. And at the time I thought, Well, the furniture polish will probably taste better than the bleach, so I’ll drink the furniture polish. And all I ended up doing was farting furniture polish for a couple of days and polishing my mother’s chairs.”
Wow… (!) This is serious stuff. These are songs from the grooves of a furrowed forehead. In this context, his pop songs become poignant personal poems of internal turmoil. At least some do, sometimes.
What if something happened to Billy? While retired and fishing, a 4 eyed radioactive bear-fish could kiss his drowning black maggot lure and send a pulse of wEiRD energy up his fishin’ line. His ivory tinklers could turn instantly to human talc. This spooky ailment would spread effortlessly, like dark magic, quickly turning him into clothed dust, collapsed and blown away like a forgotten dream.
Where is Billy Joel? “Gone Fishin’!” The headlines read. (pronounced reed or red -go for it, this is a fantastic voyage and you may be right) The inevitable instant reappraisal happens reassuringly quickly. BJ songs crowd the radio. Bono mentions he was a fan and volunteers to raise money for the search for Billy Joel. Volunteers raise enough to finally send Bono into space via the Iranian space programme. Everybody has a dream…
We walk for four days, dazed and distant, as quiet and humble as a Richard Dawkin’s prayer.
The stars looking down would see that their hero was gone forever and cry screams of intense nuclear energy lighting the sky with a kaleidoscopic dot to dot where any picture is possible. Our own Sun cools with mourning gloom. Global warming is averted. Wind whips Joel’s near weightless pieces into the outer atmosphere. His living ash is scattered. Cells of creative genius serenade the ozone helping it mate and reproduce. This is contagious. He is worldwide again. New Hope springs and from our collective imagined night-sky-polka-dot drawings fierce optimism and hope and charm overflow and lead the hominids finally to a societal creative and cultural peak.
Finally Eureka! We are beginning now to understand that the search for Billy Joel is not literal. It is in us. His dust may well be in each one of us. On us. Inspiring, polishing, keeping our end up when we feel down. Helping us when wallowing in despair. To wallow from the deep, to the shallow and finally out home and dry, free of trouble and thinking as a youngster. Those touched think as a child, naïve yet hopeful thoughts that congeal and stiffen and as the global epiphany hardens this world has become already a better place. At last we are all piano men as we are all the folk in that bar. We are as light as the breeze, we are absent friends, a light in the hallway. We can now admit that we love others and in turn we are loved right back just the way we are.
Eventually, we finally re-learn and realise that tomorrow is today and we can replace procrastinating with telling short sweet secrets. Whispered love poems are the new wind.
Bullets and bombs are touched by BJ dust and explode with more dust. The more violence, the more that BJ speaks to us in dust. Mendacity becomes Joel-dust and chokes liars that speak with forks and knives. BJ threatens to inflict world peace and an end to global hunger and local poverty.
New records become cheaper and definitely dust repellent. Sadly, the BJ effect does not permeate the record industry and BJ vinyl re-issues come out at £25 each. But there is a new hope (for some of you, that’s Episode IV). Moving quickly on. People realise again that they don’t need a re-issue. The originals are in all of us. (metaphorically, and are more importantly for George and me, literally -in the VoxBox record shop on St Stephen Street). Now we are all in the mood for a melody. Parties start and someone pulls out BJ’s records again. Any requests?
The world is unanimous…
Next week, How Rod Stewart’s 1980s Albums Saved My Life.
*He/We did not start the fire
** Starts Feb 28th at The Last Word Saloon across the road, on the last Thursday of the month.