Billy Joel is due to become cool very soon – this is why | Ed Butler

Teens always will define cool against what their elders like. Right now, there is a group of 14 year-olds listening to ‘Piano Man’ who will write a world-beating record in five years

Do you reckon that when Elvis Costello defied instructions from Saturday Night Live producers, played the wrong song and received a 10 year ban from the show, he ever imagined himself fronting up to the champagne-and-loafers set at the Australian festival A Day on the Green?

Of course, he’s not alone. Indeed, the live music circuit today is a who’s who of the over-40s. Bands we thought long disappeared down the memory hole of acrimony and intellectual property wrangling somehow re-emerge, seeing in their ageing and cashed up fan base a way to avoid bankruptcy (hence the reunion tours).

As a result, we are subjected to bands dragging their hypermedicated petri-dish bodies back on stage, where they perform specific albums in their entirety. The list is a long and growing one: Weezer, the Lemonheads, the Pixies and Public Enemy all did full-album performances, letting their adoring fans marinate in their nostalgia.

But there’s one name that no one dare add to that list, one that nobody but nobody seems to be clamouring for in an effort to reclaim their cool: Billy Joel. No one wants Billy Joel.

While parents are no doubt earnestly pressing copies of Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet and Pavement's Crooked Rain CDs into the hands of their confused teenaged spawn right at this moment, they are likewise chuckling to themselves about the Piano Man. “Can you believe we ever liked Billy Joel? My god, the horror! The Vaudeville! The Barber Shop a cappella stuff! ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’!”

In other words, they have identified the authentic heart of popular culture, and it’s Fight the Power, not Uptown Girl.

Well, I am here to tell you that those parents are in for a shock. If your favourite band is reforming and replaying 20 year-old albums while you quaff something to which the verb quaff applies, "cool" it probably ain’t.

Billy Joel is going to get cool, and we already have a handy case study as to why: The Boss.

Springsteen: too much love for the saxophone.  Photograph: AP Photo/Mel Evans
Springsteen: too much love for the saxophone? Photograph: AP Photo/Mel Evans Photograph: Mel Evans/AP Photograph: Mel Evans/AP

One only needs to cast their mind back a decade or so to find a time when Bruce Springsteen was considered incredibly naff by the arbiters of cool at the time. Springsteen, in the mid to late 1090s, was not cool. He was a painfully earnest stadium rocker who had once danced with Courtney Cox, his E-Street band was guilty of militant saxism (that is, never-ending, epic saxophone solos), and his music was all bombast and stupidity. Parents were turning their noses up at him as they were earnestly foisting Television and Joy Division albums into their progeny’s unwilling mitts.

The result? Just as the anti-Springsteen chorus hit a crescendo, a couple of small bands started sounding a little bit like Bruce, and talking about how much they loved him. Those bands? The Hold Steady and Arcade Fire. Suddenly there was saxophone everywhere, and Springsteen was touring the world.

Arcade Fire: inspired by Bruce Springsteen.
Arcade Fire: inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images

And this will happen with Billy Joel. Teens always will define cool against what their elders like. Right now, there is a group of 14 year-olds listening to Piano Man who will write a world-beating record in five years. One of them gave it a spin expressly because their parents were mocking The Longest Time over chardonnays and fillet mignon, and decided it must be OK. They will admire his showmanship, his songwriting chops and his cheeky vaudeville stylings. They will embrace it, and they will make it cool.

And you’ll probably tell your friends that you were always a fan.


Ed Butler

The GuardianTramp

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