An odd hatred

For some odd reason, Ron Rosenbaum unleashes a torrent of abuse at Billy Joel. I don’t know why. Billy Joel was never a personal favorite of mine, but “schlock ‘n’ roll” seems unduly harsh.

Musically, he is versatile and clever, for example the Four Seasons send-up of “Uptown Girl” and the straight-out rock of “You May Be Right” are adequate rebuttals of the attempt of critics to pigeonhole him as a syrupy balladeer. The lyrics of “Only the Good Die Young” are extraordinarily well-crafted:

You got a nice white dress
And a party on your confirmation.
You got a brand new soul
And a cross of gold.
But Virginia they didn’t give you
Quite enough information.
You didn’t count on me
When you were counting on your rosary.

Perhaps it is the well-crafted quality of Joel’s music — and the high production values of the recordings — that offends Rosenberg, who professes himself an admirer of Dylan and Springsteen.

It’s the “authenticity” trip again, a marked tendency of certain intellectuals to prefer rock music that has such “street cred” trappings as hoarse vocals and a sloppy spontaneity. This is kind of like the marked preference of intellectuals in the 1950s and ’60s for jazz that was bebop, rebop or otherwise avante-garde. You can go back and read ridiculously pretentious critics debating “hot” vs. “cool” jazz and so forth. The one thing they agreed on was their disdain for the smooth arrangements and pop sensibilities of classic Big Band jazz.

“Anything, so long as it’s not popular” seems to be the critical theory of the intellectual class, and so Billy Joel is singled out for Rosenberg’s wrath. I could think of a lot of acts from the ’70s deserving more critical scorn — REO Speedwagon, say, or Supertramp — but those acts have not endured in popularity, with such a deep repertoire of hits, as has Billy Joel. Being the Gene Hackman of pop-rock doesn’t win you any credibility with the critics.

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