Saturday, June 12, 2010

"We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel (1989)

There's a special corner reserved in hell for the music of Billy Joel. I will accede that in his forty-year career he's put out, oh, five or six songs that are all right (just to prove my taste is suspect at times, I have a soft spot in my heart for “Allentown”). But there's also been a handful of songs so dire, so evil, so filled with hatred for the joy that music can bring you... that it defies description. With time, this blog will feature a good number of songs by this man.

Where to start? Well, for the truly vile, there is the song that I ultimately chose. This shopping-list harangue shows up on a good number of 'worst song ever' lists for good reason. Ostensibly, Billy Joel was annoyed by the fact that his generation, the Baby Boomers, were being blamed for, well, for their wholescale raping of the planet and their blatant selling out of everything their generation was supposed to stand for (I'd like to add to that list their monopolisation of western culture far beyond the expiration of their collective creativity or relevance). Apparently he set out to defend his generation by shouting tunelessly for several minutes. “It's one of the worst melodies I've ever written,” he concedes, showing a remarkable degree of self-awareness. He's not on record as having anything to say about that toe-curling moment when hea pproaches the end of a verse bellows out, “JFK... blown away... what else do I have to say?” The most frustrating thing about his apparent assertion that, after crudely describing Kennedy's assassination, there is nothing else to say is that nonetheless he keeps on gibbering anyway.

Billy Joel is under the apparent belief that a list of newspaper headlines from across the decades constitutes meaningful lyrics. And, speaking of what I said above regarding expiration of boomers' creative relevance, he couches all of this in one of the worst musical genres out there: '70s artists trying to make their music sound current in the 80s'. It is my personal belief that the reason 80s music is so maligned by so many is because anyone who was making music in the early- to mid-1970s, suddenly by 1982 or so decided to suck, by using huge drums, squeaky guitars and cheesy synths (and of course the dreaded 80s saxophone) to cover up the deficit of tune or meaning in their efforts.

History teachers, boomers themselves convinced of the historical merit of their own lifespans, actually spent several years foisting this nonsense on schoolchildren, under the mistaken belief that real, significant acts of history reduced to sound-bite lists would make history more enjoyable for them.

The truth, of course, is that we now have a full generation of kids who have developed a knee-jerk revulsion of the subject of history. Those who forget their history are doomed to hold Billy Joel culpable for it.

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