DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Aug 4 2014

Billy Joel: A Storyteller of the Highest Order

by Jesse M

Billy Joel biography coverI grew up listening to the music of Billy Joel. My family would sing classics like “Piano Man” and “The Longest Time” on car trips and jam out to “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “The Downeaster Alexa” when they came on the radio. To this day he remains one of my favorite musicians to sing along with.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of Bill Joel. On July 22nd, the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, named Billy Joel as the next recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is an award given to a composer or performer for lifetime contributions to popular music. Previous recipients include such notable names as Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, and Carole King.

Billington explains the selection of Billy Joel as the next award winner:

“Billy Joel is a storyteller of the highest order. There is an intimacy to his songwriting that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shares through music. When you listen to a Billy Joel song, you know about the people and the place and what happened there. And while there may be pain, despair and loss, there is ultimately a resilience to it that makes you want to go to these places again and again.

Importantly, as with any good storyteller, the recognition experienced in a Billy Joel song is not simply because these are songs we have heard so many times, but because we see something of ourselves in them.”

Reacting to news of the announcement, Joel said, “The great composer, George Gershwin, has been a personal inspiration to me throughout my career. And the Library’s decision to include me among those songwriters who have been past recipients is a milestone for me.”

Joel has reached a number of impressive milestones throughout his 50 years in the entertainment industry; he is the sixth top-selling artist of all time and the third top-selling solo artist of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and is also the winner of six Grammy Awards.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, DCPL has a plethora of Billy Joel related material available in our catalog. For those interested in learning more about the man behind the music, check out this biography of him by author Hank Bordowitz.

Popular music has changed a lot over the past few decades, with rock music in particular experiencing various permutations and divisions. We have alternative rock, indie rock, southern rock, surf rock, soft rock, hard rock, classic rock…the list goes on. But no matter what varieties the modern scene has morphed into, the music of Bill Joel is still rock and roll to me.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph M August 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM

Great post. I love Billy Joel!

Hope L August 14, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Just read this. Billy Joel has always been a favorite of mine, and I really enjoyed your post!

C Lee August 14, 2014 at 1:12 PM

Wonderful post. I am a FAN. My favorite is, “New York State of Mind”.

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