On Sunday, August 6th, 2017, I was treated to the most enjoyable troll move I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. Was it the biggest or even the best trolling? No, probably not. Yet there is not a single other moment I can think of that gave me this much joy. How did I get here? How did it all happen? What exactly happened? Let me take you back…
I fucking hate Billy Joel. I’ve hated his music for as long as I can remember, but I can specifically remember a point in High School where my brain was just fed up with his catalog and subconsciously pushed him to the forefront of my hatred. My friends and I used to do the bonfire thing and sit around drinking while a couple kids would play songs on acoustic guitar. (I would say it was a romantic time, and to a point it was, but we were literally in a backyard behind The Pickled Onion in Beverly, so it wasn’t exactly a scene out of The O.C. . One time we hired a prostitute to come give our buddy a lap dance for his birthday, but she was only there to fuck, and she wasn’t exactly his ideal lay.) This is actually where I hardened my deep hatred for “sing-a-longs”. Not songs that are fun to sing because they’re good songs, but songs that are literally sung by anyone and everyone because they’ve entered some sort of cultural zeitgeist wherein they’re sung merely as some weird rite of passage. You know the kind: It’s late, you’re at a bar, one of these treasured relics comes over the speakers, and every drunk person has a Manchurian Candidate moment where they snap into full karaoke mode. These campfire sessions were no different. The usual offenders were tunes such as Don McLean’s “American Pie” (a song that one time was played on full repeat by my manager because the CD player skip button broke, and the repeat button was jammed in), Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (a song I’ve managed to still enjoy), and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” which was accompanied by full harmonica action. It was this song where I first thought of how much I hate sing-a-longs. Kenny Chesney has a song about summer that is full of fun cliches that people like about summer with a line in the chorus that goes, “sing along, ’cause it’s one we know”. Ugh. The fucking worst, man.
Growing up where I did, in the time I did, I grew to have an unfounded hatred for New York. This was purely based off being from the Boston area and having my beloved Red Sox annually emasculated by the New York Yankees. Once the Sox finally got over the hump against the Yanks, that hatred for New York began to subside and although I still carry an intense heat for the Yankees, New York as a state is actually a place of a lot of my cherished memories. As I started traveling to New York more for concerts, I noticed a trend that I couldn’t understand: Billy Joel banners in the rafters of New York arenas. It started in Albany in the fall of 2009, I noticed the old Knickerbocker Arena had a banner for Billy Joel playing a really arbitrary number of concerts. Why? Billy Joel isn’t a sports team (the only recipients of banners I’ve ever seen in arenas to that point). Fuck Billy Joel, why the hell does he have a banner? I reconciled that it’s a New York thing, and next to the Yankees, another reason to be annoyed by the Empire State. The first time I stepped into Madison Square Garden was the winter of 2010, and yet again, there was another Billy Joel banner.
This one for playing 12 consecutive sold out shows. I looked around and saw yet another banner, the other for playing the most sold out shows in the arenas history. “What the fuck?”, I spouted under my breath as I couldn’t grasp why someone so mediocre, with such a terrible catalog of “hits” would be so revered in one of the biggest cities on Earth. Fucking New York, man…
Soon, Billy Joel’s horrible opus about drunk idiots singing in bars whilst actual drunk idiots sang along hardened into a solid hatred and it then spread to the rest of his catalog. What was before just a passing hate for his music became like audible ipecac every time it leaked out of the speakers. I couldn’t stand it. It was a Pavlovian response in every instance. Even when I didn’t realize it was a Joel track, I could sense a certain “disturbance in the force” type feeling. People couldn’t get why I disliked him. I couldn’t even truly explain it, but it’s real. This carried on for years until late-2013 when eventually my hatred of Joel intersected with my love for the band Phish.
As the rumor goes, Billy Joel wanted to play Madison Square Garden for New Year’s Eve. Phish was on the last year of a 4-year contract with MSG to play New Year’s Eve, first signed in 2010. Billy Joel upon realization that he would not be able to play The World’s Most Famous Arena – a place where he had then played the most sold concerts by an artist or band, and a record 12 consecutive nights – reportedly lashed out calling Phish a “No-talent cover band”, a hilarious accusation of a band that has over 300 original songs. When I caught word of this, I wasn’t even mad, I was elated to get online and see a bunch of other people for a change ripping on Joel. I wasn’t disappointed. The message boards were ablaze with hit pieces on Joel’s music and his career. It was full-on hate porn in written form. Beautiful stuff. Years later, people would come to define my hate for Joel as a Phish-related thing, when really I was just excited to have some more people on my side. “Yeah! See? He’s terrible!” was the general mood I was having up in my thought factory.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017, where Phish is set to play a record 13-night stand at MSG. The Baker’s Dozen they were calling it. A few people online wondered if there would be any reference to Billy Joel, as Phish would be breaking his 12-show record run. Others wondered if there would be a banner raising ceremony. Many predicted at least a cover of a Billy Joel song as a subtle nod. I proclaimed that I may have to leave the arena if Phish were to take that route. I wasn’t sure how exactly I’d react if they were to shine a turd from that septic tank of a discography.
So I bought tickets and attended the last three shows of the run, hoping for a Game of Thrones-esque scene where on the final night, the Joel 12-show banner would drop, only top be replaced by a shiny Phish 13-show banner. Sure enough, at the encore break of the final night, Phish was presented with a banner of their own. As it slowly raised to the rafters I couldn’t contain myself. This was a huge moment for both the band and the fans, but for me this was personal. Climbing higher and higher to the famed MSG rafters, I shouted “Fuck you, Billy Joel! You suck!” to what I was told was met with laughs from the fellow fans around me. This was a huge win. I laughed, almost maniacally, as it reached the summit.
As the final encore of the run came to a close and the lights came up, the post show music came over the PA as it always does. That night’s choice was something that sounded oddly familiar. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I again felt that same feeling I get when Billy Joel’s music comes on. I turned to my friends to ask them if it was indeed the Piano Man. Most of my friends either like or don’t mind at all the music of Joel, so I figured maybe they’d recognize it. They couldn’t put their finger on it, hell, most were just winding down from a wild weekend on last time from our seats. I went to Twitter to get an answer and sure enough, there it was. It was Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”, my suspicions were true. I alerted my friends with much glee as the laughter began to return. I went to Twitter to express my excitement of the moment. I sat back and took it all in. The Poor Man’s version of Elton John from New Jersey was softly playing over the aftermath of his fallen triumph. I leaned back and smirked, staring into the rafters not at Phish’s 13 show banner, but Billy’s 12-show banner, a final fuck you and goodbye if you will. To that point Phish had never acknowledged the alleged Joel comments from years ago and some think it’s all made up, but there it was. A single song that night, nothing after. A final nod. I never enjoyed a Billy Joel song as much as I did that night.Follow @dudecouch