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This blog was born out of a Dynasty Rankings thread originally begun in October, 2006 at the Footballguys.com message boards. The rankings in that thread and the ensuing wall-to-wall discussion of player values and dynasty league strategy took on a life of its own at over 275 pages and 700,000 page views. The result is what you see in the sidebar under "Updated Positional Rankings": a comprehensive ranking of dynasty league fantasy football players by position on a tiered, weighted scale. In the tradition of the original footballguys.com Dynasty Rankings thread, intelligent debate is welcome and encouraged.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Song of the Week: Billy Joel - Prelude/Angry Young Man [Turnstiles] 1976

Hang with me for a minute here. I picked Billy Joel for a reason---one which will hopefully make itself clear towards the end of this screed.

This particular Billy Joel song was the choice because I think it's one of his best songs from that time period in the mid-to-late 70s when he was at the top of his game . . . the virtuoso piano playing in the Prelude leads into a pleasant harmony in the Angry Young Man part to go with some interesting lyrics. Luckily, this one hasn't been over-played like so many of his standards have over the years (and it's not appallingly bad like much of his later work). More to the point at hand, Prelude/Angry Young Man reminds me of my brother who was just in town over the weekend. The laid back Tybee Island living seemed to take a great deal of the edge off of him, and much of his trademark angst was gone for a week (though I'm afraid it might just return with a vengeance once he re-acclimates to Cincinnati).

As a few of you know, I have six brothers. The twins---Mike & Tim---are in their upper 20s now, and they've always been just a little on the asocial side. They're great guys, well-read and nice to be around, with interesting ideas about life. But it's been obvious for years that they're not truly at peace with their own personas unless they've nailed themselves to the cross for one slight or another.

Billy Joel captures that cross-hanging angst so well with this song:
There's a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl
And he's always at home with his back to the wall
And he's proud of his scars and the battles he's lost
And he struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And he likes to be known as the angry young man

Give a moment or two to the angry young man
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand
He's been stabbed in the back he's been misunderstood
It's a comfort to know his intentions are good
And he sits in his room with a lock on the door
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor
And he likes to be known as the angry young man

I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right

And there's always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand
And he's never been able to learn from mistakes
So he can't understand why his heart always breaks
And his honor is pure and his courage is well
And he's fair and he's true and he's boring as hell
And he'll go to the grave as an angry old man

Yes there's always a place for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl
And he's always at home with his back to the wall
And he's proud of his scars and the battles he's lost
And he struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And he likes to be known as the angry young man
What's so great about this song, in addition to Billy Joel's immense musical talent, is the idea that it's more than just a ballad about an angry young man. You can catch a strong scent of Winston Churchill's famous quote ("Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal has not heart; and any man who is over 30 and is not a conservative has no brains."), but isn't there also a stench of apathy? Get on with life, get over your pointless views, goose-step to the beat of a mainstream drummer? There's a complexity in Joel's acceptance that is not only unconvincing but certainly anti-Rock 'n' Roll. Speaking of which. . . .

Where does Billy Joel fit in the rock music genre? I was thinking over the same question regarding Bryan Adams a couple of weeks ago when the only semi-good local station played one of his early 80s songs, maybe Run to You or Cuts Like a Knife. After getting over my initial outrage that my fallback station was playing the feckless Bryan Adams, I made a mental note to check with Roo & Clyde (Cincinnati friends) to see if he wasn't actually something like a Canadian John Cougar Mellencamp before the unpardonable sin of that lame Robin Hood song. I mean, I love Canada, but aren't they really the world's greatest 2nd raters? Have you seen what they've done with American football? The 2nd rate Mellencamp could have been Bryan Adams' ultimate legacy. Instead he's remaindered to the same level as no-talent ass clowns like Michael Bolton because of (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. And you know what? I have absolutely no problem with that. A musical crime of that magnitude is serious enough to put a man away for life. Sorry Bryan. If it happened to Meatloaf, it can happen to you.

But doesn't Billy Joel deserve a much better fate? Many of us Gen-Xers just missed his brilliant 70s period and heard his songs most often on Mom's soft rock/easy listening station. OK, so some of us had his Greatest Hits and listened to that once in awhile with a few of our less than kick-ass friends. But to be casually dismissed with the Celine Dion/Kenny G crowd? Ouch.

I remember reading an old Sports Illustrated feature article from the mid-1970s about an A's pitcher who was being painted as the opposite of the stereotypical Cro-Magnon baseball player. He was articulate and intellectual, he read all the classics, and---get this---he listened to Billy Joel. Wait, what? Soccer mom's listen to Billy Joel. Your friend with the overbearing wife, the shameless fanny pack, and no social life beyond the eager willingness to discuss the finer points of Grease listens to Billy Joel. How is it possible that Billy Joel was once seen as cutting edge and intellectually stimulating? Simply listen to the music and pay attention to the lyrics. It's all there. Don't believe me? Check out music critic Chuck Klosterman from his 2003 pop culture manifesto Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:

Nobody would ever claim that he is cool in the conventional sense, particularly if they're the kind of person who actively worries about what coolness is supposed to mean. Billy Joel is also not cool in the kitschy, campy, "he's so uncool he's cool" sense, which also happens to be the most tired designation in popular culture. He has no intrinsic coolness, and he has no extrinsic coolness. If cool was a color, it would be black---and Billy Joel would be sort of burnt orange.

Yet Billy Joel is great. And he's not great because he's uncool, nor is he great because he "doesn't worry about being cool" (because I think he kind of does). No, he's great in the same way that your dead grandfather is great. Because unlike 99 percent of pop artists, there is absolutely no relationship between Joel's greatness and Joel's coolness (or lack thereof), just as there's no relationship between the "greatness" of serving in World War II and the "coolness" of serving in World War II. What he does as an artist wouldn't be better if he was significantly cooler, and it's not worse because he isn't. And that's sort of amazing when one considers that he's supposedly a rock star.

For just about everybody else in the idiom of rock, being cool is pretty much the whole job description. It's difficult to think of rock artists who are great without being cool, since that's precisely why we need them to exist. There have been countless bands in rock history---T. Rex, Jane's Addiction, the White Stripes, et al.---who I will always classify as "great," even though they're really just spine-crushingly "cool." What they are is more important than what they do. And this is not a criticism of coolness; by and large, the musical component of rock isn't nearly as important as the iconography and the posturing and the idea of what we're supposed to be experiencing.

If given the choice between hearing a great band and seeing a cool band, I'll take the latter every single time; this is why the Eagles suck. But it's the constraints of that very relationship that give Billy Joel his subterranean fabulousity, and it's why he's unassumingly superior to all his mainstream seventies peers who got far more credit (James Taylor, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, etc.). Joel is the only rock star I've ever loved who I never wanted to be (not even when he was sleeping with Christie Brinkley). Every one of Joel's important songs---including the happy ones---are ultimately about loneliness. And it's not "clever lonely" (like Morrissey) or "interesting lonely" (like Radiohead); it's "lonely lonely," like the way it feels when you're being hugged by someone and it somehow makes you sadder.

. . .

This abstract relationship between the perception of the artist and the appreciation of his product unfairly ghettoized Billy Joel while he was making the best music of his career (and some of the best music of the late seventies and early eighties). Because Billy is not "cool," like Elvis Costello---and because he's not "anticool," like Randy Newman---Joel was perceived as edgeless light rock. All anybody noticed was the dulcet plinking of his piano. Since his songs were so radio-friendly, it was assumed that he was the FM version of AM.

This is what happens when you don't construct an archetypical persona: If you're popular and melodic and faceless, you seem meaningless. The same thing happened to Steely Dan, a group who served as the house band for every 1978 West Coast singles bar despite being more lyrically subversive than the Sex Pistols and the Clash combined. If a musician can't convince people that he's cool, nobody cool is going to care. And in the realm of rock 'n' roll, the cool kids fucking rule.

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