Did the title make you curious?! In this case, for those people who don’t know me very well, I’m talking about Billy Joel. And for those people under a certain age, he’s the man who wrote Uptown Girl, not Westlife! And for those who don’t know who Westlife are, you’re not missing anything.
I never quite followed the crowd; I seemed to prefer to go against the grain. People supported Liverpool; I chose Everton. Celtic were the Scottish team to follow; I chose Hibernian. Teenage girls swooned over Morten Harket; I preferred Mags. Friends would go roller skating; I would go and watch the local rugby league team. And fashion wise, I always looked slightly different because of my size. Being petite with extra small feet, I was still buying clothes from Tammy Girl and purchasing shoes from Clarks whereas everyone else had the full range of adult sizes to buy from. Oh and the hair. Dark, tumbling waves which I would kill for now, but resented back then because I couldn’t contain them and cutting it short only produced some sort of birds nest on top of my head. So, like I said, in some ways I didn’t conform and music was one way I turned out to be different.
I first became aware of Billy Joel in 1983. Top of the Pops was on in the living room and my dad was taking a keen interest in the video for ‘Uptown Girl’. The song playing was catchy and in no way was I perturbed when, half way through the video, two men randomly appeared and started breakdancing in a New York gas station! It was only years later that I realised my dad was paying more attention to the blonde, leggy supermodel than the funny little man pretending to be a car mechanic. The song was a hit and became the perfect accompaniment to the Slosh dance, the staple of many drunken New Year’s Eve parties. Anyway, I quite liked this funny little man despite not knowing anything about him and enjoyed his next release, ‘Tell Her About It’. Then, in my little world, he disappeared.
As my friends and I began to show an interest in music, different bands occupied my thoughts and magazine covers adorned with their moody faces were scattered over my floor. A-ha, Deacon Blue, Hue and Cry….Then one day, in 1989, as I was stood in front of a myriad of television sets in the now defunct Radio Rentals, there he was! He had taken off his oily overalls and was now suited all in black, sporting sunglasses, but it was him! He appeared to be chanting a list of names and complaining about a fire but he was back! And I was hooked.
He became my obsession. In the days before the internet, you had to rely on newspapers to find out about your idols. Being married to that leggy, blonde supermodel meant Billy was ideal gossip fodder for the British tabloids. And a bit more famous than he had been in 1983. The song I was referring to was obviously ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ and I set about trying to learn the lyrics. I didn’t have a clue what half of them meant. My encyclopaedia didn’t list some of these weird names. But I would try to bring my friends over to the Billy side with the fact he was singing and teaching at the same time.
“Look! The song is a history lesson! You should listen to it!”
“But we’re studying the Industrial Revolution in Britain Linz. We don’t need to know that stuff!”
“We might. He mentions the Queen! And the Beatles!”
Cue multiple rolling of eyes. I never did convince them so I adopted Billy Joel all for myself. I would be his lone flag bearer!
But, once at university, I did it in secret. My tapes on display were Suede, KD Lang, Lightning Seeds, Blur, Oasis to name but a few. It was as if I was having a secret affair with Billy Joel. Until 1994, that is, when he came to England on tour. He wasn’t getting any younger and this could have been my one and only chance to see him live. Operation River of Dreams concert commenced and it was probably one of the few times in my life that I have showed any real drive and determination. I just had to be more than civil to two people and encourage relationships I didn’t really want to encourage if I was to get a ticket and travel to London to see him in the flesh…..
To be continued.