Artist Lessons Billy Joel Taught Me

 

billy joel photo

Happy New Year!

I took my son to see Billy Joel courtesy of my husband’s amazing Christmas present to us. It was MAGICAL and a testament to to the timelessness of good art which is the music of Billy Joel. I saw people  (and I am guessing here, but I think it’s pretty accurate)  from about 4 years old to 80, all bopping, dancing, what’s the current word for grooving? to songs (really stories) by this Piano Man. It was an unforgettable night!

In addition to the joy I felt sharing this moment with my son, I also learned artist lessons from this concert experience that I would like to share with you.

1. Billy Joel creates art that is timeless.

Billy Joel’s songs are about humanity. They are stories about everyday life. Allison Vesterfelt says about writers (although it can be applied to all artists) that “what often sets timeless writers apart from those who quickly fade into oblivion is their ability to use writing as a vehicle to bare their own humanity. That’s the kind of writing  we connect to and cling to. The kind the ultimately stands the test of time. ” It’s this kind of timelessness that allows Micah, in his adolescence, to identify with songs like My Life and Moving Out  ( although he better not talk to me with that fresh mouth) songs that as a woman I continue to love (Always a Woman, Just the Way You Are) songs that remind me of my husband  and his craziness (You May be Right). Billy Joel sings about stuff we say all the time only in rhyme and accompanied by music.

He knows this and continues to sing the same timeless songs from 20 and 30  years ago to a fresh new audience, and he’s making a fortune! So yes, make art that is timeless and part two of this lesson is, don’t underestimate your content written one or 20 years ago. There are still people who have never heard nor read anything you have created. There is a new generation you can market to with your timeless content!

2. He gives the people what they want while remaining true to himself.

At a certain point in the concert, he said. “this next song, was not a hit, it was actually on the other side of the 45 with We Didn’t Start the Fire…” I was like, “who wants to hear that?! Gimme the fire song!!!” But he clearly wanted to perform this other song, this song  the world knew nothing about, but obviously meant something to him.

Was it the song everyone when to the bathroom on, got food, or checked their phone messages? YES. But this taught me that all you do as an artist will not be a hit, not all of your “songs” will command everyone to their feet. But these “songs are still part of you,  you created them, and they get to be performed. You can give the people what they want but you can also be true to yourself and create and perform/make what you feel strongly about, even if it’s not popular.

3. He offers the spotlight to others

At another point in the concert we noticed someone else singing a solo. Who was this guy that was not Billy Joel? I thought. It was Mike DelGuidice and he performed the opera classic, Nessun Dorma . He had played 15 years as a Billy Joel cover artist and later invited by Joel to join his band  in 2013.

DelGuidice was awesome. His voice velvet yet strong as he belted out this song. I know who he is now because Joel shed some light on him and introduced him to his audience of over 18,000 people. I say this all the time, true artists don’t compete, they collaborate and share the spotlight.

4. He creates an urgency with his limitations.

Joel  plays one or two sold out shows a month. With the amount of energy I witnessed this man exert at 69 years old, he could probably do more but he doesn’t have to. And he probably doesn’t want to. He knows his limits and because of this he creates an urgency.

It worked with us. When I was on the fence about shelling out the money for the concert,  my husband said, “we better get the tickets this year, we don’t know how much longer he is going to perform.”

Sometimes our limitations as creators create an urgency and people who are on the fence about buying our products are forced to make a decision. I have seen this happen with my own work for sale. As a mom, I was very transparent about times I wouldn’t be making or shipping products because of  the boys’ school schedules.  It motivated people to buy when I could ship. Allow you limitations to create an urgency.

5. He is ultimately  about artist community.

During the concert, Joel covered the Eagles’ song, Take it Easy. Micah was shocked! He was like “Mommy, this is not a Billy Joel song, this is an Eagles song! Why is he singing this?” I was surprised too but had a realization.

Take It Easy is a song written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, and recorded by the Eagles with Frey singing lead vocals. It was the band’s first single and the opening track on the band’s debut album. It also became one of the Eagles’ signature songs, included on all of their live and compilation albums and listed as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Why would Billy Joel sing a song intrinsically tied to another artist? It’s because of artist community! He recognized genius and artistry in others even when the spotlight was on him.

Thank you Billy Joel!

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billy joel spotlight

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