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December 3, 2013.
It isn't often that a musician is considered to be almost
synonymous with a venue where they play. On the rare occasions that
something like this does happen, it is usually small clubs played early
on in a career – like The Beatles at the Cavern Club, or Bruce
Springsteen at the Stone Pony.
It's not easy to reach those heights in arguably the most
famous arena in the United States. However, if one musician's name
comes to mind when you mention Madison Square Garden, that musician
would probably be Billy Joel.
The Long Island, New York native has played the arena over
40 times in his career, many as the headliner but also as a driving
force of "The Concert For New York" after the World Trade Center attacks
in 2001 and "12-12-12: A Concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief."
That number is about to go up quickly. Joel had taken a
few years off the road, but he is jumping back into live performance
with both feet, as Joel and the Garden have recently made an agreement
to essentially give him a residency there. They have decided that he
will play a gig every month at the Garden indefinitely: basically until
Joel, the venue or the fans grow tired of it. This is not likely to
happen any time soon, as he has already sold out five shows at the
Garden every month through March, with two more just about to be
announced and others on the drawing board.
These shows were recently announced at a packed special
press conference at the Garden, in which executives for the venue also
honored Joel as a Garden "Legend," a musical franchise of the arena just
like the Knicks and the Rangers are the place's sports franchises. We
were lucky enough to sit right up front as Joel sat humbly as his
praises were sung by Garden executives, local sports legends, including
former Knick John Starks and former Rangers Rod Gilbert and Adam Graves
and New York governor (and someday maybe even Presidential contender)
Dolan, the Executive Chairman of the Garden, had this to say: "Billy,
having you as our music franchise feels a little bit like having the
Pope as your parish priest."
"I have a lot to live up to with those words, and I hope
that I don't let you down," Joel said modestly when he took the podium.
Governor Cuomo perhaps captured the feeling the best,
stating simply, "Billy's music and his words voice the challenges of
ordinary New Yorkers. The struggles they face, the dreams they share:
from high school sweethearts Brenda and Eddie [from the song 'Scenes
from an Italian Restaurant'] to the struggle of the working middle class
in "Anthony's Song" to economic challenges of the Long Island bay men in
'The Downeaster Alexa.'"
These songs, of course, are just a few of the classics in
which Joel has used his youth in the New York area to lend vividness and
nuance to his musical short stories of being poor and scrapping to
attain your dreams.
For Billy Joel as a young man, those dreams included the
"I'd like to take a moment to talk a little bit about what
Madison Square Garden means to me," Joel said from the podium. "Growing
up as a young aspiring musician in Hicksville, NY, Madison Square Garden
appeared larger than life. Like many other aspiring musicians, I
dreamed of playing the Garden. But it was more than that, Madison
Square Garden was New York to me. It's the place where artists
become stars and players become legends."
However, it took a while for Joel to become one of those
legends. In a musical career that started in the 60s, Joel put in lots
of hard time before capturing overnight success. He started with
short-lived bands (The Hassles and Attila, anyone?) that came and went
with little or no notice. His debut solo album Cold Spring Harbor
received a certain amount of acclaim, but also hardly touched the
pop culture consciousness – even though the songs "She's Got a Way" and
"Everybody Loves You Now" later became staples of his repertoire.
first breakthrough came when a Philadelphia DJ named Ed Sciaky of WMMR,
started playing a seven-minute concert recording of Joel's song "Captain
Jack," giving him his first radio hit and bringing him to the attention
of Columbia Records, the record label which became his home for the rest
of his career. Even at Columbia, things went a bit slowly. Though he
had his first hit single with the title track of his Piano Man
album, his first three albums for the label were minor hits at best.
That all changed in 1977, when Joel recorded arguably his
masterpiece, The Stranger. The album housed four top 40 hits,
including his biggest hit yet, the gentle ballad "Just the Way You
Are." Hot on that album's heels in 1978, Joel's follow-up album 52nd
Street also topped the charts, spawning more hits including the
classics "Big Shot" and "My Life" and making Billy Joel an official
"In 1978, I achieved my dream of playing this iconic venue
for the first time," Joel said. "I thought it didn't get any better
than that moment. Now, thirty-five years later I've had the incredible
fortune to experience 46 of those incredible moments, right here,
including both the Concert for New York and 12-12-12, which were so
important to this city. I said it in '78 and I'll say it here again:
there is no better venue in the world. The best audience, the best
acoustics, the best reputation and undeniable history that is palpable
from the moment you step up on stage."
New York and Madison Square Garden return the love.
Longtime New York DJ Jim Kerr told the story while
introducing Joel. "As you enter here today, I hope you had the
opportunity to look at the extraordinary photos showcased in this room
that represent a powerful snapshot of Billy Joel's exceptional career,"
Kerr told all the assembled media, pointing out a series of enlarged
photos taken of Joel at the Garden over the years. "These photos...
capture one thing, an extraordinarily talented artist. They are just a
sampling of the enormous breadth and depth of Billy Joel's career and
his longstanding relationship with Madison Square Garden."
"I'm lucky to have been born in New York City and we all
wanted to play Madison Square Garden," Joel said in a short video
previewing the honor. "That was the temple. When I finally played
there, that was a watershed moment for me. Wow, now I've really made
Former New York Rangers hockey star Adam Graves agreed.
"When you perform here, you represent New York and all that New York
stands for," Graves said.
tells the New York story, because Billy is the New York story,"
Governor Cuomo continued. Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island,
faced with hardship and challenges, his determination, hard work and
talent overcame, time and time again. Billy fights for what he believes
in. He speaks out against injustice and he remembers the forgotten. He
is a worldwide superstar who values most that he is a hometown hero."
"I'm getting a lot of
credit here for how good I'm supposed to be," Joel
admitted. "But, I think a good deal of it
is from the audience that comes to the Garden. They are a great
audience and if you have a great audience, you usually give a better
show. Believe me, I've played some venues where the audience was like
ehhh." He mimed
"And the show was kind of ehhh..."
He shrugged his
shoulders. "But here, it's mutual. It's just mutual excitement. We
get excited from the crowd and they seem to like what we're doing."
52nd Street was just
the beginning for Joel, who released several other best-selling albums,
33 top 40 hits and six Grammys before retiring from pop songwriting and
recording in the early 1990s. However, he never stopped performing,
touring the world for years into the mid-late 2000s. Problems in real
life caused Joel to take a few years off, but now he is back and ready
to make music. The world has stood up and taken notice, including
Barack Obama, the President of the United States, who will this week be
giving Joel the Kennedy Center Honor, which is just a little bit further
Just like Joel's famous "Uptown Girl," who was looking for
a downtown man. That's what Billy Joel is. However, even with all the
uptown girls in the rearview mirror, it is the city itself that will always
have Joel's heart.
"Our prodigal son, who left New York for that other coast,"
Governor Cuomo said, "but he came back and he penned the greatest love song to the state of
New York ever written: 'New York State of Mind.' Billy Joel is truly
one of New York State's great treasures. It's only fitting that he
joins another treasure, Madison Square Garden."
Joel's future and that of the Garden will be intertwined
for quite some time to come, which is just fine by him.
"To have the chance to play along the newly
transformed Garden, alongside its legendary and original franchises –
The Knicks, The Rangers and Liberty – it's quite a momentous occasion
from that older, but still aspiring, musician from Long Island,"
"One thing I can assure everyone here today is that playing
the Garden is an experience that never gets old," Joel
continued. "A show a
month at the Garden, as long as there is a demand, means more
opportunities to connect with music fans to provide an unique and
memorable show every night we play there. I'm honored to be a part of
the Madison Square Garden family and I hope to see everyone back here on
JOEL FROM THE FRONT ROW OF THE MADISON SQUARE GARDEN PRESS
CONFERENCE IN WHICH HE WAS NAMED A MSG LEGEND AND ANNOUNCED
HIS CONCERT SERIES!
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