Billy Joel’s Big Day: A Hometown Award, The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song
He grew up there, he’s paid tribute to it in many of his songs and he remains an active member of its community. Now, Long Island has repaid the favor by naming Billy Joel the winner of Newsday’s ‘That’s SO Long Island‘ tournament.
Silly as the competition might sound, Joel faced stiffer odds than you might think: As the newspaper put it, he “even beat out bagels, Billy Crystal, and in the final round, Jones Beach.” Still, for anyone who’s closely followed his career, it was really never any contest. He’s been a worldwide superstar since the late ’70s, but no matter how many sold-out crowds he’s played to around the world, Billy Joel has always made it clear that he belongs to Long Island.
Joel’s public championing of his roots extends back to the title of his debut solo album, 1972’s ‘Cold Spring Harbor,’ and continues through the many times he referenced the region in his lyrics (the list includes songs such as ‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ and ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’), product titles (his first concert film was 1982’s ‘Live from Long Island’), and overall artistic point of view (‘The Downeaster ‘Alexa’,’ from 1989’s ‘Storm Front’ LP, is sung from the viewpoint of a struggling commercial fisherman). His outlook is summed up in the Newsday article linked above, which quotes him as saying, “My perspective of things all comes from a Long Island point of view.”
That point of view has expanded in later years, as Joel’s wealth and fame have enabled him to contribute to a variety of Long Island interests, from charities and cleanup efforts to the local economy, which includes his 20th Century Cycles motorcycle shop. At the same time, his legacy of music prompted the Library of Congress to name Joel as the seventh recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song today. He joins a prestigious group that includes Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, among others.
In keeping, it’s perhaps no surprise that Joel’s real estate on the island puts him at a considerable lifestyle distance from the tract housing he grew up in. But he claims to still have an affinity for blue-collar folk. “I’m from the working man’s Long Island, Levittown. Massapequa,” he points out in Newsday’s article. “The working men and women live out east. And I want to be among them.” Those working men and women clearly feel the same way, and the hometown honor is one Joel doesn’t take lightly, as evidenced by his official site.
Now if only this could inspire Joel to put together an album of new material. How about putting in a good word for the rest of us, Long Island?