Billy Joel plans to play monthly shows at Madison Square Garden for as long as the public is interested. Follow his first year of this groundbreaking music-industry experiment by looking at his shows through a variety of viewpoints -- from critics, musicians, celebrities and fans. This month, it's Valerie Kellogg, Newsday's Home editor.
Let's start this story from The End.
As Billy Joel launched into "This Is the Time" during his latest sold-out show, Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, I am back in Montauk. It's the late '80s, and my boyfriend and I are putting logs on the fire at a hotel in Montauk, in young love and unsure and enjoying a moment of independence at a time when we are starting to make our way into the world.
It was hard to imagine in the days before Joel's concert that I could still be roused by his hits, many of which have been so overplayed that they have at times become aural wallpaper. That's what happens when it comes to Joel -- his songs are our memories, and the melodies, however predictable, never really get old. His music has been a constant for many Long Islanders, there as the backdrop to rides in the family station wagon, backyard barbecues, first crushes, college parties, nights at the bar, weddings, births and funerals.
Whatever memories Joel conjured for the audience Saturday through the 23 chart-topping songs he performed, I can only imagine. "Go way back, Billy," someone could be heard screaming during a set from his early albums, including "Cold Spring Harbor." Throughout the performance, a man and woman in front of me looked at one another at the first chord of each song he performed, as if every one had a certain special meaning for them, sometimes pulling each other closer, other times kissing with closed eyes.
Middle-age moms danced wildly to "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" as they filmed one another on their phones. Grown men, many grown men, contorted themselves to take just-the-right-angled selfies so that Joel could be captured in the background playing piano.
As they tried to move closer to the stage, so did Long Island-bred Judd Apatow, the big-time producer, director and screenwriter who came with an entourage of comedic stars. He eventually left his seat and went to the VIP section, where he could be seen bopping to the music like any other guy in the crowd.
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They swayed from the floor to the nosebleed rows during "New York State of Mind," they backed Joel up loudly with each "Oh" during "She's Always a Woman," they shook the floor during "Sometimes a Fantasy," they gave a standing ovation during "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and they sang the chorus a cappella to "Piano Man."
A woman from Huntington summed up what probably many felt at a packed Penn Station after the show. "It was like the soundtrack to my life in one concert," she told me.