For Billy Joel’s most devoted fans, tonight is as special as it gets. The Piano Man will appear in the Madison Square Garden spotlight for a 70th birthday celebration show — a high point in a Garden residency that stretches back to January 2014. In all, it will be his 110th Garden show since his first, in 1978.
In the second of two parts, the Official MSG Blog is sharing some of these fans’ fondest recollections. For them, he is the rare superstar who still connects to his audience in a personal way. He remains a touchstone, his music something they can return to time and again.
A First Date To Remember
Among Billy Joel aficionados Paul Fierro is regarded as one of his most ardent fans and prolific collectors. Now 60, his archive of all things Billy dates back more than 40 years when, he said, “the bug first bit me.”
It was December 14, 1978. I was there with a friend for Billy’s first show ever at Madison Square Garden. Two nights later I was there again on a first date. The girl’s name was Sue. We sat in fourth row seats. I had waited in line overnight to get those tickets. I can see it like it was yesterday.
By then, the seed had been planted, in 1974 when I first heard “Piano Man.” I went to see him in small venues with less than a thousand seats, and I started gathering everything I could involving Billy — old 45 records, the first videos, press kits, posters. When my daughter moved out, I turned her room into a rock and roll den filled with Billy memorabilia. What I can’t fit there is stored in boxes in the loft of our garage.
Why Billy? The word is common, in the best sense. He speaks to something common to all of us. Perhaps he’s not as fancy as Lennon or Dylan, but we can all relate to what he writes. He tells you a story that is honest and true. He is the king next door who made it big, still connected to where he came from. There’s no question he belongs at The Garden. He’s the kid from New York playing on his home court.
One more thing about Sue. I totally indoctrinated her to Billy’s music. And I married her. Last December we were back at The Garden to see Billy, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our first date.
A Complete Switch
Somewhere along the line Will Stegemann, 44, a Copiague, L.I. native, became a Billy Joel convert. Anyone who knew him as a kid never thought it would happen.
Growing up on Long Island, it wasn’t just that everyone I knew loved Billy Joel. My parents and friends would all say, you have to be a Billy Joel fan. So I decided to be a contrarian. I was so adamant that it became a standard New Year’s resolution — not to listen to Billy Joel.
Then a few years ago, I caught The Last Play at Shea on TV. As a Mets fan, I mistakenly thought it was about them and I began to watch. It was really about Billy’s final concert at Shea Stadium. I had wondered why he resonated with so many people and not with me, but this time I was somehow captivated. I was struck, finally, with how honest and relatable his words are. There’s no pretension to him at all.
I realized I had been a total snob, and I made a complete switch. I listened to everything he had ever done, and I even devoted a website to him, A Year of Billy Joel. Now, when I listen to “Vienna” or “Moving Out” I realize how aspirational his music is. He’s the middle class guy always reaching and striving, who’s one shot away from making it.
I knew many Long Islanders with a chip on their shoulder. They wanted to believe they could make it in New York City. Many of them did, and so did Billy. He made it all the way to Madison Square Garden. Sheer force of will got him there. He is still the local boy who says, you can’t shut me out.
To read more fan recollections, check out Part 1.
And to learn more about tonight’s big event, click here.
About Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp.
Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. (MSG Entertainment) is a leader in live entertainment experiences. The Company presents or hosts a broad array of events in its diverse collection of venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; and The Chicago Theatre. MSG Entertainment is also building a new state-of-the-art venue in Las Vegas, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, and has announced plans to build a second MSG Sphere in London, pending necessary approvals. In addition, the Company features the original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces the Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG Entertainment umbrella is Tao Group Hospitality, with entertainment dining and nightlife brands including Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Cathédrale. More information is available at www.msgentertainment.com.