Sunday, February 13, 2011
Billy Joel's "Last Play at Shea" shows he's one of us
There's a funny moment on Billy Joel's live CD recorded on the night 1999 turned to 2000.
“There's some classical shit in there,” Joel said at the conclusion of “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.” “Tried to cop a little Copland.”
I laugh because the line captures why Joel is the embodiment of New York, showing off its beauty and coarseness at the same time.
I remembered that line today as I played by “Last Play at Shea” DVD, a Christmas gift from my wife that arrived this week. I thought it was a concert DVD of the highlights of Joel's two gigs at Shea Stadium in 2008.
I was wrong. It's so much more.
There's plenty of music, for sure. But the documentary is better described as parallel biographies of the performer and the ballpark, and, by extension, the Mets. It's magnificent. I spent most of the afternoon all weepy.
People here in the Midwest don't get Billy Joel. I've seen him perform several times at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and the shows don't compare to the nights I've watched him at the Nassau Coliseum, one of which was captured on video.
The people watching in the shows in the Detroit suburbs enjoy the hit songs, but they don't come with the shared experiences as the man from Levittown. They can't picture the old hotel on the beach he's singing about in “This is the Time,” they think “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” could take place in a place like Olive Garden because they don't have places like Musicaro's here. They don't picture the fishing boats in “Downeaster 'Alexa'”
They don't get the Mets, either. These one-team cities don't understand how a person could totally embrace one team from your town and be repulsed by the other.
Watching “Last Play at Shea,” I was convinced that Joel was the perfect person to perform the grand stadium's final concerts.
His Mets loyalty has been questioned. He's mentioned the Yankees twice in songs, and there's the VHS of him performing at that place in the Bronx. But notice that they had to draw a picture of him wearing the Yankees cap, and he looks uncomfortable even in that. I suspect the label made him do it.
Because Joel whether he realizes it or not, has more in common with the Mets. Bruce Springsteen – not even a New Yorker, I might add – gets the love from the critics and the Super Bowl performances and the Oscars.
But Joel, as the documentary shows, is like the Mets in that Billy has had his ups and downs, and the ups are very up and the downs really suck. We can relate to that.
He's the boomer who came of age in the 1960s in “We Didn't Start the Fire,” the defensive guy in “My Life,” and the guy out of step with the trends in “It's Still Rock and Roll to Me.” We like orange and blue and giant apples, all right? The Mets are flawed, but we love them just the way they are.
The other team reeks of entitlement and thinks it will win the World Series every year. Billy said in the documentary that he's always surprised when one of his songs becomes a hit.
The movie has all kids of scenes of Shea beauty and magic, from the metal panels to the neon players, from 1969 to 1986.
It's got interviews with Tom and Sir Paul, the very best to perform in the building. And it's even got the best Mets blogger in there to pull it all together.
Sting is in there, too. He confesses he doesn't get the magic of Shea. But he was in “Dune,” too, so his judgment is questionable. Go play in the Bronx.
The film winds down with Paul McCartney trying to land at JFK and get to the concert in time and the Mets scrapping to hang on as the end of the 2008 season. Paul makes it, the Mets don't.
At the end of the concert we see Billy backstage, imploring Paul McCartney to come back for one more song, almost as if he doesn't want the night to end. Kind of how we all felt when we saw Cameron Maybin at the edge of the warning track waiting for Ryan Church's ball to land in his glove.
The documentary ends with time-lapse photography of Shea's demolition that builds a lump in the throat as the sections go down one at a time, each revealing more of Citi Field in the background.
But the cameras keep running right to the lights go on for Opening Night in 2009.
The new ballpark isn't Shea, but it's beautiful.