Should this Man be Arrested: Billy Joel

“Should this Man be Arrested?” is an on-going feature that examines the minds of various songwriters through their lyrics. As lyrics are always 100% literal translations of a songwriter’s thoughts, we believe we can use lyrical snippets to answer the following simple, yet crucial, question: should this man be arrested?

Subject:

Billy Joel – popular songwriter known to some as a routine Vegas act, known to others as that guy who wrote “New York State of Mind”, but known to all as the Piano Man

Evidence:

“We didn’t start the fire.
It was always burning since the world’s been turning.
We didn’t start the fire.
No, we didn’t start it, but we tried to fight it.”

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” (from Storm Front)

Thoughts:

Let’s look at the underlying assumptions of Mr. Joel’s statements.  It must be presumed a fire was started.  Joel seems to have been there, yet pleads over and over that he didn’t start it.  In fact, he claims that “we” tried to fight it.  So he had at least one other person with him.  Now, the key here is the fact Mr. Joel is like a broken record in his denial of starting the fire.  He states that “we didn’t start the fire” no less than eleven times.  At some point, incessant denial becomes outright suspicious behavior.  Billy Joel has reached this point.

The next point to address is where exactly the fire is located.  Things get a bit tricky at that point.  Upon a more in depth look through his lyrics, one will determine that Joel has clearly lost a few of his marbles.  He throws in random historical people or events seemingly with no connection other than that they follow in chronological order.  He’s like a history teacher gone AWOL.

A sample lyric:

“Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide,
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz,
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law,
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore!”

One can only imagine that this songwriter has gone stark-raving mad.  In fact, he writes in the song that “I [he] can’t take it anymore”.  The fire itself, which at first seems like a mystery, actually becomes clear with a look through the above lyrics.  This the fire of humanity.  As in, the metaphorical fire that started off all the evils in this world, from crack to homeless vets to even “Wheel of Fortune”.

This is some heavy stuff and I’m afraid Mr. Joel is in the middle of it.

Verdict:

Guilty.  Not only does Billy present himself as a maniacal history buff, but he also denies starting the fire over and over and over again. I believe he not only started a fire, but he started THE fire.  I don’t know how he did it, but he did it.  As a reasonable man, I’d give him a pass if he started it in Nebraska, but he doesn’t seem to have that defense.

The song itself reads like a confession.  As if his guilt has finally outweighed him.  In fact, it ends with the following statement: “But when we are gone, will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…?”  He clearly feels sorry for starting us on this never-ending losing battle.  Unfortunately, sorry doesn’t bring back JFK.  Sorry doesn’t save the millions dying in Africa.  You don’t get a cookie for being sorry Billy.

We can never undo what Billy Joel has done.  But we can bring him to justice.

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Should this Man be Arrested: Bruce Springsteen

“Should this Man be Arrested?” is an on-going feature that examines the minds of various songwriters through their lyrics. As lyrics are always 100% literal translations of a songwriter’s thoughts, we believe we can use lyrical snippets to answer the following simple, yet crucial, question: should this man be arrested?

Subject:

Bruce Springsteen – just your regular run of the mill American blue-collar middle-class multimillionaire, aka “The Boss”

Evidence:

“From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed-off .410 on my lap
through to the Badlands of Wyoming I killed everything in my path.”

“Nebraska” (from Nebraska)

Thoughts:

I’m conflicted.  At first, it’s obvious.  The man is guilty.  He states outright that he “killed everything in my [his] path”.  Seems like case closed and job well done.  But then, when looking in detail things get a bit trickier.  Springsteen is driving through the heartland of America, namely Nebraska.  The first question you need to ask yourself now is…have you ever been to Nebraska?  I have.  Let me tell you, it’s a tough place to NOT kill everything in your path.  I mean if he were on a rampage in California or Boston or New York then sure, lock him up and throw away the keys.  But, after keeping in mind human decency, how can you expect someone driving through Nebraska to NOT lose their minds and kill everything.  I’m not condoning murder of any sort, but I’m human too…and I understand.

Verdict:

Innocent.  He may have killed everything in his path from Nebraska to Wyoming, but this is Nebraska and Wyoming.  Besides, how many people would actually be in his path in these areas.  Who even lives there?  And once again, we’re talking about Bruce Freaking Springsteen here.  Are we really saying after making “Born in the USA” he can’t go on a weekend killing bender and not still be the heartbeat of America.  I think not.  That’s not the America I believe in.

Also, it was Nebraska.  I rest my case.

Should this Man be Arrested: Gillian Welch

“Should this Man be Arrested?” is an on-going feature that examines the minds of various songwriters through their lyrics. As lyrics are always 100% literal translations of a songwriter’s thoughts, we believe we can use lyrical snippets to answer the following simple, yet crucial, question: should this man be arrested?

Subject:

Gillian Welch–faux-Appalachian country-folk crooner, native of Southern California

Evidence:

“I cried, ‘My God, I am your child I am your child. Send your angels down.’ Then feeling with my fingertips, the bottle neck I found. I drew that glass across his neck, fine as any blade. Then I felt his blood pour fast and hot around me where I laid.”

“Caleb Meyer” (from Hell Among The Yearlings)

Thoughts:

Nothin’ better than a good old-fashioned murderin’ song! This one gets bonus points because it’s about a female murderer named Nellie Cane Gillian Welch who, supposedly acting in self-defense, is forced to kill Caleb Meyer while her husband is away in Bowling Green (wherever that is–seriously, is that a real place or is Gillian Welch just like making shit up now?). So the story goes Nellie Cane Gillian Welch is home by herself because her husband is out of town doing … farm work, presumably, and because of her fragile constitution she’s taken advantage of by Caleb Meyer, local drug-store owner/town rapist.

Verdict:

Guilty. We’ll never hear Caleb’s side of the story since he’s been murdered, but it’s safe to assume that Gillian Welch, local farm-hand/town whore, was begging for it while her husband was out of town doing … farm work, presumably. Gillian Welch, I hereby sentence you to live out the remainder of your bloodthirsty days on a barn. Oh, wait.

Should this Man be Arrested: Jeff Tweedy

“Should this Man be Arrested?” is an on-going feature that examines the minds of various songwriters through their lyrics. As lyrics are always 100% literal translations of a songwriter’s thoughts, we believe we can use lyrical snippets to answer the following simple, yet crucial, question: should this man be arrested?

Subject:

Jeff Tweedy–lead singer for influential country/folk/alternative/dad-rock band Wilco

Evidence:

“I dreamed about killing you again last night
And it felt alright to me”

“Via Chicago” (from Summerteeth)

Thoughts:

First of all … wow. I’m not sure who exactly he’s talking about here but it seems plain to me that someone has upset Mr. Tweedy quite considerably. Not only does he dream about killing the aforementioned someone, but he’s singing about a dream that he’s having again. Not only is he dreaming about killing someone again, but he says “it felt alright to me”. From my perspective, he’s a cold-blooded killer.

In fact, just to see if I could redeem poor Mr. Tweedy’s name from his clear status as a psychopath, I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and see if adding a few more lines to the above snippet would give him room to explain himself. Well, here’s what I found:

“Dying on the banks of Embarcadero skies
I sat and watched you bleed
Buried you alive in a fireworks display
Raining down on me”

Jaw drops … he can’t be … but he is … but he wrote “You and I” … oh God, I hope he wasn’t talking about me

So, is our favorite dad-rocker a criminal?

Verdict:

Guilty. It was a sly trick to cover up your actions through the humble dad-rock posturing of albums like Sky Blue Sky, Mr. Tweedy. Well played, sir. But we’ve got you now. I hereby sentence you to a lifetime of listening to “Shake It Off” on repeat until your head explodes from mediocrity.