19 May 2021

Billy and Me

I attended a small college in Pennsylvania back in the seventies.  With 1,200 students we were not exactly overwhelmed with concerts by famous musicians.  I recall shows by Steve Goodman, and Hall and Oates.  

But the show programmers had one triumph that I imagine they have bragged about ever since.  They booked a concert by a musician whose first album had gone nowhere and whose second record had just been released.  I'm sure a month later they wouldn't have been able to even get his manager on the phone, much less sign a contract, because "Piano Man" was a pretty big hit.

So I got to see Billy Joel live, very early in his career.  He did just about all the songs on the Piano Man album but also played a lot from Cold Spring Harbor.  This was the first record, so badly mastered that Joel sounded a bit, well, chipmunk-ish.  I remember him playing a very depressing song from it, "Tomorrow is Today" and saying "I hope none of you feel like this."  As soon as it ended my friend Mike turned to me  and said: "I feel exactly like that."  I hope you feel better now, Mike, wherever you are.   

Last year, after I wrote a story for Josh Pachter's anthology The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe, he mentioned that he was working on an anthology of crime stories based on Billy Joel songs.  I told him I would love to participate, and, wouldn't you know it?  One of the albums no one else had claimed was the legendarily obscure Cold Spring Harbor.  Perfect!

I focused on the song "Why Judy Why."  In it, the narrator complains to Judy about being badly treated by another woman.  But from a crime-writing point of view a song with that title had to be about motive.  So that's what I wrote.  You will find it in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired By The Songs of Billy Joel, available now.

Fun fact: My story appeared dead-last in the Nero Wolfe book.  "Why Judy Why" is the opener for the Billy Joel volume.  I could claim that my work has advanced, but the truth is that the stories are arranged chronologically.  

I'm just happy to be part of the celebration of Mr. Joel's classic works.


  1. Congratulations! Looking forward to reading the anthology.

  2. Fun post, Rob, and congratulations on your place in the anthology. I always respected Joel's music although I don't know his entire catalog nearly as well as that of many other artists. Now that I'm actually trying to teach myself piano, I'm coming to appreciate the logic and economy of some of his tunes even more than I did before. Really good stuff.

  3. Really enjoyed your story, Rob! It's a great start to a book I'm happy to have on my shelf.

  4. And in Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers (coming from Untreed Reads in September), your take on At the Circus will be tenth out of the fourteen stories. You are all over the place, Rob!

  5. Happy to be under the (book) covers with you, Rob, on this book and the upcoming MB book.

  6. Thanks, all. Joe, I'm glad you liked it. Josh, it's interesting that I am in three of your anthologies, themed with literature, music, and movies! Barb, delighted to be in such good company.


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