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Billy Joel In Winter – Grantland

In December, Billy Joel performed six songs at the 12.12.12 benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy victims at Madison Square Garden, and it was kind of a big deal. At the height of his pop-star fame in the ’70s and ’80s — when a string of hit albums secured him access to the figureheads of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue’s gilded age (including Elle Macpherson and future ex-wife Christie Brinkley) and widespread admiration for his bold and possibly crazy pro-“riding motorcycles in the rain” stance — Joel could regularly be seen playing for arenas full of people. And you could also see him attempting to dance and/or play guitar credibly on MTV every single day. But at the 12.12.12 concert, Joel was like a retiree stopping by the office for a quick visit before his morning coffee run. Outside of a stray appearance here and there, including cameos at Paul McCartney’s Yankee Stadium concerts in 2011, Joel had not commanded the public’s attention on a big, important stage in many years. Before his recent hip-replacement surgery, Joel wasn’t sure if he’d ever play live again. “Honestly, I’m not as good as I used to be,” he recently told Rolling Stone.

If only Billy could’ve seen my Twitter feed during the 12.12.12 telecast. I follow dozens of music critics, and it seemed like nearly all of them were flooding their social-media platforms that night with catty comments. … The sea of snark miraculously parted for him. Here is a guy whom music scribes have historically gone out of their way to slag; even now, a couple of decades removed from his prime, Billy Joel still inspires an unprovoked hatchet job every now and again. And yet this wretched hive of cynics and grumps was stumping on behalf of the Piano Man with unbridled enthusiasm.

Read more at Grantland.