Billy Joel's music has a way of bringing families together - especially those in the New York City area. In some households, it seems to be the only thing everyone likes. Joel's work took on special meaning for the singer-songwriter AJ Smith when he met his girlfriend's family, a family of superfans. He told the story:
"I was a few weeks into dating my girlfriend when she invited me to her mom's for dinner to 'meet the family.' On the train to see them, she gave me the run-down: 'They're super Italian and super Long Island. They love wine, The Mets, and Billy Joel.' She told me her dad, step-dad, brother, and uncle all worked in finance so don't worry if they ask money questions, that's just how they operate and she stressed again that they were Mets fans, not Yankees, and this was very important. To demonstrate exactly how important this is, Brianna's grandfather passed away three years after this and was buried in a Mets uniform (and his prayer cards...baseball cards).
So, there I was, the Colorado/Maryland/Virginia kid who didn't really identify with any one hometown and moved to New York to pursue a dream of being a professional musician, briefed and ready to meet my girlfriend's diehard Long Island finance-working family. I was prepared to be drilled about how much money I made playing in bars and writing songs. I even Googled the Mets schedule to see how they were doing (not well - they had just lost out in the Wild Card round of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants). And even though I didn't know much more about wine than 'a bottle of red, a bottle of white,' I did as much research on the train ride as I could to at least learn how to pronounce 'Sauvignon.'
All in all, the initial meet and greet went well. But what I remember most of that night wasn't the casual, 'What do you do? What's that pay?' or 'How 'bout them Mets? Really thought after last year that this was our year, but maybe next year' conversation. It was after the second course of dinner and the third bottle of wine when Brianna's brother goes, 'You're a musician, right? Do you know any Billy Joel? Can you play 'Piano Man
So I hopped over to the family piano right off the dining room and a two-hour family singalong began. After we went through the ones I was used to getting requests for, we started getting into the deep cuts and instrumentals. 'Hey, do you know Rootbeer Rag?' I didn't know 'Rootbeer Rag,' so I listened to it over my phone speakers and, well, played 'Rootbeer Rag.' I remember it going very well, and they all do too, but I listened again without so much wine in my system and there's no way I nailed it. Hard song.
That night opened my eyes to how much my girlfriend's family loves Billy Joel. And she does too. When we're cooking together, I'll put Billy on shuffle and if Brianna's had a tough day, it's immediately better. Being a person who can't walk down the stairs without a musical idea coming in my head, I sing a lot around the apartment. I'll sing silly songs about putting on the dog's raincoat or banana bread. And on the very rare occasion that my beautiful and loving girlfriend and I get into an argument or she's had a particularly hard day, I'll sit at the piano and sing 'Vienna
' by Billy Joel. Everyone has that favorite song or artist who elevates their mood when they're feeling down. I hope to be that for people myself in my writing. And 'Vienna' - it's that song for Brianna and is the inspiration behind my new song, appropriately named after the hero of Long Island himself, 'Billy Joel.'"