What musicology is all about in 2016

You couldn’t make it up.

From the Musicology-AMS network:

A Billy Joel Conference this Fall

by Ryan Bañagale

Billy Joel in 2009.
Photo Credit: David Shankbone

The first-ever academic conference dedicated to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel takes place this fall at Colorado College.  But this is not simply a gathering for scholars and/or enthusiasts.  Rather, the conference has been conceived as a “public musicology” event—graciously co-sponsored by the American Musicological Society—from its initial planning stages.  It is an opportunity to put on display our collective ability to talk about music familiar to non-academic audiences in ways that are accessible, insightful, engaging, and entertaining.

With one month remaining to our April 8th Call For Papers deadline, I wanted to take this opportunity—on behalf of my co-organizer Joshua S. Duchan (Wayne State University) and the members of our esteemed program committee, Eric Hung (Rider University), Katherine Meizel (Bowling Green State University), and Albin Zak (University of Albany)—to address a few common questions about the conference.  With any luck, what follows will encourage participation from those that might otherwise hesitate to submit a proposal.

I respectfully (and playfully) present our Frequently Asked Questions document:

FAQ for
“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”: The Music and Lyrics of Billy Joel
A Public Musicology Conference Hosted by Colorado College
October 7-8, 2016

Q: Why Billy Joel?

A:  First, why not? Joel’s dynamic career spans nearly five decades and he is the third highest-selling solo musician in the United States.  A majority of his more than thirty studio, live, or compilation albums have been certified multi-platinum.  He currently plays a once-a-month, sold-out gig at Maddison Square Garden.  Despite such popularity, however, Joel’s music and live performance has been accompanied by a somewhat uneasy relationship with critics, while scholarship on his extensive output remains scant—a gap that needs to be filled.

Second, given our desire to stage a “public musicology” conference, Joel’s music provides an ideal vehicle to explore the musicological issues and topics that matter to us most in front of a non-academic audience.  The popularity of his music will draw attendees who might not otherwise feel inclined to attend a musicologically oriented conference.  Additionally, those in attendance will likely be well-versed in the music being discussed.  This familiarity provides a common point of departure that might not exist for more obscure musical subjects (not that us musicologists would ever deal in obscurity).

Q: I’m not a popular music scholar.  Can I still submit a paper?

A: Of course.  One of the goals of the conference is to allow people who would not normally have an opportunity/excuse to work in such directions to do so.  However, presenters should not feel bound to the methodologies and approaches utilized by popular music studies.  Scholars from a wide variety of fields are encouraged to submit a proposal, including musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, history, comparative literature, sociology, and other related fields.  Non-scholars may also submit proposals and will be considered alongside those from academics.

Read more here.

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    • Yes, if there is ONE music genre that is anxiously waiting for academic accolades, it is RAP.

      • Don’t worry, there ARE serious Rap studies! I had an argument with somebody on “The Spectator”, or maybe “Spiked”, who tried to tell me that Rap was just as good as art music and that he was studying it with Music. He told me I was a ‘musical imperialist’ by rejecting his assertion!!

        So, there are things which can be studied sans skills!!!

      • Agreed, but if I ask, “What’s wrong with studying Billy Joel’s music?” then the harpies show up.

        And if you disdain studying Billy Joel’s music, a different species of harpy just shows up.

        It amazes* me how quickly any discussion of something as beautiful and unifying as music turns into a fucking bloodbath.

        * Where by “amazes,” I actually mean “depresses.”

  • Billy Joel once claimed that his concerts* in the USSR were a major contributory factor to the fall of communism.


    Dare we hope that musicology’s very own scourge of the Pinko Pestilence, Dr Richard Taruskin, will be giving a paper at this valuable conference??

    * a few years ago I was asked to transcribe and translate a bio-pic of Joel’s Soviet tour, in order to provide the Russian subtitles for a showing on Channel 1 Russian TV. So I know every word he spoke on-camera during that tour. Translation is my ‘resting’ job 😉

  • I checked the website of the American Musicological Society and couldn’t find the Billy Joel conference. Admittedly, I didn’t look hard enough.

    But I found plenty of other conferences. Apparently, the range of topics covered in current musicological conferences is as diverse as ever.


    I hope some musicologist will put this report into perspective.

    • The article (above) does give a link directly to the conference proceedings and call for papers, in fact. This is certainly a bona-fide (sic) conference of the AMS.

      • Sure, this is one of many conferences. I was looking at the website, and forgot to check the blog.
        My point is that american musicology is not all about Billy Joel. Billy Joel is the subject of just one conference.

  • Billy Joel is also a yacht designer having assisted in the design of a teak wood trimmed 38 foot motor yacht built in a boatyard in Long Island, N.Y. They are sweet vessels!

    He collects a royalty on every vessel sold, but they are of limited production.

  • Say what you will about Billy Joel but it was really something when in the 1980’s (I believe) he went to Cuba, at the height of totalitarian control, and sang his hit:
    “I don’t care what you do anymore this is MY LIFE
    Go ahead with your own life, LEAVE ME ALONE”

    That took balls, as much (or more) for the cheering masses than for him.

  • And who is Billy Joel? I mean, I know who he is, he had one major hit about forty years ago. Since then he has been in the media but inside pop music he is not even relevant. If they would have taken Lou Reed or David Bowie before they died, let alone Norman Whitfield or Holland-Dozier-Holland. Or George Martin indeed.

  • Who is Billy Joel? For those who don’t know, or think he is just another “pop” celebrity, he is one of the best songwriters of the past fifty years. He certainly has produced a stream of well known and not especially important bubble-gum “pop” songs, but he is also responsible for a large body of sophisticated and finely-crafted music. Many of his songs, particularly from the seventies, have established themselves as standards in “The Great American Songbook.”

    To take just a few examples……: “Allentown” is one of the great songs about de-industrialisation and urban deprivation. Goodnight Saigon is widely held to be the greatest reflection on “Vietnam” in popular song (countless veterans have spoken about this). A New York State of Mind is a masterpiece by any standards – both lyrically and musically. Early in his career, he also provided interesting depictions of immigrant life in America and the hollowness of the American Dream (Anthony’s Song). Just the Way You Are (not a typical Joel song) has, of course, become a established classic and has been covered by countless performers..

    Anyway………Billy Joel has earned the right to be taken seriously. Not because he is famous or has made lots of hit records, but because his best songs are among the best songs of the century. If popular song merits academic interest (and you might think it doesn’t), then Billy Joel is a worthy subject of study.

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