Commentary

Saunders: How Raleigh's mayor got played by the Piano Man

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2013 

Yo, Madame Mayor. Wake me up when you get Supertramp. Or Wham.

There is one undeniable conclusion to be drawn after Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane announced with much fanfare last week that Billy Joel is scheduled to perform in the city next year: The Piano Man’s manager is a genius.

The dude or dudette has to be a genius to persuade the mayors of Raleigh and Tampa, Fla., to tease Joel’s upcoming concerts in their cities with mayoral news conferences, causing people to guess who was coming.

Anti-climactic Piano Man

After a 24-hour drum roll such as the one the mayor began with her preliminary announcement of her upcoming “major concert announcement,” it’s likely any performer would have been anti-climactic.

But Billy Joel?

At the same time the mayors were hyping Joel’s show, he was announcing that he’ll be artist-in-residence at Madison Square Garden, performing there monthly, he said in a published interview, “as long as the audience demands.”

Sounds like the dude is trying to keep the tax man at bay or is simply trying to cushion an impending retirement, eh?

Cynical? Yep. As anyone who grew up in the 1970s and loves good music, I’m a fan of Joel and probably would’ve gone to his February concert – had Billy not been so ballyhooed. His musical oeuvre is solid enough that he shouldn’t have to resort to desperate stunts, and our politicians shouldn’t allow themselves to be pulled into them, either.

McFarlane and the guy in Tampa are not the first mayors to be sought to pump up a song or performer. Years ago when the British group Paper Lace was rising up the charts with a song about the mob called “The Night Chicago Died,” the group’s manager foolishly thought it’d be a good idea to ask then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to pose for a photo with the group. We can’t print Daley’s response here, but if you know anything about him, you know it involved telling the group to take their record and commit an unnatural act with it.

Ouch. No one would expect our genteel Mayor McFarlane to respond the way a notoriously blustering Midwest mayor would, and since the Raleigh mayor’s position is largely symbolic and doesn’t come with a lot of power, it can’t be argued that shilling for Joel took her from more important duties.

On the schedule?

Who knows? Maybe announcing Joel’s concert was the most important thing she had to do that day.

Mayor’s schedule:

Arrive at office; lead staff in singing “(I’m an) Uptown Girl.” ✓ 

Bang gavel. ✓ 

Find ribbon to cut. ✓ 

Hype aging rock star. ✓ 

To her credit, the mayor didn’t try to imbue the announcement with more significance than it deserves or cook up some excuse for allowing the city to be played like a bass viola by Joel and his star-making machinery. Asked why she’d never served as hype meister for any other concert performers, she replied, “Nobody’s ever asked me before.”

Well done, Madame Mayor. But expect a call from me if and when Kool & the Gang announces its farewell tour.

You know whose appearance the mayor could’ve announced with equal, even more appropriate fanfare?

Peggy Lee. After the “big reveal” that was Joel’s concert, the chanteuse could’ve sung her signature song: “Is That All There Is?”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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