Rosie O’Donnell—the real Rosie, not the one who does combat in celeb mode—is back. Last night she launched her own after-school version of “Fame”—the Maravel Center just west of the theater district, designed for local kids below the poverty level who need a place to hang out, learn to sing and tap dance.
For the opening, no less than Broadway royalty Chita Rivera and Sandy Duncan stopped in to give their blessings. Linda Dano, the actress and former soap queen, came and donated a “chair” to the memory of her late husband.
Some of Rosie’s “kids,” who’ve turned into performers on a par with Darla, Alfalfa, Spanky and the gang, turned out a couple of musical numbers including Arthur Schwartz’s classic “Rhode Island Is Famous for You”—but they changed the words to “Long Island” for Rosie, eliciting howls and cheers.
As for Rosie, she’s never looked better, and has survived the false start of her Thanksgiving eve variety show on NBC. In fact she’s got a movie on Lifetime February 28th called America, which she co-wrote with Joyce Eliason, produced and stars in. So there! Mostly though she can be proud of the Maravel Center, a beautifully renovated four story building filled with pianos and recital rooms named for Rosie’s late teacher, Pat Maravel.
I asked Ed O’Donnell, one of Rosie’s brothers, what Ms. Maravel would think of all this attention.
“She’d say, 'Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” said Ed. “She was like that.” But Rosie teared up introducing Maravel’s kids. Their mom has a lasting legacy now on West 45th St. Not bad.
You can see a video about the Maravel Center at www.rosiesbroadwaykids.com
Billy Joel doesn’t need me to defend him. He’s got millions of dollars, a young beautiful wife, houses all over the place, even a daughter who’s talented enough to become a recording star. And don’t forget that he was married to Christie Brinkley.
Billy was probably at home in one of those mansions yesterday laughing his head off at the idiotic and vituperative, mean-spirited appraisal of his work by the usually more level-headed Ron Rosenbaum on a blog site yesterday.
Rosenbaum, who writes mostly for the New York Observer, decided without any bona fides that Joel was the worst singer in the history of rock and roll. He then criticized nearly all of his songs, dismissing much of Joel’s catalog of songs that fans have loved for thirty five years and that have built him all those houses.
He actually called Billy Joel “the worst pop singer ever” and a “phony.”
Rosenbaum, whom you’ve heard of, wasted his fifteen minutes of blogging fame to eviscerate Billy Joel for absolutely no reason: “Billy Joel, they can't stand you because of your music; because of your stupid, smug attitude; because of the way you ripped off your betters to produce music that rarely reaches the level even of mediocrity. You could dress completely au courant and people would still loathe your lame lyrics.”
I don’t know who Rosenbaum thinks the “they” is in this statement. I guess the people who “can’t stand” Billy Joel include the roughly 150,000 fans who poured into every crevice of Shea Stadium this summer to see his shows there, the hundreds of thousands more who’ve given him ten night stands at Madison Square Garden, or the New Yorkers (and Jersey and Connecticut kids) who consider him their hometown boy.
Maybe the artists whom he’s “ripped off” include Paul McCartney, who flew in from England and drove straight to Shea to play with him; Sting, who had Billy as his guest pianist a few summers ago at Jones Beach; or Elton John, who tours with him on a regular basis.
Rosenbaum’s loathsome and ill-informed diatribe tries to sweep Billy Joel away in one fell swoop as if, he, Rosenbaum, had been dreaming about Christie Brinkley all these years and finally had the courage to speak up. (I’ve no doubt this is the case from the juvenile pitch of his essay.)
And it’s not that I love every Billy Joel song. I cringe at “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” And “We Didn’t Start the Fire” always reminds me of an early 70s novelty single called “Life is a Rock But the Radio Rolled Me.”
But these are quibbles when you think of the grand melodies of “Just the Way You Are,” “She’s Always a Woman to Me,” “An Innocent Man,” or “Honesty.” Joel is a latecomer to the Brill Building sound, of that there’s no doubt. He’s all about melody, hooks, and craftsmanship. He’s a one man King-Goffin, Mann-Weil, or Sedaka-Greenfield. Sometimes he writes tributes that stand on their own, like his deliciously rich “Until the Night” or “River of Dreams.” And then he creates his own idioms in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Piano Man,” and “Zanzibar.”
Is Billy Joel a great vocalist? He’s no Tony Bennett. But he’s on a par with most of the singer songwriters of his generation, from James Taylor and Jackson Browne to Elvis Costello and Chrissie Hynde. His voice is richer than most, in fact, reflecting the urban influence of groups like The Drifters and the Righteous Brothers. His penchant for incorporating rhythm and blues has given his songs an edge.
And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a consummate pop keyboardist, with a unique understanding of the piano as ship’s compass. Like Little Richard or Jerry Lee, he can play with it his elbows. But there’s so much more. It was Billy who guided his own band and Bruce and Patti Springsteen through an Obama concert last fall like a pro. The whole enterprise moved forward on his command.
I can’t make Ron Rosenbaum a fan of Billy Joel, I suppose. But his idiotic ambush was unwarranted, and just mean. Why does he suppose, that so many people identify with the songs? The answer is, they strike a note close to the hearts of the people who hear. The characters he sings about are not costumes he’s trying on, but people he’s known: the Brenda and Eddie’s whose marriages haven’t worked out, the working class guy who strives to have a beautiful “uptown” girlfriend, and so on. Joel lands an arrow in the center of the target just about every time.
Yeah, Ron Rosenbaum sucks, he doesn’t get it, and you might ask, who cares? He rails about Billy and some vague class issues, not realizing, perhaps, that Joel wrote and donated a song to American troops in Iraq last year, that he tours and teaches master classes for aspiring musicians, that the Long Island bay shoremen idolize him for taking their side in long disputes.
Rosenbaum really strikes out when he takes Joel to task for being a “phony” with his 1983 song, “Allentown.” (As if Rosenbaum has either a- been to Allentown or b- done anything to praise blue collar workers.) In fact, Billy Joel took his tour to Allentown, P.A. in January 1983, where he was given the key to the city and a five minute standing ovation at the end of the show.
At the time, Billy told People magazine: “Allentown is a metaphor for America," he explains. "It sounds like Jimmytown, Bobbyburgh, Anytown. It just sounds real American. It's a symbol of a town that's having financial difficulties.”
My guess is, he could go back now and sing it and be more welcome than ever.
More Oscar Show News; Publishers 'Weakly'
“Capote” director Bennett Miller is filming an opening short for the Academy Awards show, sources tell me. He’s getting all kinds of people for the film, including Vanity Fair editor in chief and chief party thrower Graydon Carter, and lots of other movers and shakers for the Hugh Jackman-hosted night … Vanity Fair, of course, is having their annual party, although slightly downsized from previous years to the now hot as a pistol Sunset Towers …Waverly Inn chef John deLucie will oversee the food, although I hope they’re still having In-N-Out Burgers …And the Elton John AIDS Foundation is in full gear for their annual event. Expect Elton to perform, with a special guest or two. Chopard, Vh1, and Jo and Raffy Manoukian are the sponsors at the Pacific Design Center. Call 212-219-0670 for more information …
… Just read that Publishers Weekly has let go editor in chief Sara Nelson and longtime, very valued editor of forty—yes, forty years— Daisy Maryles. (Isn’t it grand how experience is valued?) This brilliant decision comes from owner Reed Business International, aka RBI. In baseball, those letters stand for “runs batted in.” But apparently a lifetime of scoring for the company wasn’t good enough for Maryles, and being team captain was a deficit for the dynamic Nelson. Dumb moves, but the company doesn’t know enough to regret them …
…By the way, what’s wrong with book publishing? There’s a weird little video interview on the Publishers Weekly website with a new “hip” editor at Grand Central formerly Warner Books. His big book this summer is called “The Year of the Cock” by reality TV show producer Alan Weider. The author writes on his MySpace page: “Hello. My name is Alan Wieder. It just so happens that in 2005, the Year of the Rooster, I acted like a real cock. It was an interesting coincidence. I wrote a book about it. It's coming out soon. I'm still a big cock, but I got a book coming out, so F.U. Just kiddin'. I love you all. Who I'd like to meet: You, silly.” Jay McInerney now seems like Walker Percy by comparison…The editor’s other big book is called “Boink: College Sex By the People Having It.” Pornography for an illiterate generation. Very hip, indeed. Whoopie!