Joel is the the third rail of American pop culture. Though Rosenbaum doesn't seem aware of it, his isn't even Slate's first takedown of the musician. Jody Rosen floated many of the same arguments — Joel is almost unforgivably cheesy, derivative, egotistical and insecure, and has squandered his talents —with more nuance and context in 2005's "The squandered genius of the Piano Man."
Chuck Klosterman's 2002 profile in the Times Magazine explored precisely how uncool Joel was and quoted the Village Voice's Robert Christgau at length on the mediocrity of his music and "grandiosity" of his temperament.
Music writers will rant about their hatred for Joel at the drop of a hat, it seems. For Rosenbaum, the catalysts were a book about art and evolutionary psychology, along with the death of purportedly schlocky painter Andrew Wyeth.
His addition to the anti-Joel canon? The assertion that the piano-playing singer is loathsome because his work is shot through with "unearned contempt:"
Both a self-righteous contempt for others and the self-approbation and self-congratulation that is contempt's backside, so to speak. Most frequently a contempt for the supposed phoniness or inauthenticity of other people as opposed to the rock-solid authenticity of our B.J.
Oh God "unearned contempt." As though the emotions in music are ever "earned." Yes, let's analyze whether snotty young poseur (slash brilliant musician) Bob Dylan earned his hugely self-righteous anger at some fellow twentysomething East Village scenester in "Like a Rolling Stone," or whether Ani DiFranco had a right to say "Fuck You" to Goat Boy in "Untouchable Face." Sounds fun.
Rosenbaum also writes that "She's Always a Woman" is misogynist. It's also a total copy of Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," Rosenbaum adds, but Dylan's song isn't misogynist because it came out first, and God knows no one was writing about how women are contradictory and confusing before he did.
Anyway the point here isn't that Joel is brilliant — we never actively choose to listen to him, but he's fun enough during a spin class — but that critics seem to take a perverse pride in constantly slamming the guy, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better, even though Google now theoretically allows the ranters to see just how much old ground they are covering. We suppose the race now will be to the most creative and outlandish criticisms, and the most definitive. Knock yourselves out guys. We'll take your word for it that your contempt is earned.