SO MANY PEOPLE I meet think: "WOW! To be a rock singer and make your living from your music and have all those people idolizing you."
I always think: "WOW! Imagine making your living as a major league ballplayer, playing baseball and getting paid for it, on the field at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park."
Maybe the Astroturf is always greener...Paul Simon goes to almost every Yankee home game. Most of the musicians I knowsay they'd rather be ballplayers.
Once we were playing a date with the Beach Boys and they brought Mark Fidrych on stage with them. The place went bananas: baseball and rock 'n" roll together, two of the great American entertainment forms on one stage.
Fidrych seemed puzzled by all the response. And meanwhile, the Beach Boys were looking at each other like, gee, did we make a mistake doing this?Can we top this?
There are so many parallels between baseball and rock "n" roll. They're both of mythic proportions. I play in these huge coliseums, crowds of 15,000 or 20,000 people. But the immensity of the numbers never gets into perspective until I sit in a baseball stadium, and the crowd roars when Reggie Jackson socks a home run. It dwarfs you. You realize how anonymous you are in the audience compared with what's going on in front of the fans.
Last fall during the playoffs we had performed at the Boston Garden and stayed over to go to the Yankee game at Fenway Park. The whole band was sitting in the stands with New York hats on, and a TV crew came up and started to interview us as crazy Yankee fans up from The City. We said, "Oh no, we're the Billy Joel Band, and we played here last night," and everything else we could think of, and it made absolutely no impression.We were anonymous, too.
Oddly enough, in spite of the sheer masses, people are much more together at a baseball stadium than at a rock concert. If someone stands up at a game, people will shout, "Hey, sit down!" At a rock-show you expect people to be popping up and walking in front of you and standing on their seats. Everyone feels independent at rock shows. That's part of what the music is all about. At a game, everybody is pretty much in the same bag. Whether you're drinking beer or smoking pot, you're into that ball game and you want to see every pitch. If you turn your head for one second you can miss a phenomenal play. Turn your head at a rock show and you miss...whatever. Turn your head back and it's still all there.
Yet baseball games and rock concerts are both really for the spectators. The crowd is part of the show. When everybody at a game goes, "BOOOOOO," it's like the crowd at a concert waiting for a song they expect. The audience can play games on the players as well.
But you can't let the audience control you. I don't think Ron Guidry throws a strike every time because the audience is yelling for one. He's on the spot. You look at the pitcher's mound, and it's almost as if a spotlight is making that circle around him. He's calm and cool, even though everybody is expecting him to work miracles. He runs the show.
When I go on stage, I have a game plan in mind. There are certain songs that I do that a lot of the audience isn't interested in hearing. They just want the hits. But like Guidry, there are certain pitches you have to throw because of the game plan.
Everything seems to come down to the pitcher, just as it seems to come down to the singer. Graig Nettles making a fantastic play at third is like the sax player taking a great solo. It's momentary, and always goes back to the pitcher. Sometimes the band is plugging along playing a stock thing, just as you can see Lou Piniella yawning in the outfield because he's bored.
Fortunately for me, singers seem to have better averages than pitchers. We very rarely lose. Your audience is builtin. You don't really have an opposing team. You go from town to town, but you're not playing the local team. There's a different response, but you don't lose the game. You just win it differently.
There is one big difference between baseball fans and rock fans: the baseball crowd is probably much more loyal. It's easy to love Linda Ronstadt; You have to be a real fan to love the Mets.
Some towns go nuts over certain ball players. And sometimes a particular song strikes a nerve in a certain town.It's like hitting a home run, getting a great response to a song that you normally wouldn't expect. You don't know when you're going to hit a home run in a lot of towns, and then, all of a sudden, you're getting a standing ovation.
As with the rules in baseball, you only have a certain number of givens. Then you're playing it by ear. You have to change your game plan in the middle. We'll reshuffle songs like a manager would change the batting order. If the crowed seems into hard rock, we'll swing away instead of bunt.
You do a song like "Big Shot" and it's like sending in Roy White: You're always going to get a hand, and it's a good showstopper. "New York State of Mind" is like Lou Piniella: well-known.
I won't play outdoor dates, maybe because of my experience at ball games. I love going to games, but I always bring a radio with me. Whenever they make an announcement, it's usually impossible to hear, depending on the way the wind is blowing. And that can be fatal at a concert, not to mention a rip-off.
One of my big disappointments was not being able to sing the National Anthem at the World Series last year. I had been asked, but I was on the road.
I've wondered a lot what it would have been like, how the crowd would have reacted, if they would have gone wild.
The funny thing was that at one of the last games at Yankee Stadium, Davey Lopes had a press conference complaining about how nasty New York fans were: mean and rude and inconsiderate.
Meanwhile you go to a game at Dodger Stadium, and the crowd is almost totally apathetic.
It didn't square with what I've found as a performer. People throw things up on stage all the time. It's part of the show, just like the guy that runs out on the field and the cops grab him and the fans go "Yeeeeeeee."
If all that craziness stopped, I'd start to wonder what entertainment is all about.