December 20, 2007 – The song “Famous Last Words,” was supposed to be his swan song. In 1993, after 14 platinum-selling albums, Billy Joel claimed he had nothing left to say.
Fourteen years later, this is perhaps the Piano Man’s most provocative statement yet.
It’s called “Christmas in Fallujah,” and is sung by 21-year-old newcomer Cass Dillion. It’s a blunt and mostly bleak, song about the plight of U.S. troops in Iraq.
“We came with the crusaders to save the holy land. It’s Christmas in Fallujah. And no one gives a damn,” he sings.
Joel told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric: “The events over there seem to have slipped from the headlines because of what’s happening with the surge, but you know, what they conveyed to me was, “well tell that to the guys on the front lines. We’re still there.”
Joel says the song was inspired by letters he’s gotten from soldiers overseas.
“I think a lot of people who are there feel detached from the home front, that people may not care or people have forgotten about them,” he said.
Noticably absent are the two instruments the 58-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is most famous for — his piano and his voice.
“When I wrote this song, and I heard a 58 year-old man singing it, in my voice, I said, ‘that doesn’t sound right to me. I think it should be somebody of that age, the age of a soldier or a Marine,'” he said.
Joel had heard the music of Dillon, a fellow Long Islander, and was impressed. So, backed by Joel’s band, Dillon recorded “Christmas in Fallujah” on Veterans Day.
Was that intentional?
“Completely coincidental,” Dillon said. “Divine intervention.”
But not everyone agrees the Karma’s good. Joel’s lamenting lyrics have some calling it an anti-war rant. And a Pentagon Channel holiday segment about the song was pulled.
“Is it an anti-war song?” Couric asked.
“I’m not going to say if it’s anti-war song or not,” Joel said. “I hate it when a celebrity gets up on a soapbox and tells people how to think and how to vote. And what their opinion is. I hate that. I find it insulting. What I think isn’t important. What they think is important, because they’re risking their lives.”
Ten-year Army veteran Rick Bradley hosts an Internet radio show for military families and has a son serving in Iraq.
He says most of his listeners think “Christmas in Fallujah” hits home.
“It’s an awesome, awesome song,” said one military mom. “It definitely touches base.”
“They’re really proud of Billy Joel because it was written from their eyes,” Bradley said. “I think it’s his thank you to the soldiers.”
And when we played the song for Sgt. Greg Papadatos of the 69th Infantry, back from Iraq and about to deploy to Afghanistan, he said he’d like to thank Joel.
“He’s reminding people we have soldiers. They are at war. They are far from home,” he said. “Yeah, thanks for remembering.”