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Will Stegemann was not a fan of Billy Joel's. In fact, he was the kind of anti-fan who, when making his New Year's resolution lists, ended every one with: "Listen to zero Billy Joel songs." Yet somehow he never managed to go a full year -- or even six months -- without hearing the piano man somewhere.
But the start of 2012 was different. This year, Stegemann -- a 38-year-old media company analyst based in L.A. -- decided to do the opposite and embrace Billy Joel, if such a thing was possible. He created the "A Year of Billy Joel" Tumblr blog, and dedicated himself to listen to every one of Joel's tunes to determine if his enmity had any basis in reality.
That's a lot of material, as Stegemann quickly learned: "There are 13 studio albums, 5 official live albums and more than a dozen compilations," he told TODAY in an email interview. "All in all there are well over 200 songs and so far I've covered 150 songs."
Each one has been carefully explained and critiqued in blog posts. "I thought that his songs were just bland, middle-of-the-road ballads and that he was not a 'serious artist,'" Stegemann said, suggesting some of his distaste for Joel came from their shared birthplace of Long Island. "As you can imagine, he is considered a local hero and I heard his music all through my life," he said. "At some point, I began to resist the thing that everyone around me seemed in agreement on: The idea that Billy Joel was great."
Surprise: After eight months of the project, his opinions are in fact changing. "As I learned more about Billy Joel the person, I began to place songs in context with his life, which wasn't easy," he said. "Over time I began to see how songs reminded me of my life and family and as a result a lot of my personal history has found its way into the project."
Not only that, Stegemann is now calling Joel a "gifted composer." "He has an almost effortless gift for melody," he said. "By the time I got through his second album I knew that I had misjudged him. Also, Billy Joel is much darker than I ever knew and his music is far more complex than I previously realized."
He's gotten responses from Billy Joel fans and now says the site has a "dedicated following." But whether Mr. Joel is in that mix, he's not sure -- Stegemann has not reached out to Joel's reps (though NBCNews.com has, and is awaiting a response). If possible, he'd really like to see if Joel would sit down to lunch with him to cap off the project, though it's a pretty big long shot.
While he embarked on the "Year of Billy Joel" project with one goal in mind, Stegemann said he's since made another discovery. "The greatest lesson from this project for me has been learning to re-examine my opinions and look closer at things I had ignored," he said. "I encourage everyone to give a second chance to something they had previously written off."
Where do you fall in the Billy Joel debate? Great? Not so much? Or did Stegemann's plan inspire you to give him another chance? Let us know on Facebook!
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