(JTA) — Most artists would see playing one concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden as a crowning achievement. Billy Joel has now done it 100 times.
Before and after his landmark show last week at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” the native Long Islander gave a series of interviews about his legacy. In one with CBS News, he was asked about the most memorable moments during his incredible — and likely all-time record-breaking — MSG run.
After mentioning the nights that involved his daughter Della onstage, Joel brought up the concert during which he wore a yellow Star of David. Joel pinned the star to his jacket during the encore of a Garden show last August, shortly after white supremacists and neo-Nazis led a deadly march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“This past year or so, there was the night I wore the Star of David, after the Charlottesville incident,” he said.
Although Joel is usually described as atheist or secular, his father was a German-born Jew who recalled the rise of Hitler and lost relatives in the Holocaust. CBS interviewer Anthony Mason pointed out that Joel usually avoids taking political stands.
On the weekend of the rally, President Donald Trump said “both sides” were to blame for the violence that occurred — and that were some “very fine people” among the far-right marchers as well as their opponents. That struck a dark chord with the songwriter.
“I had to do something that night,” Joel responded. “The president said [after the Charlottesville rally], you know, ‘There’s some good people on that side …’ No, Nazis aren’t good people.
“It really enraged me, actually,” he continued. “My old man, his family got wiped out. They were slaughtered in Auschwitz. Him and his parents were able to get out. But then he was in the U.S. Army during the war and fought with Patton and was shot at by Nazis. … My family suffered. And I think I actually have a right to do that.”
While many found the act courageous, it prompted some criticism.
But the singer also started a trend. Soon after, TV star Nev Schulman and musician and producer Jack Antonoff (both outwardly Jewish) both wore Jewish stars at the MTV Video Music Awards — Schulman wore one pinned to his suit jacket, and Antonoff wore one in necklace form. Lena Dunham, Antonoff’s girlfriend at the time, said he ordered the necklace after feeling like Nazis had become a “mainstream thing again.”