Music

Billy Joel Doesn’t Take Shit From Anyone

In A Legendary 1987 Concert, He Tried To Convince Some Communists To Do The Same

Keith Dias
2 min readJun 22, 2020

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Image Borrowed TPT.org, Free Use

In 1987, singer Billy Joel was one of the first American rock stars to be invited to play concerts in Communist Russia.

Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev loved rock and roll music. He had just signed a cultural agreement in Geneva, with US President Ronald Reagan, which was designed to open up new lines of communication between the two countries.

“I’m not a politician,” Joel said in a May 1987 press conference. “I’m going there as a musician. I want to get more communication going between us. People over there like pop music, they like rock and roll.”

The Russians had never seen a real US style stadium rock concert, and everyone was unsure how they would react to the spectacle.

Joel brought a documentary crew with him to record the entire Russian trip. As the crew began filming the concerts, they noticed something very strange.

When Joel began to play, the crowd went wild — they danced, they sang, they screamed. Joel told the Today Show “By the end of the show, the crowd looked like it could have been Detroit, it could have been Philadelphia, it was the same thing”.

But when the documentary crew tried to film the crowd, they would stop dancing, stop singing, and stop screaming. When they cut away from the crowd, they would resume doing those things. It was stop and start constantly. When the lights and cameras were on them, the crowd would freeze. When the cameras were on Joel, the stadium turned into a huge party.

Why?

After years of being under Communist rule, the audience was afraid that the stadium security guards would crack down on them for their behavior.

At one point, Joel angrily instructed his documentary crew to stop filming the crowd. He realized what was happening.

At the end of the concert, he shouted out to the crowd, trying to encapsulate the spirit of the music that he had just brought to them:

“Remember, don’t take any shit from anyone!”

A translator stood nearby, repeating all Joel’s comments on the loud speaker.

The translator shouted out Joel’s advice, in Russian:

“Remember, if someone offers you shit, do not accept it!”

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Keith Dias

Travel geek. Productivity nerd. Husband, father, son, brother, friend, joker. I once met Stevie Wonder. I’ve played competitive ball hockey for 30 years.