Billy Joel Did Start The Fire In NY Senate Campaign

NYC mayor criticizes Hillary Rodham Clinton for playing of pop singer's 'Captain Jack' at kickoff speech.

Billy Joel's suburban-angst anthem "Captain Jack," which colorfully describes a young man's drug use, desperation and, well, masturbation, would make an odd campaign theme song for anyone, let alone the nation's first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But the 1973 song, which includes the unforgettable lines "Your sister's gone out/ She's on a date/ You just sit at home and masturbate," was played Sunday — apparently by mistake — in the Westchester, N.Y., college gym where Clinton announced her candidacy for the United States Senate.

"The message that got out by mistake was, 'Let's say yes to drugs,' " Clinton's unannounced opponent in the race, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said the next day in his daily press conference.

Giuliani, who last year drew attention for condemning an elephant dung–covered image of the Virgin Mary at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, sternly recited lines from the song's chorus: "Captain Jack will get you high tonight/ And take you to your special island/ Captain Jack will get you by tonight/ Just a little push and you'll be smiling."

Clinton campaign spokesperson Howard Wolfson quickly fired a returning salvo. "Apparently the mayor has now turned his relentless negative attacks on Billy Joel," he said in a statement. "This is what candidates do when they have nothing positive to offer the voters."

Wolfson also said the campaign had nothing to do with the decision to play "Captain Jack," and that it "would not have chosen it."

Joel, who has repeatedly described "Captain Jack" (RealAudio excerpt) as an anti-drug song, weighed in on the issue Tuesday in a statement released through Columbia Records.

"There are a lot of important issues facing the voters in this Senate race," the 51-year-old singer, a native of Hicksville, N.Y., said. "Is a politician's interpretation of a song I wrote nearly 30 years ago an issue to the voters of New York state? I do not think so."

A spokesperson for Giuliani's campaign did not return a call for comment on Joel's statement.

Fans of the singer/songwriter, whose many other hits include "Piano Man," "Uptown Girl" and "We Didn't Start the Fire" — and who wrote the New York homage "New York State of Mind" — said that they were disgusted with the controversy over a song that ultimately has a positive message. The song originally appeared on Joel's 1973 album Piano Man and was a minor FM-radio hit.

"It's just another example of [Giuliani's] reactionary stance towards art," Christine Tarbet, 22, of Boardman, Ohio, wrote in an e-mail. "He heard about Hillary Clinton playing a song that contained the word 'pot,' and he immediately found an opportunity to chastise the Clinton senatorial campaign." "Captain Jack" includes the lines, "So you play your albums/ And you smoke your pot/ And meet your girlfriend/ In the parking lot."

Some fans also condemned Clinton for backing away from the song. "This is sad. I thought it was a pretty bold move to play it," Deb McKenna, 37, of East Lansing, Mich., wrote in an e-mail.

Tarbet attempted to put the controversy into perspective. "After all, it isn't like Hillary Clinton played Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic 2000' at the speech," she said. On his 1999 album, Dr. Dre 2001 — which was originally to be titled The Chronic 2000 — rapper Dr. Dre cheerfully endorses pot smoking and refers to women as "hoes" and "bitches" on tracks such as "Let's Get High" and "Bitch Niggaz."