It must have been 1975 or so. I was sitting on my bed singing along to the radio. Songs like, “Season’s in the Sun,” by Terry Jacks, “Mandy” by Barry Manilow,  “Philadelphia Freedom,” by Elton John and “Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin; trying to avoid at all costs the Disco stations coming of age.  

Those days I was a loner who’s favorite companion was a music player and myself. I would sit in a room with a closed door and enter into the world of the music being played.

My favorite instrument was the piano. All I had to hear was a piano and I would be entranced. Hence my favorite singer at the time being, Elton John.

So on that day I was sitting in my room, door closed and listening to my brother’s boombox radio. He was working at Crazy Eddie at the time and always allowed me to listen to his radio or his record player. I would search the radio across the dial looking for songs that I liked. Most of the time WNEW or WPLJ would play the artists that I liked best.

I don’t know if I had ever heard the song before; but when I heard it this day it hit a chord with me. As the jazzy opening was played on the piano, a harmonica joined in and the singers voice then began to tell the story…

“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd rushes in…There’s an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin…
Son can you play me a memory, I am not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes…”

I was hooked. I listened to that song and recorded it from the radio keeping that cassette in my draw so no one could tape over it. I knew it by heart; but didn’t think too much about the artist. I was still in my Bob Dylan, Elton John, Beatles phase so, my ears were kind of busy.

It wasn’t until I heard a song called, “Only the Good Die young,” that’s when Billy Joel became a major part of the soundtrack from my life.

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, sinners are much more fun…only the good die young.”

One of my brother’s bought the album, “The Stranger,” and I listened to each and every song hundreds of times since then, (possibly more? ) memorizing each and every word. I wrote a short story based on “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I called it, “The Diner, the True Story about Brenda and Eddie.”

That album was filled with stories and harmonies. Tales from the future (scenes from an Italian restaurant) advice (Vienna, Get it right the first time, only the good die young) and warnings (Anthony’s song, just the way you are) all told by the stranger. A lone figure smoking a cigarette dressed like Humphrey Bogart and whistling a tune from another time.

Then came 52nd street, the first album I ever bought. Wow.

The album opens up with “Big Shot.” A loud guitar, sort of like an alarm clock screaming in your ear after, “You had the Dom Perignon in your hand and the spoon up your nose.” and then “You went over the line, you couldn’t see it was time to go home…”

Then “Honesty” comes on and it’s 180 from “Big Shot.” It’s as if he has two personalities – one who is untrustworthy and another that is untrusting. He also sounds like Paul Mccartney here in this song – “Baby I’m Amazed” like.

“My life” comes on and it’s as if the narrator has had enough and is dreaming of getting out and starting his life on his own terms.
                               “Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the west coast
                                          Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A.”

Zanzibar…a song which combines the narrative of the first side of the album. Escape, booze and a promise of love.

I’ve got the old man’s car, I’ve got a jazz guitar, I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar, Tonight that’s where I’ll be.”

Side two brings along the love interest (Waitress?) who slices and dices him as she makes him feel so good. Stiletto opens with a jumping piano.

She cuts you out, she cuts you down, She carves up your life
But you won’t do nothing As she keeps on cutting
‘Cause you know you love the knife
You’ve been bought, you’ve been sold
You’ve been locked outside the door But you stand there pleadin’
With your insides bleedin’ ‘Cause you deep down want some more

The next song, “Rosalinda,” is a song about feeling the love from a mother’s eyes. Rosalind is Billy Joel’s mother and how she always encouraged his musical ambition.

All alone in a Puerto Rican band, Union wages, wedding clothes, Hardly anyone has seen how good I am, But Rosalinda says she knows.

The next song on the album is “Half a mile away.” A song about hanging on the corner with a friend and talking ‘bout women and lie, lie, lie…

My favorite song on the album is the penultimate, “Until the Night,” It’s a song about a husband and wife who even after loves slow decay, their separate lives and their different emotional ills – still look forward until the night, when they will see each other again. He counts it lyrically in the bridge.

When the sun goes down, And the day is over
When the last of the light has gone, As they pour into the street
I will be getting closer, As the cars turn their headlights on
While they’re closing it down, We’re gonna open it up
And while they’re going to sleep, We’ll just be starting to touch
I’m just beginning to feel
I’m just beginning to give
I’m just beginning to feel
I’m just beginning to live
Before I leave you again
Before the light of the dawn
Before this evening can end
I have been waiting so long

Until the night, until the night
I just might make it
Until the night, until the night
When I see you again

Spring of 1980…the glass shattered…the guitar played, the drums pounded and he sang a song which could have been written by myself.

Friday night I crashed your party
Saturday I said I’m sorry
Sunday came and trashed me out again
I was only having fun
Wasn’t hurting anyone
And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change

I’ve been stranded in the combat zone
I walked through Bedford Stuy alone
Even rode my motorcycle in the rain
And you told me not to drive
But I made it home alive
So you said that only proves that I’m insane

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
Turn out the light
Don’t try to save me
You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right

The album consists of a group of 5 hit singles out of 10 songs. It cemented him as the Piano man for the 80’s and a mainstay on the charts and on MTV. I listened to this album over and over again – it was a coming of age album which helped me be defiant. I am what I am, you knew that when you became my friend, why should I change? You may be right, I may be crazy, so?

The next album, ““The Nylon Curtain,” came out while I was in 11th grade. I cut class to go buy the album from Music Factory on Kings Highway and East 14th st. He actually opened the box with the cassettes to give me the first copy sold there. I put it in my walkman and listened on the walk back home. It opened with high-pitched toot of a shift whistle and continued the theme of the blue collared factory sound throughout the song. The rest of the album contained some songs that were Beatle influenced, since it was the first group of songs Joel recorded since the death of John Lennon. I loved this album for the overall sound and the songs in general. “Pressure,” and “Goodnight Saigon,” along with “Where’s the Orchestra?” which closes out the album. It begins with expectations never realized, although promised by the prior generation.

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown, For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave, If we worked hard
If we behaved…
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
And chromium steel
And we’re waiting here in Allentown
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away

And then, “Where’s the Orchestra?”

I assumed that the show would have a song
So I was wrong
At least I understand
All the innuendo and the irony
And I appreciate
The roles the actors played
The point the author made
And after the closing lines
And after the curtain calls
The curtain falls
On empty chairs
Where’s the orchestra?

I saw Billy Joel during this concert tour. I went with my mother to the Nassau Coliseum and he put on an amazing show. I barely sat down and the memory of myself and my mother at the concert still brings me a smile. A concert with my best friend and my mother by my side. 

Even though he doesn’t seem to acknowledge religion himself, Billy possesses a Jewish, Brooklyn, no nonsense take on people. I used his music to stick up for myself and to stand tall; when he used to close a concert he would do so by telling the audience; “Don’t take any shit from anyone.” That resonated and further cemented myself and countless others as a fan of Billy Joel.

Little did we know the conflict going on in his life. As with most artists he suffered from depression from an early age. Checked himself into a facility for treatment and in the past 5-10 years or so, has sought help for his alcoholic issues.

Elton John and Billy Joel toured together – a dream come true for myself. Unfortunately I was not in the state of mind to go and when they came back in 2003 I was not in the financial state to go.

Whatever – I listen to the songs and I watch them sing on Youtube. They seem to be having the best time together – so when they decided not to tour again and then didn’t speak for a couple of years – that was a bummer.

Billy’s last album was released in 1993 – “River of Dreams,” a decent album, in my opinion. But you can tell he didn’t really have his heart in it anymore and when you heard the last song, that was basically what he said:

These are the last words I have to say
That’s why this took so long to write
There will be other words some other day
Ain’t that the story of my life
These are the last words I have to say
Before another age goes by
With all those other songs I’ll have to play
Ain’t that the story of my life

What he did for 22 years, from “Cold Spring Harbor” through “River of Dreams,” was change the worlds of millions of people. He gave them encouragement to be who they were; to think for themselves but to not forget the ones who loved them. He told us about our past before we even had one to hear about, he told us about the bars, the taverns, the street corners, about the crazy summer in New York City with blackout, heat wave and the 44 caliber killer. He told us to sing along with the Piano Man because even the Piano Man needs the support to make it through the songs. He told us about “Keeping the Faith” and about his meeting with a Russian clown, Viktor, who made his daughter laugh. He sang to us about his mood swings, how he goes to extremes and he has no idea how to control them. He is the piano man, he is the Streetlife Serenader, the Fisherman trying to stay afloat despite the laws and regulations all stacked against him.  He is the everyday guy who, well learned stickball, found how to dance and still look tough and of course, made it with the red haired girl in a Chevrolet.

This past August my children bought myself and my wife tickets to see him at Madison Square Garden. We had the best time – Billy is an amazing performer and has a way of speaking to the audience as if he is our friend. I sang every word to each song he sang – my best friend, my wife by my side.

He spoke for all of us who felt forgotten, disenfranchised or simply had a broken heart. I leave you with links to my personal top ten Billy Joel songs (not in any order) as of right now – with so many favorites, they change very frequently; feel free to comment with your favorites.

    1. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant https://goo.gl/cf5wSp Here is the link to my short story on the True Story about Brenda and Eddie
    2. The Entertainer https://youtu.be/ozDSk9XUkrc 
    3. Miami 2017 https://youtu.be/Az1FSLfZxH4
    4. You May be Right https://goo.gl/xH7SO1
    5. Until the Night https://youtu.be/MuV-zEqB2QQ
    6. Where’s the Orchestra?  https://goo.gl/lmd3sg
    7. Piano Man https://goo.gl/PAbq0
    8. Goodnight Saigon https://youtu.be/Qjzjhl-QztE
    9. Vienna https://goo.gl/VXNYrS
    10. Keeping the Faith https://goo.gl/LWH6nr

 

 

billy-joel

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