Love Some Billy Joel
A few weeks ago I was listening to the Billy Joel channel on XM Sirius, playing it full blast, driving to my old office, only now it’s someone else’s office and the feeling’s gone, gone, gone, like the Righteous Brothers sang. Being forced into retirement when I was just getting warmed up. Talk about your cruel and unusual.
The email from the CEO said I needed to turn in the company laptop, and so reluctantly I complied, hoping they’d save the gigs of photos, the poems and stories I’ve been storing on it. Only consolation was what I scraped together from a decades-long career–that and listening to Billy Joel tell stories on the way in to the office.
One more time.
Not like when you get older you get more brain cells. You got what you are born with, minus the ones lost in college. But things just seem clearer when you don’t have any more time to waste.
Billy was doing his free course in music appreciation like he does on this channel, playing the great jazz pianists he considered influential, telling the stories Ken Burns never got around to on his TV program. “They say Art Tatum played with three fingers, and I don’t know how he played like he did. I play with the three fingers on my left hand.” On account of a bad motorcycle accident that might have put him out of playing music altogether. And the point Billy was making was Tatum didn’t spare the notes. Like Clapton’s slow hand on the ivories.
Billy played Oscar Peterson, and who remembers him? The great ones don’t get played like they used to. I’ve often wondered if we could fast forward fifty years, a hundred, would the 60s and 70s rock and roll still resonate the way it did when I was in college? Or only be brought out on special occasions for a few aficionados? Jazz was its own universe once, and now it’s been stuffed into a museum.
But I love some Billy Joel. Never seen him play live, but I’ve studied his compositions, his lyrics and wish he’d write more. River of Dreams was his last CD, if you leave out his orchestral pieces. Billy Joel owns New York City with his lyrics. Wicked humor, street strutting, sideways way of approaching life. If I ever was dragged to New York to live, he’d be my guide.
In the 70s, I used to stand down front watching Duane Allman launch one after another of his solos and shake my head. He’d light a cigarette, wedge it between the tuning keys and play for twenty minutes, lost in all those slide notes. I used to watch the cigarettes burn down to ash and drop off, as lost in the notes as he was. Another motorcycle accident, and man, that was losing a brother.
I was parking the car in the office garage, reliving the routine, wishing I didn’t have to go back into that place. Some things you just need to face. The firm I helped start lasted from 1989 to 2018, so what does that make me other than past due?
About to kill the engine, when Billy gets to Bill Evans, the jazz pianist, and he talks about going downtown special to an NYC club where he heard Evans was playing. Walked in to find the place empty. “This was Bill Evans and the place was dead! Bill freakin Evans!”
“He died too young.”
True that, Billy.