Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Just the Way You Are" Billy Joel

In honor of Billy Joel tickets going on sale on Friday
(as excerpted from Count Every Beautiful Thing We Will See)

In the beginning, there was music. It was always there, but it really began with Billy Joel’s You May Be Right, which was the first song off of Glass Houses. When I was 9 years old, My aunt bought me a tape recorder and that tape along with Kenny Rogers’ Kenny, which featured the awesome song of the time entitled “Coward of the County,” and The Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack, which let’s be honest, was the newest Star Wars movie, and how cool could anything having to do with Star Wars be?
How cool could those tapes be? Kenny Rogers was good for that one song. The Empire Strikes Back was good for the main theme from Star Wars. Everything else was background music, and let’s be honest, what kid wants to listen to background music EVEN IF IT’S THE SOUNDTRACK FOR STAR WARS? Darth Vadar reveals his parental traits to son Luke. Check, but the music behind it is still dull for a kid. The fight scene on Hoth and Luke getting a taunton wrapped around his frozen self. Check and ditto. Han Solo and Princess Leia fall in love to the point where she admits her love for him, but all he can say is “I know,” as he is wrapped in Carbonite and shipped off with Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt’s palace, a cliffhanger ending we won’t have revealed for another three years! Check, and yes, that’s not really rockin’ background tunes either, but it’s there as was the thought of buying it for a young Star Wars fan like me.
After that, there were many songs. And they all were good. They continued one after the other with Billy Joel’s Piano Man and The Stranger. These CDs told the story of life, love, the pursuit of happiness, sadness, loneliness, angst, and even marked the spots on the road of life that were journeyed to while listening to them at various stages of my life afterward. They gelled together and sang my life in mix tapes and later, they merged with the technology to form mix CDs. Eventually, they were compiled as MP3 collections. No matter how they were brought together, they were my poetic voice. They were my artistic creations.
And just as my friend B once said that he didn’t want to live in a world without the music of Lou Reed, I never wanted to live in a world without a diversity of music. Whenever I’m driving or just sitting around, I still do. It’s who I am, and frankly, I have Billy Joel to thank for that. And for that reason, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Billy Joel, silly 70s hair and all!
In 1994, there was a song by Blood Sausage, a side project of the British riot grrl group Huggy Bear, which was entitled “Billy Joel.” Of all of the things that either band did, things that played so often on my stereo back in the day, the only one with lasting effect is the tribute to Billy Joel entitled “Billy Joel.” To paraphrase the song, the singer is enamored by Billy and loves him despite the fact that none of his family members and friends get Mr. Joel. Perhaps, this is because they’re too cool for the room. Perhaps, it’s because they’re British and they don’t get growing up in Oyster Bay. To add to this dislike, they are willing to tell him this openly, but the singer is completely oblivious. To this man, Dale Shaw, Billy is a “fellow confessor” and a “true friend.” Billy Joel is a “beacon” who spoke to him. As the song went on, the singer spoke over increasingly loud bits of tortured jazz regarding his “love for this fellow “companion” who “just wanted to be acknowledged.” As a result, Billy was someone heroic, but to this singer, he lost track of Billy after he met Christie Brinkley. With Christie Brinkley, “everything Billy Joel did turned to shit,” and apparently, this led to selling out, and so Shaw would end up flipping off the system and becoming an angry man singing with a riot grrl band.
And so, in the end, “Movin’ Out” and “Still Rock and Roll to Me” were replaced, sold, and / or hidden under a bed, and the singer turned to bad post-punk, listening to stuff that ran the gamut between the Exploited and the Sex Pistols, i.e. music that never said near as much as Billy Joel ever did, but music that sure represented teen angst perfectly for at least a couple tracks. And let us not forget that he ended up singing in an angry feminist band in England for a couple years in the mid 1990s. This was something that would have been cool, and it probably wasn’t a way of "getting chicks," but that said, the sensitive man persona might have been able to make it happen, at least for a little while until he became far too immature and uncool and just did something really selfish like leave the toilet seat up or remove one of her CDs of Bratmobile and replace it with something by a post heavy metal American metal shirtless neo grunge band like Soundgarden, and then, well, then he was just a giant phallus like all of the other "asshole" men out there.

Yeah, somehow, things have a way of happening.

And so while both Blood Sausage and Huggy Bear, which they came from, didn’t make it out of 1994, they actually have an entry on Wikipedia. That said, I didn’t write it, but looking at it does bring back memories. Sometimes, I will put on their songs and remember. The cover of “Have Love Will Travel” is still raucous, but somehow, it’s better when it’s done by the Sonics way back in 1965. Yeah… I like that one better.

When An Innocent Man was released, I lost complete touch with Billy Joel. It wasn’t The Nylon Curtain. Billy was more interested in performing doo wop and reliving the 1950s than being the uncool, un-pretty pop star casually dropping “fuck” on his album for so-called rock star credentials, things he could never live up to on the classic 1970s discs. At the time, he still wanted them, and perhaps, he was owed them. After all, he did write the incredible “Piano Man” for the entire country of America to love and cherish in that way that we do with songs that go across the culture, songs like “American Pie.” He also wrote “Captain Jack,” which is still one of my favorites because of its brilliant attack on the dead world that so many people live in for so many years of their lives. 

So you play your albums, and you smoke your pot
And you meet your girlfriend in the parking lot
Oh, but you’re aching for the things that you haven’t got
What went wrong?
And you can’t understand why your world is so dead
Why you gotta keep in style and feed your head.
Well you’re 21 and still your mother makes your bed,
And that’s too long
And this was something that Joel seemed to get. He had been married before, and now, he found someone beautiful who loved him, and he wanted to be happy. What’s so bad about that? What’s wrong with going back to a simpler time when everything was carefree and wonderful? After all, isn’t American Graffiti how George Lucas got big enough to make demands with Star Wars when the cost soared and convince people that they could take a lot of the other money, but he wanted the toy rights? It sure sounded like a one-sided deal at the time, but that said, let’s be honest… George Lucas is raking in the dough from those toys! What I wouldn’t give to have them back!
But Billy, sure, he had dated Elle MacPherson before Christie Brinkley, and she was smokin’ at the time, but now, he was in a relationship that worked enough to get married again after his first marriage that didn’t work. There, Elizabeth Weber Small went from a former band mate to Billy, something that could have only been seen of as a bad sign unless you’re finally cool enough to be getting naked with the person of your dreams and then everything is completely and totally rational, and who knows? Perhaps it was. Then again, perhaps, it contributed to his depression. Perhaps, his depression made the end of his relationship come quicker. There are so many options, but let’s be honest, Billy’s life has taken a pretty similar course throughout it other than what musical genre he’s playing at the moment or which 20-30 something babe is on his arm at the time.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the chicken or the egg came first regarding a woman making him depressed and prone to hit the bottle OR his depression making his relationships with women causing him to make bad choices that leads to more depression and drinking and the like. What matters is that somehow in all of this, Billy Joel wrote a song that he doesn’t even like anymore. Apparently, he went through a stage where he didn’t play it at all, but then, he realized somewhere along the period of time that he was touring with Elton John on the dual piano tour, the one that was needed since it was absolutely essential in paying for all of the shopping trips by Elton and all of the DUIs by Billy, that he had to play this song again. I mean, wouldn’t you do this too if your target audience was willing to pay $85 a ticket to sit in an obscured location?

And for his gesture, his fans adored it, and they kept coming back for several more tours, alone and with Elton. C’mon… it’s Billy Joel, man!

And why do they adore it? It is as cheesy as he feels that it is. It’s not banging on the piano and screaming along in that Billy Joel way that “you may be right,” he “may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for.” And for the underdog outsider Joel that Dale Shaw of Blood Sausage and myself seem to really relate to, we may have wanted to be just like him… that cool guy that the three of us never really were and that we were somehow OK with the outcome of world famous piano man anyway, but maybe there’s something else we want that makes us closer to Billy than our young selves would be willing to admit. Now, I can’t speak for Shaw, but I can speak for me. I have spent my whole life trying to find meaning, purpose, friendship, and love. And finally, in the fall of 2007, I was ready to be there, but I needed the person to be with. I was tired of being miserable and lonely. I wanted to be good for someone. I can’t remember what my head was like in those days, but I know that too much of it was dark and defeatist and angry. The cold was setting in. The sunshine was vanishing quickly. I was devoted to my teaching, but I was frustrated by it. The advising job that I was doing at the time wasn’t much better. I was lonely and misunderstood. Things were returning to that moment in the desert in 1998.

And that wasn’t pretty. 

So why wouldn’t I want to be able to look at a woman and say, “I don't want clever conversation. I never want to work that hard. I just want someone that I can talk to. I want you just the way you are.” Doesn’t this just make sense? Now, imagine yourself sitting waiting to get into a relationship. Perhaps, you’ve met a man or a woman that can make you smile and feel good about all things. Don’t you just see yourself years later saying: I need to know that you will always be the same old someone that I knew.” There is a pleading sense of understanding there. It’s a feeling of “I’ll never betray you no matter what. I have no games in me. I don’t have time for those who played games with me, and I certainly won’t play them with you. Besides, when I’m around you, I just feel better about life. I am everything I ever wanted to be because of you. I look up to you so very much. You are my everything.” And so we can hear ourselves once again stating emphatically, “What will it take till you believe in me the way that I believe in you?” In the end, there isn’t much left except to sum the whole relationship up with the truth of the matter: “I said I love you and that's forever. And this I promise from the heart, I could not love you any better. I love you just the way you are.”

Cheesy? Yes. Real as hell? The rebel Billy Joel would like to say so, but it takes a mature place in life to truly express what is and what needs to be in a relationship. For that, I have no problem placing Billy’s song on the first disc of the wedding soundtrack. I never think about it in those ways that the preteen Dan would have when he watched Billy try to make something of himself in 1983. He wasn’t Billy Idol like I would have preferred in those days. He was just some goofy guy who was rapidly aging, singing songs about Vietnam despite never having been there, and now, he was singing songs about being in love… with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.


The twelve-year old me knew nothing about that.

The twelve-year old in every red-blooded male wants to know something about that, and yeah… so it goes.

That said, the twelve-year old me never knew about women like Laura or Leyna, the women who I would become obsessed with (just like Chuck Klosterman "> did), the women who would allow me to revel in their unrequitedness with my own neuroses, and the women who would mark so much of my life up until the time I met H (some had their plusses - some had too many minuses). One way or another, none of them were right. It took me 36 years to find the right woman, and when I did, it was clear that the answer was there.

And I wanted H just the way that she was.

So for that, sing it Billy!

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