Sing Us A Song, You’re (Still) The Piano Man

I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly why so many people are so emotional about Taylor Swift, both good and bad.  I honestly don’t want to get too deep into any discussion as to who or what motivates that passion, and I certainly don’t want to give any more credence to the absolutely delusional stuff certain former Presidential candidates have been saying about her ultimate purpose on Earth.  Suffice to say that she had a WAY better 2023 than anyone I know or have heard of, and I’ll include the lunatic who seems to be obsessed that she was named Time’s PERSON OF THE YEAR.  Sorry, Otto, I’ll stack a record-breaking tour, both live and theatrical, and finding apparent true love over sloppily stacking a few hoarders’ boxes around the windowless, chandeliered room where I take a sh-t.   2024 is honestly up for grabs but, Christ almighty, this one’s beneath even the minimal standards for sanity I set for your fans.

But then I think back to how passionate I was about musical artists at the ages when I was in the age range of the majority of today’s Swifties, and by that I don’t mean the bandwagoners like me who, like good parents, tapped an IRA or two to take their kids to one of those ERAS tour shows.  For me, my passion, at least musically, was laid squarely on William Martin Joel of Hicksville, New York, whom you probably know better as Billy.

Look, by every definition of the word, I grew up a nerd of the first order.  In my sheltered yet dysfunctional upbringing, we considered The Partridge Family alternative rock.  My mother adored Steve and Eydie, not Jefferson Airplane.  My father’s limited musical knowledge pretty much ended at HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, the victory song of the campaigns of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I thought THE ARCHIES were an actual band.

But one monumental summer, where I labored as a day camp counselor for an entire summer for $25 plus tips, I made friends with a slightly older and decidely less geeky co-worker who introduced me to the music of Billy Joel.  It was just before the release of his true breakout and arguably signature album, THE STRANGER.  He had indeed hit it big earlier with the now-iconic PIANO MAN, so I had certainly heard him sing even on the AM stations we tended to have as background noise.  But my new friend was a true fan, who had cassettes of STREETLIFE SERENADE and TURNSTILES cued up on his portable player which he brought to our pool outings.  And when we ventured off to a Sam Goody’s in a mall on one of those Long Island day trips, he was thrilled to find a much rarer tape of Joel’s first-ever studio work, COLD SPRING HARBOR.  One of the better songs in what was clearly a still-evolving stylebook was a lovely sollioquy to a woman he adored, SHE’S GOT A WAY.  I used it as the soundtrack for a radio commercial for Geritol I produced in my college lab sessions.  When I received my grade, I called my friend and, in the same melody of that song but with a far less melodic voice than his, I exclaimed “I GOT AN A, HOW ‘BOUT THAT!!”.

From there, Billy became my guy.  52nd STREET was the “cool album” I had to have in my dorm, since I distinctly remembered exactly where the album cover was shot.  I passed it countless times on my way to and from TV studios.  Feel free to read the details, courtesy of POP BEATS’ Bob Egan.   I would go out of my way to see him in concert where I could, whenever I could.  Of course, I saw him in Madison Square Garden, but I also saw live shows in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Anaheim.  Yes, I saw his duet tour with Elton John.  Yes, I saw him during his current MSG residency, set to close later this year when he actually goes out on tour.  I’ll at least be buying any available livestream of one of those shows.

And it will feature a brand new song that at this writing I’m eagerly awaiting the release of, as AMERICAN SONGWRITER took recent note of:

This Thursday, February 1, Billy Joel will be releasing his first new song in more than 16 years, “Turn the Lights Back On.” In advance of the tune’s arrival, Joel recently gave fans a special preview of the track outside the famous New York City arena Madison Square Garden, the site of the Piano Man’s long-running monthly residency.  A video posted on Joel’s social media sites captures a variety of fans’ reactions to the song.  One middle-aged man comments, “He sounds as good as ever.” Next up, a teenage male fan enthuses, “This is fire. This is actually gas.” The clip then shows various fans grooving along to the tune, ending with a group of teenage boys yelling out, “We love you, Billy Joel!”

Not bad for a 74-year-old Yankee fan who hasn’t released a new single of any kind since 2006, and a new album in more than three decades.   The teaser has those wonderful chords and talented hands that this really terrible piano player (moi) tried desperately to copy.

It seems everywhere I’ve been, Billy Joel’s been part of my life’s soundtrack.  When I moved to Los Angeles, to calm my nerves on the first one-way flight ticket I’d ever purchased, I listened to a mixtape friends had prepared at my goodbye party the night before.  SEEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT ON BROADWAY (ironically also titled MIAMI 2017; perhaps a harbinger of the future?).  SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD.  MY LIFE.  (You know, the theme to BOSOM BUDDIES).  NEW YORK STATE OF MIND, just to get me emotional, especially about the New York Times and The Daily News.

I’ve already squeezed $1.29 out of what remains of my meager bank account to be sure that TURN THE LIGHTS BACK ON will be added to that playlist, and I have a hunch I’ll be listening it to incessentantly in the coming days.

After all, I need something to drown out all of the other white (supremist) noise out there these days, especially the poison that eminates from Otto.  I’m sure you’re figured out who I’m referencing.  I’m not quite sure if he more resembles this Otto (body) or this one (face, especially where he’s likely thinking that Julie Hagerty was Taylor Swift).  You can help me decide.

But not today.  I’ll be happily distracted by the Piano Man once more.

Until next time…


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