Saturday, July 13, 2013

Billy Joel

This is the view from my bed, which is a large framed prtrait of Billy Joel.  Other walls feature equally large framed portraits of  Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

I'm quite fond of the music of Billy Joel. I can't say what's my favorite Billy Joel song, as it changes randomly.  "Miami 2017" is totally full of the awesome, but so are "She's Always a Woman,"
 "Summer at Highland Falls," [one of my favorite teen angst themes],  "Allentown,"  "Only the Good Die Young,"  "We didn't Start the Fire," "Piano Man," and "Captain Jack."  Speaking of "Captain jack," how can one not love a song that works into the lyrics both  the terms "pick your nose" and "masturbate"?

I wasn't present for the event, but my  Uncle Scott  proposed to my Aunt Jillian at the conclusion of his senior recital. He had arranged permission from the professor who was his advisor to play and sing "And Do It Goes" as an encore at his recital in some mid-sized concert hall at BYU.  One would not ordinarily play something by Billy Joel other than, perhaps under rare circumstances, on of his forays into the classical realm. Certainly one wouldn't play something that one sang along to at a senior piano recital, but it was all cleared through his advisor, so I suppose it was kosher. He played and sang the song, which is really a bit melancholy to be singing when you're in the process of proposing to the person you hope to marry. Immediately following the conclusion to the song, he quickly removed from insode the piano a single pink rose and a small box containing a wedding ring. He stepped down from the stage and went to where she was seated )one of her friend knew and made sure she had a front-row seat), knelt, and asked for her hand in marriage. she said yes, and the rest is history.

Public proposals are a risky thing. What if she had said no? It would have put something of damper on the post-recital reception. (They had spoken of marriage before, though, so the proposal wasn't totally out of the blue.) Ahmad Rashad proposed to Phylicia Rashad (whom my mom has accompanied on the piano for some charity function once and says is a most gracious and kind person) during an NFL Thanksgiving pregame show. She accepted, and they remained married for something like fifteen years, which is roughly two-and-a-half lifetimes for a show business marriage. Larry King soon followed suit and proposed on live television to someone who [very wisely, in my opinion] said no. Soon enough later, he persuaded one of the Engemanns, (Shawn, formerly Shawnae, I think) a member of a large musical family some of whom to worked with the Osmonds, to marry him in a ceremony by his hospital bed before he underwent some sort of cardiac procedure. The former Ms. Engemann was born in the neighborhood of 1959, which would place her in her early fifties now, while King is pushing 80. A few years ago both of them filed divorce papers, but I believe they've since reconciled.  Just from looking at Mr. King, it's hard to imagine that green stuff with presidents' and other prominent historical figures' faces didn't somehow play a part both in Ms. Engemann's decision to marry him and perhaps later in her decision to tear up the divorce papers, but that is nothing more than speculation on my part, as I've never met either of them and would be perfectly happy if such remained the status quo. It was, I believe, the eighth marriage for Larry King. I've digressed considerably, but my original point was that public marriage proposals can be a risky matter. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes the recipient of the request has other plans for his or her future, such as was the case of Larry King and the one that got away.

I'll post here a video of the Billy Joel sang to Aunt Jillian, immediately before proposing. Billy Joel is a great singer and pianist, but my Uncle Scott is far too talented to be called an amateur. I'm sure his rendition was respectable at the very least.

I have great respect for musical artists who compose most of their own work. Billy Joel composes his own music and lyrics.  Considering he was originally a high school dropout (he didn't graduate with his classmates; he quit school to work to help his single mother out financially; many years later he wrote an essay or two for his high school and was awarded his official diploma),  his lyrics show rare depth and obvious literacy.  Some high school lost a great student and probably didn't even realize it at the time.  It's unfortunate that arrangements couldn't have been made to allow him to continue his studies and to work as well so he could have enjoyed the small but not wholly insignificant milestone of going through the graduation ceremony with his peers.

Billy Joel has been married three times. Both he and wife number three announced a split. I assume they divorced but I don't really know. His second marriage was to supermodel Christie Brinkley, and produced his only offspring, Alexa Ray Joel.  The marriage lasted about nine years, but the two remain on very friendly terms. Alexa is a cute enough young woman, but to me it seems unfortunate that a girl can have a mother as beautiful as Christie Brinkley but can end up looking a great deal more like her father. Billy Joel's looks would be considered by most to be very average. Fortunately for Alexa Ray, in addition to his looks,  she inherited musical talent from her father. She says among he earliest memories are of sitting on her father's lap at a piano as he played and sang  nursery rhymes to her. (I'd like to offer a shout out to nursery rhymes. They're not said or sung to today's young children nearly as much as they should be. Macabre as the origins of some of them might have been, they're a part of our culture that we cannot afford to let die. Parents and teachers of young children, read, sing and recite Mother Goose rhymes to your children. They are a national treasure we  do not want to lose. Save Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet, the cow who jumped over the moon, and all the rest. PLEASE !)  Ironically, it was Alexa's mother, Christie Brinkley, who insisted that her daughter learn to play the piano, in sort of a "You're Billy Joel's kid and you have to learn to play the piano" type of interaction. It was a smart move on Ms. Brinkley's part, and I'm sure her daughter, who has a modest career as a singer/songwriter,  now appreciates her mother's insistence, though Alexa may have resisted to some degree as a youngster.

One of the songs Billy Joel wrote for Alexa, "Goodnight My Angel," is one of the twenty or so songs my own father can play well on the piano.  He plays and sings it for me on some nights when I'm having difficulty sleeping. It's a lovely lullaby with a classical tint, and the meaning is deep.

I like Elton John and his music, too. Not that all of these guys don't use backup musicians on a regular basis (and I have to appreciate the use of back-up musicians, as working as one in summers is essentially how my father put himself through medical school, which allows me to have a much more comfortable lifestyle than anyone who hasn't personally earned it really deserves), but anyone who can perform in front of a crowd of  thousands  with nothing but himself and his instrument, be it piano, guitar, or whatever, has courage beyond what most of us normal people can conceive. Elton John, on the other hand, does not compose his own lyrics, as Billy Joel does. Nevertheless, far be it from me to criticize a musician for composing only melodies and not lyrics, since I do neither. Furthermore, Elton John composed what I consider to be one of the two most beautiful melodies of the modern era of music when he wrote "Your Song." The second of the two most beautiful melodies of modern music  is, in my opinion, Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman."

When my Aunt Jillian and Uncle Scott were married in a large Catholic ceremony, she, as the bride, along with her mother, did nearly all the work that goes into throwing together a wedding. The only thing she asked of Scott was that he take care of every aspect of the music, from the ceremony to the reception, as music was his area of expertise. She did put him into contact with my mom, who played piano and organ in the ceremony and helped him with some selections, as he had been Mormon up to that point, and as Mormons emphasize temple weddings  where no music is involved.  Scott had limited knowledge as to exactly where music fits into a wedding ceremony. Jillian thought the music that was selected for the ceremony was beyond perfect, but she had a bit of an issue with the song he picked for their first dance.

He chose Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," which, while being an ode to the woman of his dreams, does point out her very human traits. Think of it as something similar to a modern and musical version of the Shakespearean sonnet "My Lover's Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun," which was unusual in its time as, instead of putting his lover on a pedestal and extolling her for more virtues than any one human could conceivably possess, details her foibles, yet tells how much he loves her in spite of them. "She's Always a Woman" is similarly  blunt. I think the line from the song my that Aunt Jillian was most affronted by was "She'll ruin your faith with her casual lies," although there were many less-than-complimentary lines to which she could have and probably did take offense. To be honest, though, the song suited and still suits  my aunt to the extent that it could have been written specifically for her.  She's since gotten over it, and it's one of the first songs she asks her husband  to play whenever he's playing for fun or to entertain her.

'She's Got a Way" is a lovely song as well. It's off an album of songs, Songs in the Attic, that  Joel released, comprised of a series of songs that seemed to be particularly well-received in concert but never had made any dent in the Billboard charts or any similar list prior to being released on the album.  Joel once mentioned that his musical inspiration for the song came from Gordon Lightfoot. While I can't hear the musical resemblance inspiring the reference to Lightfoot, I always appreciate it when one artist gives credit or compliments to another, and in this case I appreciate it especially,  as Lightfoot is another of my musical idols, and he, too, composes nearly all of his own music -- both melodies and lyrics.

Billy Joel has come out in favor of a few political candidates, but them seemed to eschew the practice. He made the comment, "People who pay for your tickets, I don't think they want to hear who you're going to vote for and how you think they should vote."  I wish more entertainers would keep that in mind. While, as Americans, we're free to voice our views, politically or otherwise,  I find it off-putting when entertainers interject themselves into the political process.  They are free to support whomever they choose, either with financial contributions or with statements and appearances. On the other hand, I'm concerned about the Americans who are stupid enough to be influenced by the political opinions of entertainers, who have no more or less knowledge than does the average citizen concerning the political process. It doesn't bother me when they appear and sing a few songs, if they're musicians, at  political rallies, as it makes what otherwise might be a rather tedious event somewhat more enjoyable. Short of that, I wish entertainers would be less involved in political campaigning. I say this as a liberal, with political leanings that usually benefit from the political endorsements of entertainers, most of whom are liberal as am I. Still, I believe it's not a good practice, and I appreciate Billy Joel's stance in this regard.

When we're all gone, I believe that if future generations retain any good taste in music, the music of Billy Joel will survive. For the sake of those who will someday replace us on this Earth, I hope I'm right.


  1. I'm with you all the way. Billy Joel is an amazing talent, as is Elton John. I like them both, but I think I'm partial to Sir Elton. Of course, I'd rather listen to James Taylor than Billy Joel or Elton John, but that's because I find his music very comforting. Actually, speaking of comforting songs, I might need to blog about one I discovered yesterday.

    I've never tried to write any songs... at least not seriously. I've rewritten silly lyrics to songs I did in choir, but I've never tried to say something profound with lyrics. I've written a lot of other stuff, though. Maybe someday I'll write song lyrics.

    I have heard that Alexa is very talented. And she is looking quite pretty lately. I noticed that her younger sister, Sailor, has blossomed into a spitting image of their mother. I like Billy Joel's theories about not going political at his shows. I think Linda Ronstadt (a singer I admire) should take heed and stop using her stage as a platform.

  2. James Taylor is my #2 favorite modern artist. His vice just odesn't age. My dad usually plays his music when I can't sleep because guitar music is really more soothing than is piano usic. I think #3 for me would probably be Simon and Garfunkel. I like either of them separately as well, but together they're pure magic.

  3. Just stumbled across this. You really nailed it on your analysis of several Billy Joel songs. I'm a big fan. See my site