Tuesday, November 6, 2001

Billy Joel

A few weekends ago, I had to drive Jenn's car, and she had a new CD on the passenger seat: Essential Billy Joel. Disc 1 was in the CD player. It has 18 tracks, including Captain Jack, The Entertainer, Say Goodbye to Hollywood, and Allentown. You could say I was transported back in time: each song brought back memories of the 80s, when everyone seemed to be listening to his stuff.

Of course, driving to work one day, I heard Allentown on a "morning drive-time" show, and Only the Good Die Young on a "commercial-free ten-in-a-row" set on the way home.

Billy Joel's music being fresh to me again, it brought to mind an episode of the Sopranos, in which young Christopher tries his hand at bank-rolling a music act, but the band is woefully inadequate in the studio. In a memorable line for me, the studio engineer chastises the group: "Where are the choruses? That's how you build a great song: great choruses."

Every one of the songs on that Billy Joel CD had an achingly familiar, even instinctive chorus. You knew what the words were, so ingrained are they in your cultural consciousness.

But even more hard-hitting are his lyrics, which seemed so trite back then (we repeated them so), but seem so pertinent now. From Say Goodbye to Hollywood, he wrote "Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again." These lines didn't mean anything to me when I was growing up in Jersey City, but after saying good-bye ("au revoir") to California, New York, and New Jersey, his words make sense.

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