I should probably be ashamed to admit that I have always been a huge Billy Joel fan.
Actually, to be completely honest, I think I was a Barry Manilow fan before I discovered Joel. I’m a little fuzzy on the order, though I do know that the first song I ever learned by heart was “I Can’t Smile Without You.” I’m sure you know it: “I feel sad when you’re sad/I feel glad when you’re glad.”
Those are lyrics to grab onto. And I did, tenaciously. I knew Manilow’s 1978 hit single so well, in fact, that my older cousins and sister found it entertaining to record me singing it. Thankfully, those tapes have disappeared.
But while Manilow may have initially captured my heart, the first cassette I ever bought was Billy Joel’s “52ND Street,” also, coincidentally, in 1978. It was a seminal year in music for me, as well as for some of the country’s best crooners. I was 7, so I think my dad had to drive me to Tower Records to make the purchase. When I got home, I popped “52ND Street” into the tape deck and listened to “Big Shot” about 187 times.
Early on, I did find Joel’s lyrics harder to digest than Manilow’s. For instance, I couldn’t figure out why Joel was so angry with this woman with her “head on fire” and her “eyes too bloody to see.” I found it all a bit grizzly – and fascinating.
I had no idea what a “Halston dress” was, but I sure wanted to find out. And gradually, Joel’s lyrics became more accessible to me. Even in elementary school, I could see why “honesty” was “such a lonely word.” Leaning over the crackling cassette player, I would cry out, “All I want is someone to believe!”
As a teenager, I could definitely relate to Joel’s feeling that it seemed “such a waste of time.” I fantasized about yelling at my parents, “Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone!” – and then slamming the door, though I don’t think I ever did.
And in college, I found it eerie that Joel had also crashed a party, said he was “sorry,” and been “trashed…out again” – all over the course of one weekend.
In fact, I will sometimes still join in when Joel ripples onto “The Bridge” and into our minivan via SiriusXM radio. As a grown woman, I find his music to be strangely comforting. Take yesterday morning, for instance. After some tough, breakfast hours with the kids, I felt cheered when, on the way to school, Joel reminded me, “I love you just the way you are.”
And I certainly don’t think it’s an accident that, after being interrupted from this composition by a call to fetch my crying toddler from playschool, I caught “Rosalinda’s Eyes” on the way.
“Senorita, don’t be lonely, I will soon be there,” Joel sang.
And I was.