|Billy Joel in concert—by Samira Khan via Flickr|
Do you have a certain style of music, or perhaps a particular artist you listen to when you need inspiration? Or if you’ve had a bad day? For me, one of those musicians always able to lift my spirits is Billy Joel.
Because I grew up with his music, there is a sense of familiarity in the melodies, and comfort I find in the lyrics. There’s also a clarity to his voice that brings everything into perspective the moment I hear it. But there are other more personal reasons that I feel such a connection to him.
Billy Joel is a New Yorker through and through. Born in the Bronx to European immigrant parents, he grew up on Long Island. He symbolizes the epitome of the American dream. Struggling for years to get recognition for his music, he has become a pop-legend in his own time. This Piano Man sings everything from jazz to doo-wop, and of course rock & roll; but many fans don’t know that he is a classically trained pianist.
My late Uncle Denny was a long-time admirer. He loved and respected Billy and his music so much that he modeled a boat after his, and sent it to him as a gift. Billy Joel, in return, responded graciously and later invited my uncle along with my aunt to an all-star party in Philadelphia. They were his special guests of the evening and sat at a VIP table.
Part of the irony is that like me, my uncle LOVED New York. He adored the entire state, and would visit frequently. I recall one particular time in the summer of 1982 when I stayed on the Upper West Side for about a month, Uncle Denny came for a few days. He enjoyed walking the city and being part of it all. He also attentively observed my ballet classes at Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall.
During Denny’s fight with cancer, Billy contacted my aunt again expressing his concern. In 2000, Denny lost that fight. Billy Joel’s music was echoing through the funeral home and long after we left on that sad February day. Even now, I can’t help but fondly remember my uncle each time I hear any Billy Joel song.
Perhaps it’s memorable moments in my life that I associate with much of Billy Joel’s music. Like the time I was at an 8th grade dance in the cafeteria swaying in place to Honesty with my grade school crush–Rob Wetzel.
Or the morning of my friend Margaret’s wedding while drinking mimosas, we listened to You’re My Home with curlers in our hair.
In 2007, my husband and I moved to Manhattan and drove through the Holland Tunnel for the first time as New York State of Mind played.
One of the most special moments in my life was my 27th birthday. I was finishing my senior thesis project in design school, and I stuck alone working around the clock. My classmates hired a violinist from the corner across the street from the school. He walked into the classroom playing Happy Birthday while they sang and paraded single file with a cake. Once the entire group made it to the front of the room, the violinist asked me for a request. I was still in shock from the moment and exhausted from lack of sleep, I couldn’t come up with a single song. He selected one of Billy’s biggest hits — Just the Way You Are. To this day, each time I hear the song I can’t help but recall that special moment on that day back in 1995, smile to myself, and remember how my friends made an ordinary day one that I’ll never forget.
I have too many favorites to count, but recently I find myself listening to one tune over and over again— Vienna. One of the most passionate of Billy Joel’s songs, it speaks of rushing through life to accomplish everything at a young age. In America, we often believe that youth is superior. As a person ages, they have less value; and contribute less and less as the years go on. When Billy Joel traveled to Vienna almost forty years ago to visit his father, he noticed the importance of the elderly as he watched a ninety-year-old woman take pleasure and be fulfilled while sweeping the streets.
Slow down you crazy child
Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while
It’s alright you can afford to lose a day or two
When will you realize…
Vienna waits for you.
|Vienna, Austria-–by Emmanuel Dyan via Flickr|
As I get older and I’m uncertain of the direction in my life, I feel the need to figure it out quickly. I can slow it down as the songs says, and take a moment and explore while I catch my breath.
I may be removed for a day or two just like the song—slow to answer or return messages. I have been running through my whole life pushing for success, as I’ve never settled for mediocrity. Perhaps a break may be therapeutic. It may be a challenge to not jump to my next endeavor — especially while living in Manhattan with its lightning-fast pace.
Nonetheless, I am going to attempt to heed his advice, at least for a short time. I will continue to write as I feel inspired by my city, but I will savor each moment. What’s the rush anyway? I will always have Vienna.
Slow down you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything you want to be
Before your time
Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)
Too bad but it’s the life you lead
You’re so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you’re wrong
You know you can’t always see when you’re right (you’re right)
You got your passion you got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you.