Failbot 9000 failed hard last week, but hopefully this week is only slightly faily, and scheduled posting shall resume next week. Meanwhile, having listened to some Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs a lot, I thought I’d talk about music myself.
I’ve listened to a lot of Billy Joel over the years. My friend Abby is to blame for some of this. Also, my high-school radio station played “Goodnight Saigon” at 7:30 every morning, or just about, so I’d be regularly brushing my hair to a song about young men dying in a war that ended before my parents met, which I’m sure did wonderful things for my mental health.
But I’m unduly fond of Billy Joel, and while I’m sure there are technical reasons for this that I can’t explain because I damn near failed music in ninth grade (sorry, Ms. Cavalier, we were awful students) a large part of it is because lyrically he’s…well, it’s not that he’s not dramatic, as such, but he’s never naive about it.
See, the top-40 music of my adolescence was the music of the mid-to-late nineties/early two thousands. I like a lot of it, but (unless you wanted to try and figure out whatever the grunge dudes were saying, which, no) there was a tendency for songs about human relationships to be very sincere and earnest and like the singer was the first person in the universe to ever have a crush. This hit its…”peak”…in the era wherein I was going to school dances and hearing LeeAnn Rimes expound, in three or four different forms, on You Are The Most Wonderful Guy Ever and I Literally Cannot Survive Without You.
(And then I spent a summer in a deli alternating that with Elton John’s Hey, Pretty Famous Women Are Tragic and Misunderstood, Don’t You Have Feelings About That? and Lee Greenwood’s Getting Hard for the Stars and Stripes. Slicing my hand open was only the second or third least pleasant part of that job.)
That is not my thing. That wasn’t really my thing even in high school. I’d read a lot by then, and I’d learned in various ways that the heart heals like any other lump of living meat (unless you’re Padme, I guess, sigh) and also people live without literal internal organs and can we maybe take it down seventeen or eighteen notches? People have liked boys that way since boys were invented. Parents have never understood. Find your chill.
Joel is good at taking it down those notches. As far as I can tell, his songs (particularly the romantic ones) fall into one of two categories: Well, That Happened, and Yeah, I’ll Go There. (There’s the occasional Also A Lot Has Happened Since The Cuban Missile Crisis, BTW number, too.)
WTH songs include “Got to Begin Again,” “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and many of the third-person songs that aren’t directly about the economic downfall of the mid-Atlantic. Sometimes, everything has gone to shit, and it’s sad, but it’s not like the world is ending or this is uncharted territory; people, including you, have done this before and will do it again; Brenda and Eddie would always know how to survive; etc. This is not the first breakup in the universe. This isn’t even a surprise. (A message that also makes me love non-Joel-but-similar-era “I Know Him So Well.”) Take a breath, have a drink, and wait it out.
YIGT songs include “Only the Good Die Young,” “For the Longest Time,” “This Night,” and “And So It Goes.” Things are good. Things may even be great. They might not stay that way. In fact, they probably won’t. Man is delight of man, yet each shall fail his fellow. Maybe I’ll be sorry when you’re gone, but you can have this heart to break–and there’s no real question about the breaking, is there, one way or another? (Non-Joel song with surprisingly similar resonance: Swift’s “Wildest Dream”.) All joy comes at a price; that price is always (at least in the narrative of the song) worth paying, but you’re not going to pretend you don’t know it.
(“I’ve Loved These Days,” another favorite, falls somewhere between the two: an era is ending, you’re going to miss it, but you neither regret having it for that or are going to stand in the way of change.)
The world goes on, one way or the other. Few people are completely happy or sad for very long. If I was going to assign Tarot cards to singer/songwriters, which is totally a project I don’t need, Billy Joel would be the Wheel of Fortune, and I’m both jaded and fatalistic enough to enjoy that.
None of this justifies “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” though.