I’ve realized today that there are two things I haven’t done on this blog which seem to me unconscionable. Firstly, I have yet to truly be silly. Now, granted, I do feel as though I have asymptotically approached silly, but I haven’t quite broken through yet. And that’s a problem. But that’s a problem that will be dealt with at a later time. You gotta feel silly to be silly.
The second thing is something that I can do in any mood, and it’s strange that I’ve yet to do it after over 40 posts. I have yet to gush about Billy Joel. At all. I don’t think I’ve so much as mentioned him. And that’s just plain weird. Gotta fix that now.
What’s weirder is that this post was spawned from Bruno Mars. It’s possible that some of you may know that Mr. Mars has a song of the same name as one of Mr. Joel’s songs. When I first heard it, I had to fight the urge to think “oh, this is a cheap imitation.” To be honest, although it has a similar message, it delivers it with its own style and is entirely original. Although I don’t particularly like its style and feel it pushes a particular image that probably isn’t the best one for women to have of themselves, I have to acknowledge that it’s a decent piece of music.
But back to Billy Joel. First time I heard “Just the Way You Are” was actually on Sesame Street, as Billy Joel and a deaf woman were using the song to demonstrate the capabilities of a piano they were about to donate to Oscar the Grouch. This is probably one of my earliest memories, so there was a while when all this song meant to me was a silly thing you sing to piss off grouches. It embodied the phrase “kill them with kindness.”
In middle school, I started actually learning who this Billy Joel guy was, and started rediscovering songs I didn’t realize I already knew, and learning new songs entirely. The song’s meaning deepened into what most people probably see it as: a love song meant to be a self-confidence boost to your girlfriend/wife/whatever (no, not you, Gonzo).
I kind of left it at that for a while. It was a good song, with a good message, and that’s it. But there’s another song off of the same album with a similar message, “Always a Woman,” and the odd thing is that while “Just the Way You Are” is one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, “Always a Woman” is one of my least favorite. And it took me a while to figure out why.
The reason is actually twofold. “Always a Woman” suffers a similar problem to Bruno Mars’ song. While “Just the Way You Are” has a message that says to me “all of the things that you think are faults are really not faults,” the other song tells me “you have faults, and all of these things make you a bad person, but I love you despite, and possibly because of, the fact that you are a bad person.” I mean, she steals like a thief and then hides like a child. She sounds like some people I know, and of whom I am not particularly fond.
The other problem is that “Always a Woman” feels shallower musically. It’s a lamenting song, and it’s sung lamentingly. “Just the Way You Are” is a happy song, but it’s sung lamentingly, too.
The last evolution that the song had for me was the following realization: he isn’t singing to a woman, he is singing to a tumbler half-filled with whiskey that’s about to join a row of empty tumblers. This isn’t the song that he sings to confess his love, this is the song he sings to himself or possibly some random stranger because he can’t bring up the nerve to sing this to his girlfriend/wife/whatever.
And then I figured out why I really prefer one song over the other. “Just the Way You Are” is a song that a man sings to himself the night before he proposes. “Always a Woman” is a song that a man sings to himself the night before the divorce papers get drawn up.
They might be sung at the same bar, by the same person, in front of the same row of empty cocktail glasses, but one is while he’s happy, and the other is while he’s sad. And I guess I’m too much of an idealist.