Screw It, Billy Joel #1: Goodbye Songs

So I’ve developed a new policy to make sure I post more often.  It’s called “Screw It, Billy Joel,” or SIBJ for short.  The policy works on the theory posed by at least one marketing student that the writer of this blog, at any point in time, can pull an original essay about Billy Joel out of his ass.  The policy goes into effect if a period of one day has passed and I have not posted anything here, regardless of whether or not I have an idea or even an almost-complete draft in the works.  Said idea or draft will wait until the next day (or, more likely, until never), and in the meantime I will have written something.

So here goes.

SIBJ #1: Goodbye Songs

I always feel sad at going away events: graduations, the end of a play or a course, moving, things like that.  Now, part of that is because you’re supposed to feel sad at events like those.  Another part is because if someone ever chooses to play a song, it’s always Green Day’s “Good Riddance” (the “I hope you had the time of your life” song) at the cheesiest, or The Beatle’s “In My Life” at the most meaningful.

But everyone does those songs.  Particularly the former.  And there are so many good Billy Joel songs that I wish I could suggest, but nobody would get because, well, they don’t know them.  It’s fairly ridiculous how many songs he’s written over the years that in one way or another talk about transitioning or letting go, all of which could stand side-by-side with “In My Life” and moderately above “Good Riddance,” each song giving a slightly different take on the idea.

This list isn’t comprehensive because I don’t want to go overboard and at some point you start to repeat yourself, but here’s a “not necessarily in this order” top-5 for Billy Joel songs about saying goodbye.

– Summer, Highland Falls:
“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known”

This song isn’t strictly a song about saying goodbye, but it’s about a transition from one period in someone’s life to another, specifically about taking the next step in a relationship with someone.  It’s almost a song about saying hello, but the style of the song is retrospective.  This song comes off of an album called “Turnstiles,” which as the name implies is full of songs about transition, some of which are better-known than this one.  Wait, no.  *All* of which are better-known than this one.  But the first time I listened through the album, it wasn’t “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” that caught me or “New York State of Mind,” but this one, and the next one.

– I’ve Loved These Days:
“We light our lamps for atmosphere, and hang our hopes on chandeliers”

I wanted to play this song at my senior prom.  Not entirely surprisingly, the DJ didn’t have it.  I requested “Thriller” instead.  I’ll admit, if this song was at all popular I’d probably consider it cliche, but it deserves to be a cliche instead of being one of those backlog songs that you know if you’re into the artist, but nobody else does.  This is a song about the end of a party, the end of something amazing, knowing that what comes next can’t possibly be as good but that you can’t focus on that: you have to focus on what just happened, hold it for as long as possible, and then when you wake up in the morning you can look at what’s next.

– Great Suburban Showdown:
“Mom and dad, me and you, and the outdoor barbecue.  I think I’m gonna hide out in my room”

This song I actually did get to play at the appropriate time, in the car on the way to the airport this Summer after what may have been the last time I’ll ever stay in the house I grew up in.  This song is the song of a college student taking that last trip home before really, really striking it on his own.  It’s the song of someone who’s done something bad and needs to lay low, but wants to visit his family one last time.  It’s about that point in which you realize you transitioned from a child into an adult at some point but you don’t know when that point was, so you feel the need to go back and bid farewell to who you used to be before acknowledging consciously, “yes, I am an adult.”

– Souvenir:
“For every year is a souvenir that slowly fades away”

A very short song, just one long verse, about all of the things we use to prolong old treasured memories, and how despite our best efforts, we will eventually lose those memories anyway.  Like I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’m kind of packrat, but even people who aren’t have at least one or two things that remind them of the past: an heirloom, a useless gift that you’d never use but came from someone important to you, a picture of you with your friends.  Those things are what this song is about.

– Famous Last Words:
“There may be other words some other day, but that’s the story of my life”

This particular video chosen so that my sister will click on it.  There’s a weird background echo, but it’s in the other version of the song that’s on YouTube also.

Hearing this song for the first time, back when I was 15, was mind-blowing.  It’s the last track from what ended up being his last pop album.  I heard it about seven or eight years after the fact, and the quoted line above was like some combination of Jesus talking about the resurrection, King Arthur saying he would return (even the first line of the song references Avalon), and Arnold Schwarzenegger telling me he’d be back, all rolled into one package for my teenage mind to digest.  The only time in my life I ever felt as euphoric as I did the moment that I connected the dots on this song was when I finished the 7th book in the Narnia series.  Just, there it is.  It’s over.  Something I invested so much energy into and got so much enjoyment out of has reached its end and won’t be continued.

River of Dreams wasn’t an amazing album, and it wasn’t as cohesive as a normal Billy Joel album, but I didn’t know that at the time, and the album certainly ends the right way.  And it ended his career the right way.  Which is appropriate for a man who mastered so well the art of ending things.

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One Response to Screw It, Billy Joel #1: Goodbye Songs

  1. רעיה says:

    I actually clicked on the link before I read that I was supposed to…

    I’ve actually seen that video before in Sign Language class. Funny how things come around.

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