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Joelism

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Last June, a funny thing happened to me. In the same way that some people “find” Jesus, I “found” Billy Joel.

I should just clue you in right now, you’re going to think this is a parody article. It is totally not. I’m fully aware of how ridiculous it sounds to say that you’ve had a spiritual awakening from listening to too much Billy Joel. And I do, admittedly, make a lot of jokes about the near creepy  agápe I feel toward him via ye olde social media. This is going to be the uncomfortable part of knowing me where you realize, “Oh. So, when she tweeted that she wanted a lock of her hair delivered to Billy Joel upon her death, she… wasn’t kidding.”

I guess what I’m saying is… brace yourselves. This is going to be the blog post where some of you fall away, overwhelmed by my weirdness. I understand, and it’s been nice knowing you.

Now, I’ve always been aware of Billy Joel. He was just out there, floating around with all his catchy hit songs. I had a copy of The Stranger on CD, and every now and then I’d pull it out to listen to “Everybody Has A Dream.” I liked him, but I wasn’t a hardcore fan.

So there I am, in the first week of June, and I’m on a road trip with my husband. Our car’s satellite radio was working, because it was a free preview week, and I found to my delight that channel four had been transformed from 1940’s music to a Billy Joel channel. So, high as a kite, riding in the passenger seat, I start texting Bronwyn Green (Bronwyn’s texts are next to the picture of me and Bronwyn and American Girl Samantha on the beach. My texts are next to the picture of American Girl Samantha holding my shoes on that same day at the beach. Oh, what a merry day that was, friends):

Billy Joel text

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I don’t know what happened that day, or why I became this immediate and passionate Billy Joel fan. Car trip boredom? I like to believe that it was some kind of cosmic intervention.

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As the days went on, I kept randomly texting Bronwyn about Billy Joel:

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The trip we’re referring to is our annual vacation, in which me and Bronwyn and a bunch of other awesome writers go up north and share a cabin together. When we got there, I noticed two very distressing things. I had forgotten to download my running playlist to my phone, and there was no internet. So if I went for a run, all I had to listen to was the sound of the mosquitos and the black flies attacking me. Luckily, Kris Norris had some Billy Joel MP3s, and she shared them. I thought it would be really difficult to run to Billy Joel, especially since at the time I was running to mostly super aggressive rap mixed with songs from Frozen. But I didn’t have a choice, so off I went.

As I ran, “The Entertainer” came on. And without any distractions, I was able to really, really listen to the lyrics. And when he got to the part where he says:

“I know the game and you’ll forget my name/I won’t be here in another year/If I don’t stay on the charts”

I got hit with such a shock of realization, I stumbled over my own feet. Billy Joel, the guy who hadn’t put out an album of new material since 1993 and still packed stadiums around the world twenty years later, had once thought everyone could just forget about him. The line spoke to me on such a deep level. I imagined Billy Joel’s fear, that he would fade into obscurity, that he couldn’t keep up, and I identified. Not with those particular fears, but with the idea of fear driving you on and on, exhausted, as you work harder than you should have to in order to be happy. 1974 Billy Joel couldn’t have known how his career was going to play out. He had no idea that he’d be in residence at Madison Square Garden forty years after that song came out. Just like none of us have any idea if our worst fears will have manifested in forty years. We have to choose to live with either hope, or fear, I thought.

I took a picture of the moment to commemorate it.

IMG_20140625_112924793

 

The fact that I was standing in front of a waterfall when I came to this life changing realization was an awesome coincidence. The fact that I had sweat and gnats in my eyes was not. Billy Joel giveth, and Billy Joel taketh away.

After that day, seeds began to grow in my brain. I became obsessed with Billy Joel, to the point that I was rarely listening to any other artist. And for Bronwyn, the texts continued to roll in. Remember, all of these are completely without context when they’re sent. One moment, she’s sitting on her couch, probably knitting something, and bam, her phone makes this elevator noise and something like this pops up:

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So, I’m assuming that at this point, based on her blasphemous responses about the man who was rapidly becoming my lord and savior, she’s getting tired of my Billy Joel nonsense. But it was too late. I was already obsessed.

billy joel text 7

Notice how “I’m thinking about Captain Jack Harkness” becomes “Let me preach to you the gospel of Billy Joel” just a day later? That’s because once I’ve drawn you in, I refuse to let you go.

Billy Joel text 8

Bronwyn’s unerring faith that I will someday meeting Billy Joel fills me with a lot of hope on days when I’m really depressed. I’ve actually started dressing to leave the house only in clothes I would be okay with wearing in a picture when I inevitably meet Billy Joel. Just like how people dress up to go to church, or in preparation for the Rapture.

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Here she is referring to my plan of asking Billy Joel if he thinks I have street savoir-faire, a reference to the song he sang in Disney’s Oliver & Company. I’m almost afraid to ask that question, because I know I am unworthy and the answer is likely “No. How did you get my home number?”

The thing is, even though I’m being kind of funny about this, Billy Joel  helped me through a really hard summer. His music is the closest thing to God that I’ve had in a long time. His songs are my mental health pick-me-ups. His lyrics show me truths about my life and my self, and from them I learn how to be a better person.

If that isn’t the definition of religion, I don’t know what is.

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27 Comments

  1. Ilex
    Ilex

    Considering what a staple of my teen years Billy Joel was, I can hardly dump you for this current obsession, Jen. And besides, I have a thing myself for the poignant loser grittiness that is Captain Jack. (Although I had no idea it was about heroin until I looked it up on Wikipedia not all that long ago.)

    September 24, 2014
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  2. Sarah
    Sarah

    “Captain Jack” is 100% about Jack Harkness. (“Just a little push, and you’ll be smiling…”) Despite having been written in 1971 about a cocaine dealer. Why? TIME AGENT.

    September 24, 2014
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  3. I love everything about this. Everything. Thank you.

    I think maybe we should all go door-to-door and ask people if they’ve found Billy Joel. Like, don’t you think a lot of people would be all, “Maybe. I mean, I like him, but why is he so special to you?” and then we’d get to preach the gospel of Billy and maybe have some lemonade.

    I mean, I’d let Billy Joel proselytizers in, is what I’m saying.

    September 24, 2014
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    • Where do I sign up? If Peter on Family Guy can have The Church of Fonzi (or whatever he called it), we can have The Church of Billy Joel.

      September 25, 2014
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  4. Lieke
    Lieke

    I think it’s nice that his music has given you something. I mean, listening to music and dancing or singing along or going for a run (seriously, how do you manage that? I’m always torn between mumbling ‘sucker’ or genuinely admiring people who run. I fucking hate running) is awesome, but to have music be a really positive influence in your life is special. You should tell Billy Joel that when you meet him (which I fully believe you will) instead of making some obscure music reference that he’s probably not going to get.

    September 24, 2014
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  5. Emily
    Emily

    As someone who hasn’t listened to much else besides Tom Waits for the last decade or so, I love this.

    I sincerely hope that you meet Billy Joel, and that he tells you you have street savoir-faire.

    September 24, 2014
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  6. Candy Apple
    Candy Apple

    Well, other than a brief infatuation with “Uptown Girl” in middle school, “She’s Always A Woman To Me” after high school and “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in college, I was pretty much a Billy Joel agnostic.

    But I have a raging crush on Kiefer Sutherland right now, after my brother forced me to watch one thousand episodes of “24,” so I fully understand the nature of obsession and am not here to judge. Rock on, Jenny.

    September 24, 2014
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  7. Now all I can hear is Uptown Girl in my grey matter. Whelp… time to get some religion. 😉

    September 24, 2014
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  8. Lucy
    Lucy

    I love this article, for me it wasn’t an artist but psychedelics that gave me my first experience which I could almost call religious (there was no god but I don’t know what else to call it lol) and helped me with my depression and dealing with life. Everyone’s religious experience is different, but when you find it, cherish it!

    September 24, 2014
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  9. Alison
    Alison

    I totally get this. I have the kind of personality that compels me to totally immerse myself in whatever thing I am into, learn everything about it, and talk about it incessantly to people who are only slightly interested.

    September 24, 2014
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  10. Katherine C.
    Katherine C.

    I’ve loved Billy Joel since childhood, but until now I don’t think I’ve ever really thought too much about the meanings behind the songs as I belt them out in the car. Clearly I’ll have to pop in his greatest hits tomorrow. And I still have to figure out a way to thwart the local drama teacher’s plan to incorporate Billy Joel into some kimd of musical version of Romeo and Juliet, which makes me shudder just thinking about it.

    September 25, 2014
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      YOU MUST STOP THEM.

      September 25, 2014
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        I’m almost 100% certain that Billy Joel didn’t write West Side Story. HOWEVER, I would not object to living in a universe where he DID.

        September 26, 2014
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  11. I listened to a ton of Billy in college. His greatest hits album (and I had it on TAPE! I have the CD now, which I transferred to my MP3.) was my theme music on my half-hour drives back and forth to community college every day.

    Funny enough, my two favorite songs of his are not on there — Lullaby and This is the Time.

    September 25, 2014
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  12. Flo
    Flo

    Billy Joel figures heavily in the soundtrack for my late teens/early 20’s. My favorite album of his is “Glass Houses”, I can listen to it over and over again, put it away for a while, then get it out and it’s like it’s new again. After I read this post last night I had “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” stuck in my head for some weird reason. His songs are just so classic.

    Did you see where he was recently in concert and Christie Brinkley was there, he dedicated his performance of “Uptown Girl” to her. I think it’s great that all these years later, even with a divorce, that they seem to get along well. He’s had his share of problems over the years, but he always makes it through somehow.

    Back to “bottle of white, bottle of red…”

    September 25, 2014
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  13. AlsnB
    AlsnB

    So this started out as ‘oh I think I recognize that artist’ and ended with me browsing through a list of songs going ‘hey I know that song… and that one… I LOVE that one… oh oh and that one… and that one… ohmigod BILLY JOEL IS SO IMPORTANT TO ME.’

    So thanks for that. <3

    September 25, 2014
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  14. I . . . think I love you more now.

    September 25, 2014
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  15. Ange
    Ange

    I’m so glad that others share my abiding love of Billy Joel. I have never analysed his lyrics up until now much, except for when I was considering making ‘For the Longest Time’ our wedding song (the last verse put the kibosh on that) but I sure will now. I also consider knowing 99.9% of the words to ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ one of my crowning achievements. Long Live Joel!!!

    September 26, 2014
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    • Ange
      Ange

      And to add: OMG Piano Man. Piano. Man.

      September 26, 2014
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  16. rekhyt
    rekhyt

    It’s infectious, I caught it. Thank you for this! 😉

    September 27, 2014
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  17. Petra47
    Petra47

    “Vienna” has gotten me through some really tough times in my life, so I totally get where you’re coming from.

    September 28, 2014
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  18. Diana42
    Diana42

    I am feeling exactly this way about Sam Smith right now. There is no shame, you can’t help it if Billy Joel is a fucking rockstar and I can’t help it if Sam Smith has a voice like chocolate.

    If they came together for a song, I think the universe would implode.

    September 29, 2014
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  19. Alisha
    Alisha

    I have a-ha tattoos. No judgment here girl. Love your Joel!

    September 29, 2014
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  20. Georgia
    Georgia

    I’ve never actively listened to Billy Joel before (although I may have to start now!) but for several years in high school Doctor Who meant to me what Billy Joel means to you. It’s still my Favourite Show Of All Time and I’ll watch it till I die, but from the ages of maybe 14-17 I would lightheartedly tell people that Doctor Who was the closest thing I had to a religion.

    They thought I was joking. I was not.

    Your last few sentences rang very true for me. Honestly, I think finding meaning in and deriving strength from something secular is really powerful, especially in the absence of organized religion. (And it doesn’t hurt that – in my opinion at least – watching a few episodes of Doctor Who or listening to a Billy Joel album is much more fun than something like a church service. :P)

    December 22, 2014
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