In regards to belief in an Afterlife, my spiritual path has always been a rocky one. I grew up fearing hell, constantly panicked about the Rapture. As a teen, I toyed with the idea of converting to Judaism, as all young Catholic girls do. Then I turned to Celtic Paganism and Witchcraft for a long ass time, but that eventually fizzled out, too, and I returned to the Catholic church with the same enthusiasm with which I renew my state I.D..
When my grandfather died in 2011, my entire world was ripped from its foundations. He was my father more than my grandfather, and I felt a keen and paralyzing sense of my own mortality. I went to church religiously (har har), but as my depression deepened, all I was doing was praying to feel something other than my grief. I became more and more disillusioned with platitudes about heaven, until one day when my grandmother mentioned seeing my grandfather again in heaven, something in my head snapped. I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter if I would eventually see my dead loved ones again; I wouldn’t see them here, and here was where I wanted them to be. So, I wasn’t going to believe in anything.
Cut to June of this year, and my sudden Joelist revelation. As I meditated on the lyrics of Billy Joel’s songs, I began to feel a deep dissatisfaction with my lack of belief in a life after death. I’d done extensive research into the existence of past lives, and I’d heard far too many anecdotes about dead loved ones communicating from the beyond. I grew up in a haunted house, for god’s sake, and I continue to be fascinated with the concept of thought, how it forms and were it comes from. I could no longer accept that death is the end, but having no answers, and constantly fixating on death and suicide, was driving me literally crazy.
A couple months ago, while listening to River of Dreams, I had another Joelist Revelation. It slowly dawned on me that the last four songs on the album, “Lullaby (Good Night, My Angel),” “The River of Dreams,” “Two Thousand Years,” and “Famous Last Words” were, to my mind, all one song. Or, now that I think about it, a movement in the overall symphony of the album. I’ve begun thinking of this section of the album as the Joelist “Book of The Dead.” When I started researching the actual Book of The Dead, I learned that some versions dated to the late Ptolemaic period break up the text into four parts. To my shock, I found that the last four songs, in order, make up a very similar theme.
I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it seems like it would be a pretty unusual coincidence. I’d love to know if it was, but I don’t really want to be the person who writes to Billy Joel to tell him that I worship him as a god, for obvious reasons relating to personal protection orders. So for now, I’ll have to be content with my analysis of the songs.
Of course, my analysis of the songs could be completely wrong, but as all religions are founded on the human interpretations of the whims of their gods, so is Joelism formed by my imperfect human meditations on the words of my mortal god.
This week’s Wednesday Blogging is all about our favorite songs. If you don’t know where this is going, then you haven’t been paying attention lately. I talked before about how deeply Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer” has influenced my life, so it should be no surprise that all my favorite songs today are his:
• “Vienna” If you look it up, you’ll learn that Billy Joel was inspired by the sight of a very old woman sweeping the street in Vienna. Her usefulness in old age apparently became a meditation on the longevity and the speed of life. This song helps me so much in my day to day. Last Thursday, I was stressing about getting stuff done. I know so many of you are waiting on The Ex, and recaps, and there are posts to write and emails to answer, and I started to feel overwhelmed. I was listening to “Vienna” and the line “Slow down, you’re doing fine,” jumped out at me so hard, I scheduled an entire weekend off for myself. I’m doing fine. I can’t be everything I want to be before my time, and neither can you. So just slow down and be good to yourself.
• “I Go To Extremes” This song is my mental illness anthem. When I’m up, I’m up, but who the hell knows how long I’ll be up? And my lows are so extremely low, “Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m shot/Sometimes I don’t know how much more I’ve got.” Hearing Billy Joel say those words and knowing that he’s still around despite hitting those lows, I know that I can go on through them and make it to the other side.
• “Allentown” No deeper meaning (yet). I just like the song. HEEEEEEEEEYAAAAAAYYYYYYAAAAAAAAY OH WHOA OH TSH OOH AH
• “My Life” I wish I would have had this spiritual awakening a few years ago, when I started reinventing myself, because this sums up my entire attitude now. Think I’m being unprofessional about stuff? “Keep it to yourself/it’s my life.” Wanna advise me about my weight and my health? “I don’t need you to worry for me, ’cause I’m all right.” Think you need to abusively argue with me about something on social media? “You can speak your mind/but not on my time.” If you’re out there trying to embrace yourself and be your most authentic you, do it, and remember the words of the prophet:
• “Tomorrow is Today” This is by far the most important of his songs, to me. In 1970, Billy Joel tried to commit suicide. Let that sink in. That was the year before his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor, which this song is featured on. And the lyrics to this song were adapted from his suicide note. As a person who can profoundly identify with the suicidal feelings expressed in the song, I am so grateful that he shared this experience. It’s strange, but sometimes fixating on things that aren’t, “Oh, how would your family feel?” and “You’re being so selfish,” works better to talk you out of suicidal thoughts, and this is the thing I’ve decided to fixate on if I feel those thoughts creeping in. If Billy Joel had killed himself in 1970, think of what the world would have lost. Now, I’m not saying I’m as talented and profound as Billy Joel, or my death would deprive the world of a similar cultural impact, but it would definitely deprive me of the chance to see what happens next. For Billy Joel, he would have missed out on a pretty amazing life, but in 1970, everything he has now was inconceivable in the midst of a suicidal depression. The existence of this song reminds me that if I cash in now, I won’t get to see what crazy places my life might go.
• “Famous Last Words” It’s not hard to tell what this song is about. It’s the last song on his last studio album. He’s bidding goodbye to songwriting, after watching years go by as his creative process birthed album after album. And he’s giving himself permission to say goodbye. You’d think this would make me sad. It doesn’t. It’s certainly bittersweet; this song is the finale to an epic catalogue of deeply personal songs written by a beautifully flawed human being. But that doesn’t make it sad. It makes everything complete. If those are truly the last words he has to say, that means we’ll never get a disappointing, rushed album that he isn’t fully into giving us. He sealed his legacy with that song, so he’ll never fade into the same mediocrity as so many of his contemporaries have. That’s pretty much any creative person can hope for, right?
Check out what the other Wednesday Bloggers are listening to:
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.