Bought a Billy Joel CD today, 52nd Street. Smart guy, Billy Joel. The song that just grabbed me is My Life. This is what he looks like now – pretty cool, I think. The photo is from Wikepedia.
Doesn’t that just look like a man who’s followed his heart? These are some of the words of My Life.
I don’t need you to worry for me cause I’m alright / I don’t need you to tell me it’s time to come home / I don’t care what you say any more, this is my life / Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone / They will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place / And they’ll tell you can’t sleep with somebody else / Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space / Either way it’s okay you wake up with yourself.
I never said you had to offer me a second chance / I never said I was a victim of circumstance / I still belong, don’t get me wrong / And you can speak your mind / But not on my time
He was born in the Bronx on May 9 1949, and brought up in Hicksville. It’s ironic that he of all people should have come from a place called Hicksville. The word can mean a small rural, fairly backwards town. But in this case it’s a place in New York – with a pretty interesting history. Valentine Hicks, son-in-law of Elias Hicks, a famous Quaker preacher and abolitionist, bought some land in 1834 and turned it into a station stop in 1837. Eventually it became a bustling New York City suburb.
But back to Billy Joel. His father, the son of a German-Jewish merchant, was born in Germany who emigrated to Switzerland and later the US because of the Nazis. He’ was an accomplished c lassical pianist and Billy took lessons at a young age – but very reluctantly at first. But his interest in music way overpowered any interest in sports, for which he was bullied and teased at school. He took up boxing to learn how to defend himself and was pretty successful on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit. But he gave it up when his nose was broken!
At 14 he heard the Beatles, and joined The Echoes. Their success in New York made him sure he wanted to be a professional musician. He attended Hicksville High School but didn’t graduate, because on the day of an important English exam he overslept, having played at a piano bar the night before. So he left school without a diploma, and said to hell with it, if he couldn’t go to Columbia University he’d go to Columbia Records!
His high school diploma was finally awarded to him in 1975, and he has six honorary doctorates to his name now. He “retired” from pop recording in 1993, although he did a series of tours – called “Face to Face” with Elton John, the last of which was in March last year. They were the longest running and most successful concert tandem in pop music history. Not surprising.
Billy Joel’s always going to have a place in my heart. I absolutely love the way he sings and plays, and the words – well, they still work for me, probably always will.