Friday, May 9, 2014

Song Lyric of the Day (Billy Joel, on ‘Sadness or Euphoria’)

“As we stand upon the ledges of our lives,
With our respective similarities
It's either sadness or euphoria.”—Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls,” from his Turnstiles LP (1976)

Billy Joel was born on this date in the Bronx in 1949. He has suffered his share of critical brickbats over the years for being too “commercial” (he features prominently in Jimmy Guterman and Owen McDonnell’s The Worst Rock ‘n’ Roll Records of All Time). But he has endured, winning honor after honor (including membership in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Kennedy Center Honors).

And yet, with all the fame and the laurels, with all the great humor and high-energy concert performances, he has also been subject to his share and more of demons. His recent admission that “Summer, Highland Falls” was really about having bipolar disorder was in keeping with the other times when he admitted to this affliction in song: “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” and “I Go to Extremes.”

Joel’s concerts (especially his appearance at the all-star benefit for Hurricane Sandy victims) serve as reminders of how much passion and conviction he brings to pop music. I’m all for artists pursuing different creative avenues, but his one venture into classical music, Fantasies & Delusions, Op. 1-10, did not feature any memorable work. I continue to hope that, like another New Yorker who spoke of the “damp, drizzly November in my soul,” Herman Melville, he has one late-career masterpiece squirreled away, unknown, as yet, to the world.

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