Washington (Gallant Gold Media Hill Report | Analysis | April 27, 2019) – It was a spring Friday night in New York City at Madison Square Garden for a SOLD OUT concert. I just so happened to luck into prized dream seat. The evening promised to be one of the top experiences of American life. Just before entering MSG, I had the bright idea to stop in at Macy’s across the street on 7th Ave and have my eyes enhanced by a makeup artist. It seemed appropriate following the good fortune of finagling a 3rd row seat in section 109. I was hoping for a “glamour look” to match the event.
“You want ‘smokey eyes,'” Jessica said. “Yes, smokey eyes,” I replied. She busied herself with collecting her tools. “I recommend this color palette,” she continued, pointing to a collection of twelve bronze shades. I assessed her display, furrowed my brow, and inquired if she was sure it was the preferred choice of the two options. “Yes, for your skin, this will be best.” I didn’t necessarily agree. I had always used a palette similar to the other, although I guess the reason I was there in the first place was because I hadn’t been successful at creating the right look. I decided to be bold and trust her instinct. “Okay, you know best.”
While Jessica worked her magic, I asked for instruction, determined to learn the tricks so I could do it myself. Step-by-step she explained the process. The strength of the pigment, the math behind diffusing. Three taps of one color, one tap of another, another tap of the first, a second tap of the second. The importance of which brush to use for which strokes. “Did you learn all this in school?” I asked. Jessica shook her head. “I taught myself. I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for school. I’ve been doing makeup since I was five years old.”
And so it went for twenty minutes. Jessica’s artistry. Jessica’s instructions. My questions about Jessica and her family. What I marveled the most about Jessica was how real she was. A direct question from me, a straight answer from her. This was refreshing. It was rare. No mask on Jessica, the makeup artist who’s a pro at creating masks. Two daughters, one was 11, the other 4. She’d married Giovanni who used to work at Macy’s, too. Their 4 year old, Gia, was sassy, Jessica assured me rolling her eyes. “I love that name,” I said. “It’s unique.” Jessica agreed and explained how it was derived from her husband’s name. “I told my husband, no more children. He said okay, but we had to find a way to name our daughter using his name. So, Gia.”
“Do stars come in and have you do their eyes before they head over to Madison Square Garden?” I inquired. Jessica laughed. “I wish. That would be a dream come true.” She lamented about how she wished she would be discovered. She loved Macy’s, and was thankful she could work the late shift so she could be at home with her daughters in the morning, getting them ready for school. But they lived in Brooklyn. Some nights she had to work as late as 11:00 PM and then make it home across the city. It was a struggle. I could clearly see that Jessica, like millions of others, myself included, had a long series of never ending challenges. What seemed to keep her spirit afloat though was her personal dream of “one day”… maybe one day the unexpected would happen and her grueling schedule would change.
Indeed. I was stunned by Jessica’s artistic expression, and command thereof. All self taught. Years of experience. Pleasant and direct. Such a delightful to work with. Thomas Jefferson would have been so proud (I explained this to Jessica). After all, Jefferson was an advocate for teaching oneself new skills, and acquiring knowledge on our own. Jefferson devised a simple plan for executing self-education that he shared with future generations. Jefferson did have an excellent formal education, but he went on to become a self-taught Renaissance man.
So how does Billy Joel sell out Madison Square Garden for 69 straight months, the most recent performance on Friday April 12, 2019? Nearly six straight years of packed monthly concerts, 26 years after his last pop album was released. This sensation seems to defy the laws of gravity. Paradoxically no less, Joel mistakenly predicted back at the beginning, 1974, that he “knows the game, you’ll forget my name and I won’t be here in another year if I don’t stay on the charts.”
So then what’s the science behind Billy Joel’s everlasting mojo? This stunning feat seems virtually impossible if you stop and think about it. Which I of course did, for a couple of days now. After much reflection, I’ve come up with an hypothesis: there’s sceince behind the phenomenon.
Clearly, sound is one of the most significant factors in Billy Joel’s longevity. For music itself, a collection of unique vibrations and rhythms produced by various types of instruments, create an emotional impact when layered and mixed the right way. Take “Prelude/Angry Young Man” for example, or “Two Thousand Years.” The forceful, expansive range and sequence of sounds, multiple layers of fluctuations and octaves, take listeners on emotional roller-coasters that are quite electrifying. Psychology today explained that “Music is what feelings sounds like.” The ancient Greek philosophers, Pythagoras specifically, professed that music has a “mathematical relationship with the cosmos.” Music does seem to tap into a higher power. A universal energy that connects us all. Quantum physics and music. Pythagoras’s quantum harmonies. The tie-in between music and physics is a scientific reality, that quantifies the tangible impact music has on our psyche. We’re subliminally aware of this when we replay favorite songs that cheer us when we’re blue, or motivate us when we’re exercising, and liberate us on a Friday night at Madison Square Garden for that matter. So yes, a substantial element of Billy Joel’s enduring fame is his manipulation and mastery of sound for emotional effect.
The Words. Billy Joel revealed to a New York City night school class in July, 1983 that he first writes the music, then the title, and finally the lyrics, emphasizing that words don’t necessarily matter since many fans get it wrong without ever realizing those aren’t the lyrics. He shared several hilarious examples. Here’s a list of the top 40 misheard song lyrics. Interestingly, there aren’t any Billy Joel lyrics mentioned here.
Words of course do matter. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say. And words are another critical component of Billy Joel’s long-lasting fan-span. His words continue to resonate with the majority. His repeated use of the word “soul” in so many of his top hits, as well as a myriad of his less notable works, are what many listeners bond with. For how many of us run and hide in this dark chambers of our inner beings when we’re suffering or challenged? Billy Joel seems to reveal that the deepest recesses of the human soul is the sacred spot where he churns out his most charged inspirations. Writing from this sapience is much more difficult than it appears. In order to reach the hidden canyons of our inner beings, one has to be willing and able to dive that far. This requires awareness and humility as well as an abundance of angst, pain and suffering. The turbulent river of the human condition runs through each of us. For several decades Billy Joel seemed willing to battle the vexing currents to reach the calmer, deep layer of the sea, the spot where one can access the cosmos. Truth itself. Does he remember how he got there? Will he be able to return? I sure hope so.
Billy Joel’s ability to create unforgettable images using choice words, as well as his innate gift of weaving product brands (Chevrolet, Sears, Sesame Street, Parkway Diner), idioms, and poignant details of a particular moment in American culture have created decades of snapshots that belong in the Smithsonian American History Museum on National Mall in DC. We all appreciate the imagery as well as the time machine effect that this has on listeners, immediately transporting us back to another era.
The personal stories. Billy Joel’s ability to convey a powerful insight about the human condition by sharing a personal story, enables listeners to identify with a particular plight or circumstance, a technique used by journalists to elicit reader engagement with the importance and/or severity of an issue. Was Billy Joel trained on how to do this? Or is it innate? Did journalists learn from Billy Joel or did Billy Joel learn from them? He makes this look easy, using numerous first names (Brenda & Eddie, Davie, Paul, and so many others) along with a handful of poetic lines, combined with potent sound effects, to paint a vivid indelible picture.
For twenty plus years of song writing, Billy Joel followed through with keeping the faith. So it doesn’t really seem plausible that he doesn’t have any more rock-and-roll in him. On Friday night he sure did sound, and act, forever young, making it that much more confusing about why there are no more words.
Can we use science to predict the future? The human condition. An ancient heart. Quantum harmonies. Are these clues that hint that Billy Joel likely has a stash of hits buried at the bottom of the hidden caves of his soul? How do we pry these out of him? On the brink of turning 70, Billy Joel seems to be an unfinished story. With a voice so young and strong, and seemingly endless sold out shows, what gives? He’s surely composed enough musical scores across these past 26 years since his last album River of Dreams was released. Does he believe he has less words of wisdom to share at 70 than he did at 44? While watching Billy Joel in concert, it dawned on me that music can cure what ails us. An ancient heart that can tap the cosmos through quantum harmonies, and reveal many of the secrets that bind us all together… all generations, all political affiliations, and all ethnic backgrounds. The human condition is what we all have in common. There’s no escaping the cosmos. It’s the connection between every last one of us on earth. Truth never changes. Truth cannot be warped by time, nor hidden forever by darkness.
In keeping with what Billy Joel said way back when, that his song writing process begins with composing the music, then coming up with the title, before penning the lyrics, is he just stuck on an album title? Or is it the song titles? Maybe it’s more than that. Has he truly lost his way to the inner recesses of his soul? Maybe we can kick him into gear by thinking up an album title as his birthday gift? One certainly popped into mind after leaving the concert Friday night.
Happy 70th Birthday a few weeks early, Billy Joel! I hope this isn’t too much “Pressure.”
GETTING CLOSER: I went searching for the truth, But in my innocence I found, All the con men and their acrobats, Who stomped me in the ground, If I count up their percentages, I know they’re getting rich, But they haven’t taken everything, Those paybacks are a bitch.
Though I’ve lost quite a lot, I am still in control, They can keep what they’ve got, But they can’t have my soul, And if I don’t have this all worked out, Still I’m getting closer, getting closer, I still have far to go no doubt, But I’m getting closer, getting closer.
What was ripped off by professionals, Is not all that it seems, While I must live up to contracts, I did not give up my dreams, If I see it as experience, It hasn’t gone to waste, Lately all the missing pieces, Have been falling into place.
And if I could go back and start over somehow, I would not change that much, Knowing what I know now, Though there have been sins I will regret, Still I’m getting closer, getting closer, I don’t have all the answers yet, But I’m getting closer, getting closer.
I’m a mark for every shyster, From Topanga to Berlin, And I should have learned to kick them out, As soon as they crawled in, So to every bank in Switzerland, that stores my stolen youth, I’m alright because despite the laws, You cannot hide the truth.
And although you will say, I am still too naive, But I have not lost faith, In the things I believe, And if I don’t have this all worked out, Still I’m getting closer, getting closer, I still have far to go no doubt, But I’m getting closer, getting closer.
~Billy Joel, 1986
After a very, very long journey of getting closer, is Billy Joel ready for his “second wind” of lyrics writing? Speaking with Jessica before the Billy Joel concert on April 12th, and learning of her simple dream of not having to schlep across Manhattan at 11:30 PM, made me realize how clear it is that every one of us has a dream of some kind. Some dreams are bigger than others. But a dream is a dream. It’s motivation. Inspiration. A carrot. A cure. I’m surprised Billy Joel’s “Everybody Has a Dream” (released in 1977) never got much air time. I consider it one of those timeless masterpieces. Straight from the cosmos. A core sentiment in the heart of every one on earth. So, on the eve of Billy Joel’s 70th birthday, I can’t help but believe these raging conflicts across the country would be possible to overcome if we had a few new Billy Joel albums to help us vent together in concert like one big, giant American family.
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