The Magic of Billy Joel | Eastern North Carolina Now

I'm a Billy Joel fan, and I saw him long ago with Elton John at the Omni in Atlanta. I got reacquainted with his music when I listened to the Billy Joel station on SiriusXM on a January trip to the mountains-both up and back.

    Kathy Manos Penn is a native of the “Big Apple,” who settled in the “Peach City” – Atlanta. A former English teacher now happily retired from a corporate career in communications, she writes a weekly column for the Dunwoody Crier and the Highlands Newspaper. Read her blogs and columns and purchase her books, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday” and “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” on her website or Amazon.

Kathy Manos Penn with Lord Banjo
    I'm a Billy Joel fan, and I saw him long ago with Elton John at the Omni in Atlanta. I got reacquainted with his music when I listened to the Billy Joel station on SiriusXM on a January trip to the mountains-both up and back.

    If you're not a fan, you may be wondering how I did that without getting bored. Bored? Not hardly; instead I was fascinated with the interviews where he explained how he came to write many of his songs and what they meant.

    First, I was intrigued by the story behind his 1989 hit "We didn't start the fire." A friend of Sean Lennon's was in Joel's studio and commented that it was an awful time to be 21, to which Joel replied that he remembered it had been rough for him too what with Vietnam and civil rights and more in 1970. The reply was something like "Yea, but you grew up in the '50s and everyone knows nothing happened in the 50s."

    Joel was flabbergasted and sat down and wrote a laundry list of chronological headlines for what would become a hit song. A bookworm and history buff who once wanted to be a history teacher, he crafted lyrics that formed a forty-year history lesson, 1949 - 1989, including cultural touchpoints and significant events.

    As a Beatles fan, I enjoyed hearing that it was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that convinced Joel to pursue a musical career. He felt the Fab Four came across as smalltown guys like him as opposed to Hollywood stars. Over almost eight hours of listening, I heard several of Joel's Madison Square Garden concerts where Paul McCartney joined him onstage.

    "River of Dreams," released in '93, was his final rock album. It's also the only one of his albums that I have on CD, and I have at times played it repeatedly. That could be why I like so many of the songs it holds: "Lullabye," "Shades of Grey," and "Famous Last Words," in addition to the title track. Lullabye is just what the title indicates, a lullaby to his daughter Alexa Ray. He later wrote a children's book titled "Goodnight, My Angel" based on words in the song.

    I always thought "Shades of Grey" was a wise song, a song about being mature enough to realize that not everything is black and white: "Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out; And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts." Listening to the song again as I wrote this column made me think we could do with a few more folks these days who see shades of grey.

    Finally, it was hearing Billy Joel describe "Famous Last Words" that made me realize the song was prophetic. The way he tells it, he didn't understand that he meant it when he wrote:

      And these are the last words I have to say
      It's always hard to say goodbye
      But now it's time to put this book away
      Ain't that the story of my life

    Can it really have been over 25 years since his last rock album? I'm struck by how relevant his songs still seem, and I've had a sudden urge to see him in concert. He's doing a stadium tour this year but not coming anywhere near Atlanta, so I've been trying to find someone to go with me to NYC to see him at Madison Square Garden. Sadly, I've had no takers.
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( March 15th, 2019 @ 11:14 am )
How very true. While I never wanted to be the one who required grading on the curve, I did occasionally skew (nudge) the average to one side or the other.

The local Atlanta Journalist Lewis Grizzard said:

"If you ain't the lead dog the scenery never changes!"
=== === === ===

Or Shakespeare's poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.
( March 15th, 2019 @ 10:59 am )
If we we did not have off-center people "real progress" would never occur.
( March 14th, 2019 @ 6:49 am )
Billy Joel has that remarkable ability to turn his demons into songs, which is fortunate for us, but I often wondered how happy he really is or was. There is always a spark of "Off Center" in extremely creative people that we benefit from but it often torments them. With all his success and money, it also reinforces the old adage "Peace of Mind cannot be bought."
( March 14th, 2019 @ 4:50 am )
That was nice.

Remarkably, Billy's career turned out far differently. Humility is a wonderful thing to be blessed with.
( March 13th, 2019 @ 9:52 am )
Ah Yes, Billy Joel used to ride with me on my sales calls in towns like Dublin, Sandersville and the ever popular Hazlehurst & Baxley Georgia. It was not really a Saturday but many a Wednesday he was there with some of my closest friends; the other salesmen on the road in the mid-week slump that every salesman knows about..

"And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they're sharing a drink they call "Loneliness"
But it's better than drinking alone"

Not a Billy Joel verse but just as true:

"Holiday Inns and Two Dollar Gin
Can sure look bad in the Morning."
( March 10th, 2019 @ 1:55 pm )
Kathy Manos Penn really likes Billy Joel, which is cool when anyone is passionate for a credible artist, who communicates directly to the better angels of an individual's spirit.

I feel the same way about Led Zeppelin: - This concert about a year before drummer John Bonham's death that ended the band. How would anyone replace John Bonham.

Here is an earlier LP (not digital -this is how I heard it in 1971) / studio version of "Stairway to Heaven" where John Paul Jones could play the keyboard and the bass on separate tracks. Also Robert Plant's vocals are perfect:

Division of Aging and Adult Services Presents Awards for Work with Older, Vulnerable Adults The Ink Penn, Public Perspective, Body & Soul Old Friends and Wild Violets


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