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Everything I Ever Learned, I Learned from Billy Joel

Billy Joel

There’s a storm front coming, if you will, as the Piano Man, celebrating his fiftieth year in the music biz, is back in the public eye with his residency at Madison Square Garden, his Kennedy Center Honor, his world tour, and his exclusive channel on Sirius XM radio.  But I, for one, never let my New York state of mind wane.  It may seem shameless to say, but everything I’ve learned, I learned from Billy Joel.

My father wasn’t around much to tell me the ways of the world.  (Well, he was, but he never sang his lessons, nor put them to music, so. . . y’know, in one ear, out the other.)  It was primarily from the extensive catalogue of Sir William Joel (he was knighted, wasn’t he?  I mean, if Elton John was, Billy should be, nationality be damned!) that I’ve picked up a thorough education on such diverse subjects as the entertainment business (if you get cold, you won’t get sold) to balancing work and play, succeeding in relationships, and money management all the way to the guy’s code and enjoying the moment — all the stuff that’s truly important in life.  (Yeah, I’m looking at you calculus, state capitals, chemistry, Shakespeare…  You’re all worthless!)

Hey, life isn’t easy.  Just surviving is a noble fight.  So in order to enlighten you as I have been enlightened, here are fifteen tried and true bits of wisdom from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer that help as we all have to deal with pressure.

  1. Never buy a big waterbed with the bread you had saved for a couple of years.  Really?  That’s your luxury buy?  Savings accounts barely even reach one percent these days.  The money you took out could not have been worth the time you spent waiting for its value to appreciate.  Have you tried mutual funds?  The stock market is riding new highs this year.  You could do a lot worse.  As for your purchase, who needs a waterbed anyway?  You get sea sick in your sleep.  If you’re gonna save up, buy something a little more durable.  A memory foam mattress is much more comfortable and better for your back.  Plus, you can drink wine while bouncing up and down on it without spilling.
  2. Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.  This country is all about success.  If you’re not successful, then you’re nothing.  So we work 26 hours a day, eight days a week.  There’s always someone else who is working harder than you?  But is he happy?  Maybe he’s working so hard because he hates his wife and doesn’t want to go home?  How did he get his current position?  Who is he related to that got him the job?  The mind can literally explode if you work too hard.  I’ve seen it happen (in a reenactment on the Internet).  And still, things can never happen fast enough.  Why aren’t you successful yet?  You can’t be everything you wanted to before your time.  Cool it off before you burn it out.  Visit an amusement park, take in a jazz festival, go on a trip.  Vienna is nice this time of year.  Your mind will thank you by not exploding.
  3. You can linger too long in your dreams.  Dreams are nice.  Feel free to dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.  But you’ve got to know when to pull the rip cord and resort to your fallback plan (assuming you have one).  There’s a popular image on the Internet of two guys digging in adjacent tunnels.  One of them throws his shovel down and we see that it’s right before reaching the diamond mine.  The point is, you never know when your dream will become a reality and you don’t want to bail too soon, but you’ve got to use some common sense here.  Some dreams have clocks on them.  Once you hit ten or eleven, if you haven’t mastered a back handspring yet, you could probably forget about being an Olympic gymnast.  Still, some guys keep that picture of Kate Upton on their vision boards way too long.  It’s getting depressing.  Give it up.  It ain’t gonna happen.  She’s moved on, so should you.
  4. We can only go so far on caviar and cabernet.  Who are you, Jay Gatsby?  That kind of extravagance is gonna bore you after a time.  That is, if you’re not already bankrupt.  How much caviar can one eat anyway?  It’s so salty.  Your lips are gonna prune up and you’ll be in perpetual “duck face” leaving you looking looking like a sorority girl in Spring Fling photos.  Quit pretending to be some pompous boob and go have some wings and beer.  So enjoy yourself, but don’t overdo it.
  5. We will all go down together.  Look at Mike and Trent in the classic movie “Swingers” when they went back to the trailer with the waitress and “Dorothy” — Mike couldn’t get out of his own way, wallowing in sadness over his ex-girlfriend.  He didn’t score, and that meant Trent had to curtail his activities.  It is the number one tenet of the man’s code:  Leave no man behind!  Either we all get the girl or no one does.  This also works during wartime activities, but hopefully you will not find yourself in that situation.
  6. Let people speak their mind, but not on your time.  Whether it’s cold remedies or stock tips, or the way to dispatch a hornet’s nest, everyone’s a know-it-all.  You can be polite, the ol’ nod n’ smile technique, if you’d like, but really, you have better things to do than to listen to their cockamamie advice.  If you ask for their advice, fine, but you don’t need their advice.  The only guidance you need is from Billy on this one.  Let them ramble on, though.  No need for you to be hot about it.  And then bring it up later to rub their faces in their heaping pile of wrong, especially if they’re covered in hornet stings and you’re not.
  7. Get it right the first time.  This one is rather straight-forward.  You get one chance to make a first impression, whether it’s with a guy/girl, or during your “elevator pitch” to the CEO of the company, or in your tryout as wideout for the San Francisco 49ers, so don’t blow it!   No one is giving second chances anymore.  In this day and age, with 140 characters on Twitter and fifteen second Instagram video clips, even that first time is condensed.  You have no autocorrect in the real world.  Earn the nickname “One-Take Charlie.”
  8. Don’t be afraid to try again.  Yeah, you blew it the first time, everyone goes south every now and then.  Get back on that horse.  Just don’t make the same mistake.  That falls under the umbrella, “If at first, you don’t succeed. . .”  I mean, it might not work.  Don’t beat a dead horse.  But we do like a redemption story.  However, this is your last chance.  So what if you made a fool of yourself on “American Idol” with the whole country watching.  Somewhere, there’s the back room of a sawdust-infested bar that’ll have you.  We’re not saying you’re gonna be back on Redemption Week on the “Idol,” but to remember rule #3.
  9. Never argue with a crazy mi-mi-mi-mi-mind.  It’s the argument equivalent of trying to get a sugar-crazed kid off of the jungle gym.  There’s the old adage that when you argue with a fool, anyone watching from a distance won’t be able to tell which of you is the fool.  It’s why umpires initially walk away from a heated manager.  Another way to phrase this is just avoid fans of any sports team other than your own, or political party, or anyone wearing a bathrobe in public, Alec Baldwin, Beyonce’s sister, a dude roller blading with a snake around his neck, etc.
  10. Tell her about it.  Tell her all your crazy dreams.  Open and honest communication!  It’s the key to any relationship.  What’s on your mind, what are you thinking?  Let’s take a moment to gauge where we are.  Put it all out there on the table, so she’s not left guessing because that’s where the trouble begins.  I lay everything out there — sometimes as I walk to my car, I imagine that I’m a walrus; what it would be like to be a woman; if bears are migrating into cities, why isn’t Bigfoot?  And if he does, what job would he apply for? (I’m not gonna lie to you, I’ve gotten the “we need space” talk a LOT.)  It’s up to your discretion how much you tell.
  11. Leave a tender moment alone.  Okay, this one takes a bit of intuition and may seem to counter the previous rule.  Just because it’s on your mind doesn’t mean she needs to know.  Two people together, even soulmates, can annoy the hell out of each other at most times.  It’s natural.  But if you just keep quiet, it will make things a lot easier.  Recently, there was an Ohio couple married 70 years that died within fifteen hours of each other.  They held hands at breakfast every day.  They didn’t need to say anything.  In fact, the second one of them opened his or her mouth, it might have ruined everything.  No one wants to hear you free associate your feelings every minute of every day.  While you’re being all communicative, you must know when to SHUT. . . UP.
  12. In every heart, there is a room, a sanctuary safe and strong to heal the wounds of lovers past until a new one comes along.  Okay, so you told her too much and doomed the whole relationship, you’ll get over this heartbreak.  Suppressing your feelings is the best way to put the pain behind you, and nothing bad ever boils up again.  That’s what Billy means when he talks about the room in your heart.  Okay, so it’ll also help if you burn all his/her possessions and any of his/her favorite restaurants, just to keep yourself from being reminded of the monumental way you screwed things up with the one person in the world that understood you.
  13. Sinners are much more fun.  Stop being such a saint.  You’re always worried about doing the right thing and concerned about what other people think.  (Honestly, some of those Commandments are kinda overblown.)  “Only the good die young” isn’t completely true as there are so many other factors independent of your lifestyle that contribute to life expectancy, from genetics to environment to diet, etc.  So have some fun, fer cryin‘ out loud!  (I mean, we’re not talking about murder here.)  Claim someone else’s coffee off the counter at Starbucks, make a lefthand turn from the right lane, photobomb a family portrait.  It’ll be okay.
  14. Post-WWII history and pop culture.  All of it.  Him.  That’s where I got all my knowledge.  (Though, lately, I’ve been learning a thing or two from Wikipedia.)
  15. These are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known.  Quit whining!  Could things be better?  Probably, but you’re alive, so suck it up.  What are you looking for, unicorns and gumdrop forests with money trees?  The grass is always greener but you should just stay in the present and enjoy yourself.

There you have it.  It’s life.  Mistakes are to be expected.  But if you carry this list with you as a guide, the words of the Piano Man can take us all through the tough times.   And so it goes.