Billy Joel and the Beatles provided the soundtrack to my high school years. So, a few months ago when I peered out from under my parenting rock and saw Billy Joel was playing at Madison Square Garden this spring, I did everything possible to make attendance at this event happen.
With tickets and a babysitter secured, May 25 — concert night — was upon us. I was just getting over yet another cold (the 15th or 16th of the year? This one probably caused by Owl sneezing into my mouth). Combined with the horrific night in Manchester earlier this week, my enthusiasm for our Big Night Out to a Concert dampened.
Joining the throngs of people funneling into Madison Square Garden did little to alleviate my anxiety. But I know we can’t just stay at home, even though at times it’s tempting. I know if we do that, “the terrorists win”.
Armed with gluten-free beer (just as delicious as regular, so why not?) and chicken nuggets, we made our way to our seats, which were outstanding. I began to relax. The stadium filled. It’s Fleet Week in Manhattan, and I noticed a row of US Navy uniforms directly across the stadium from us. As did the man behind me, who said in a delightfully thick New Jersey accent:
“Hey! Look at the say-luhs! I bet he’s gunna do Good Night Cy-GONNNNNNNNNNNN!”
And then he went on to tell the woman I assume was his wife all about the Billy Joel song, “Good Night Saigon”.
I marveled at how cool it would be to be visiting New York as a member of the service and go to a Billy Joel concert!
Around 8:30 the show began. He opened with “Pressure”. Killer opener and kind of a helter skelter light show to go with the musical interludes.
“How old is he?” I asked. Eric phoned it. 68. SIXTY-EIGHT. I dream of sustaining a fraction of that professional momentum at 68. His voice? Liquid and round. The entire performance? Flawlessly executed, creative, packed. He also treated us to two short, non sequitur, and completely perfect classical piano solos. One was Gershwin.
He said 2017 was the 50th anniversary of the Seargent Pepper album. I knew what was coming and deemed May 25 the best day thus far of my 2017. Those building guitar chords . . . . . and John Lennon was singing “A Day in the Life.” Except it wasn’t John Lennon. It was Billy Joel. 68-year-old Billy Joel, impersonating 27-year-old John Lennon. I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course, then when the screen zoomed in on a woman waving a British flag, I think a number of eyes were no longer dry.
Every now and then you’d see 20 – 30 people sprint out at the beginning of a song presumably they didn’t recognize. Presumably to the bathroom or to get more beer. I saw the whole row of Navy and Coast Guard and Marines file out. “Good for them! Drink up!” I thought.
A jarring helicopter rotor filled the stadium. Here it was. The beginning of Good Night Saigon. AND ALL OF THE SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN WERE OUT GETTING BEER. “Hurry back!” I thought.
“We met as soul mates . . . . . on Parris Island . . . . “ his full timbre saturated the stadium.
A few more lines in, I continued to feel so bad. “They’re missing it!”, I said to Eric.
Then, there they were. Filing onto the stage! Forming a semi circle on the stage and swaying to the refrain.
At the end of the song, Billy Joel shook each one of their hands.
“Piano Man” closed out the concert. Well, until the encore a few minutes later, which, after I shredded my vocal chords screaming, “WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE!”, opened with, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. Memories of trying to decipher the lyrics in pre-internet 7th grade flooded back.
It all made me think about why we go to concerts. Before leaving that night, I questioned why we were going. We could just, I don’t know, play all the music at home. But being there, it was crystal clear why we go to concerts. We go to support artists. We go for inspiration. We go for the collective experience. We go to say FU to terrorists. We go to see glimpses of these artist we can’t see on their albums, like Billy Joel playing Rhapsody in Blue. Glimpses of their utter brilliance, talent, practice, dedication. We go to remember how stupendously beautiful, joyful, and magical this human experience can be.