Joup Confessions… Billy Joel’s The Stranger

BJMy first experience with Billy Joel’s 1977 album The Stranger was most likely in my parents’ old Chevy station wagon, late 70’s or very early 80’s (if my memory really does go that far back). I Love You Just The Way You Are would have been a staple on the easy listening station that they listened to while we drove here and there with me and my then infant sister in the backseat. That station made my life a living hell and really, it’s kind of amazing that I love music as much as I do when that was one of my earliest, most sustained introductions to it. To this day I still feel pangs of car sickness if I’m relegated to the status of a backseat passenger, all because of Lite FM and the shitty California Laurel Canyon ‘movement’, the Carpenters, Dion Warwick and their peers. That was Lite FM’s bread and butter. Funny then, that this particular song, and the particular era of Mr. Joel it belongs to escaped my wraith and years later so endeared itself to me. Truth be told I’m not really sure how I happened to own the album, on vinyl. Somehow one day I just magically found The Stranger in our record collection, as if it had always been there.

Shades of a crappier version of Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining: “You’ve always had The Stranger Mr. Torrance.

I don’t think neither my wife knows where it came from either, although honestly maybe I’m a little afraid ot question the cosmic tickle of the situation. But it’s there and about six or seven years ago while drinking late into a Saturday night I popped The Stranger on and, well, beginning with Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) I traveled back to the late 1970’s. I mean, I didn’t walk around the streets of Scorsese’s New York, stopping off at some little Italian place in the Village, but I did very strongly begin to remember the cultural and social aesthetic of the times – those times I was too young to remember for myself. Now, most likely what’s occurring here is I have compiled an understanding of via music, film, TV and old pictures, with only the tiniest sprinkling of actual memory filling in the gaps. I get this image of New York from music like this – and from the Stones’s Some Girls as well. However, I’d regret not mentioning the other, funner but far more outlandish possibility. In keeping with theories I’ve written about fairly extensively in Thee Comic Column, I’ve come to believe that the stimulus that goes into an artist, musician or writer while composing some pieces gets directly transferred to some of the people who consume it. The best example and the one I use the most is how certain arcs of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman evoke the music of The Smiths so much that I’m almost certain he was listening to them when he was writing those parts of Morpheus’s story.

Weird? Yeah. But fascinating as well, no?

I’ve also written a lot on my personal blog about how I have synesthesia; I’m not sure if that has something to do with what I theorize sometimes comes through the medium of music for me, or if this is way more common than I think and I’m just overthinking and obsessing about it, but it’s kind of been one of the great motivators in my life. Certainly it has motivated me to pull out The Stranger from time to time, an album that part of me still can’t believe I fall into so completely when the mood is right.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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