I admit it, I watched a lot of TV as a kid in the 70’s. So much TV, that as a virtual latch-key kid, my sister and I often joked that TV was our mother. That same kid somehow managed to watch SOAP when no one was looking, which was basically always. Except on those rare occasions, when my dad would commandeer the television and we would get to watch SOAP without hiding out – if he forgot we were there.
In May of 1976 Billy Joel released the album Turnstiles. The first single (which means the song that they sent out to the radio stations) was New York State of Mind. That song meant a lot to us as a family because that album just happened to be released the same month my family moved from New York to Chicago. So whether it was my insistence, or my father’s love of music and all things New York, all we had to do was hear that song on the radio and that album was ours. This album is in my top ten albums of ALL TIME, so do yourself a favor and take the time to take a listen:
A few short months later, a new show hit the airwaves to an amazing amount of pre-protesting and talk of scandalous content. When the show aired, it actually warned the viewers that the content might not be suitable for all viewers, which was unheard of in the 70’s. However, the problem was the original line-up for Tuesday nights was Happy Days (I’m there), Laverne & Shirley (I am SO there) and Three’s Company (TV is my mother). Basically, I was already irrevocably glued to the TV by the time SOAP came along and although I can guarantee you I didn’t know what was going on, and some of it even seemed a little scary to me, enough of it was funny and weird that I was hooked.
Now here’s the rub. I spent most of my after school hours sitting next to the stereo, headphones on, staring at this album cover:
And then on Tuesday nights I sat glued, un-blinking to this guy:
You have to see my point. I’m almost 8-years-old, definitely too young to be watching SOAP, so the trauma (good and bad) forever etched the characters into my brain.
Back to the music – I could write a whole post on the genius that was Turnstiles. This album that could not reach the general pop culture because it was much to complex, it was more a jazz album with a pop bent. Each song was like a symphony. Each song IS a symphony, Billy Joel’s fingers move like the piano is just an extension of his arms. The complex arrangements of horns, the long solos… And if you have read my Steely Dan post you would know that the combination of amazing musicianship in the form of Jazz influence and pop is my sweet spot. And so, I would just listen to each song, so closely, memorizing each note and just stare at his picture, trying to imagine that guy making this amazing music. I knew (and still know) every word. But since I never actually got to see Billy Joel sing these songs, no MTV yet, and I did get to see Billy Crystal act every Tuesday night; that 8yo mind of mine did something I think was quite natural, it put two and two together and got one Billy. Because frankly the guy on the cover of that album looked a little mean, and the music was so amazing I thought he must really be a nice guy. I searched his face over and over for that. I found it in Billy Crystal.
So here’s the funny thing – that’s not where the similarities end. Billy Joel was born in The Bronx in 1949 and raised on Long Island. Billy Crystal was born in Manhattan in 1948 and raised in The Bronx. Both were born to Jewish immigrant families and both were raised under a very strong musical influence.
Billy Joel’s father was an accomplished classical pianist and his half-brother became an acclaimed classical conductor in Europe who is currently chief musical director of the Staatstheater Braunschweig. Billy Joel began supporting his mother while still in high school by playing piano at piano bars. His past was fairly checkered after that, but once he found his passion, well the rest is what musical theory classes are made of.
I am sure his past was the muse for this song:
Ironically Billy Joel and Billy Crystal still kind of look a like, which vindicates my 8-year-old brain
And… I’m not the only one who thinks so.
I highly recommend checking the album Billy Joel Turnstiles out. Click this link to go to iTunes: