Embarrassed to Admit It, But It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me

For reasons I should maybe sort out with my confessor, I spent a good chunk of the weekend listening to Billy Joel & Bruce Springsteen aka the soundtrack of my childhood home. Gotta say that I found myself more compelled–to my surprise and dismay–by the Swan of Lawn Guyland than by The Boss. Billy Joel has some well-wrought tunes, you guys. Some notes:

# Sort of amazing how many different moods Billy Joel can infuse with kitsch. And how little I care! Everything he does shares at least one border with kitsch, there’s so much degenerate sentiment in all of it, from “And So It Goes” to “Downeaster ‘Alexa,'” and yet those are both great songs. How does he do it? Is it corrupting to the morals of the country?

The only song where his incredible pop skill can’t salvage his taste for kitsch is “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a song which leaches all meaning from history. And now you’ve got it stuck in your head, don’t you.

# Literally all music should include a saxophone solo. I’m convinced now. Saxophone solos are the great expression of romantic loneliness, the heart’s postlapsarian isolation. Saxophone solos are drinking scotch on the rocks in an airplane soaring high above the neon lights, far from anyone you know, especially yourself and God. It’s illusory–if I take the wings of the saxophone, even there your hand shall guide me–and you’ll know it’s illusory, but it will feel real, and that’s almost as nice.

(This is why they won’t let me be on the liturgical committee.)

# When I was very little I thought “Captain Jack” was a romantic ballad. He’ll take you to your special island! I feel that this explains a lot. (In my defense, I didn’t know what all the words meant.)

# I think I was well-served by growing up with an idea of marriage shaped by stuff like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “The River.” Nowadays we have so much idealism and romanticism about marriage–probably because so many fewer people do it. That’s got to be miserable for unmarried people (because it seems like such an unattainable ideal, especially if you know your own defects of character very well) and for married people (because it isolates them in their inevitable unhappiness, it makes their disappointment and resignation seem like aberrations rather than normal married life). You’re not well-prepared for any vocation if you think of it the way we now think of marriage, as a refuge from loneliness. I haven’t in fact watched Beyonce’s “Lemonade” so maybe this is a silly thing to say, but I wonder if that might do some of the same preparatory work for the Youth of Today.


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