Thursday, June 8, 2017

Billy Joel or Bust… (One Guess Which One It Was)

            Growing up, Billy Joel was IT. I am of the generation of record albums... CD’s and mp3’s weren’t even on the horizon when I was a kid. I listened to Billy’s album “The Stranger” incessantly. Heck, we sang a medley from it in choir. (Trust me that “Movin’ Out”, “Only The Good Die Young” and “Just The Way You Are” do not sound as poignant when sung by a bunch of 11 year olds.) And then, I got older and kind of forgot about Billy. He seemed to disappear from the public eye. Sure, he had that tour with Elton John and his Broadway show, but he just didn’t seem as hip or cool anymore. I was almost embarrassed to admit I found his music “catchy”. And he always seemed to be in and out of rehab, which made him even less appealing in my eyes. 

            But then Billy did something unprecedented . He announced a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden back in 2014, which is still going strong today. MSG even gave him his own logo to coincide with the ones for the Knicks, the Rangers and the Liberty. (To date, Billy has played more shows at MSG than any other artist.) But still, I wasn’t ready to quite jump back on the Billy bandwagon quite yet. I wasn’t ready to admit he WAS cool and always had been.

            And then a little over a year ago, while on a road trip with my college friend to celebrate another college friend’s birthday, Billy Joel resurfaced. Oh, how we belted out his songs, remembering the lyrics to every single tune. It sparked a newfound love for Billy. The passage of time is such an interesting thing. At first you look back on your past and say, “Oh my GOD, I can’t believe I ever liked THAT.” Then decades pass (yes DECADES) and you look back and say, “Oh my GOD, I can’t believe I ever STOPPED liking that.” Nostalgia sets in and you long for the “good old days”. And thus, Billy’s music—which was stored on a shelf in the far depths of my brain—came permanently out of storage.

            So when I texted three of my college friends (one of whom was the gal I belted out Billy with) earlier this year to see if they wanted to see Billy Joel at one of his monthly MSG concerts, they all replied yes almost immediately. And thus, a reunion was born with Billy at the center of it all. June 6th was the date. We were all so excited. In the days leading up to the concert, we were texting back and forth and my friends and I were joking about all the songs they would sing in the car on the way to NYC. I started hearing medleys of Air Supply, Foreigner and Survivor in my head, and was jealous I wasn’t going to be in the car with them. Who doesn’t want to sing “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special or “Careless Whisper” by George Michael? Five years ago, I would’ve cringed at the prospect, but now I relish it!

            The day of the concert finally arrived, and we headed into the city for the show. We had dinner first at Virgil’s. It’s a BBQ place in Times Square and my college friend always asks to go there whenever she comes to NYC. Truth be told, I love it too. Hush puppies with maple butter? Sign me up! We caught up on our lives over dinner and before we knew it, it was time to head to the show. It was misting rain, but we hardly noticed. We were going to see Billy! What songs was he going to sing? How long was he going to play for? We could hardly wait to get there and find out!

            We arrived right at 8pm. Perfect timing. Not so much, as it turned out. A security guard was standing in front of a barricade. Huh? He said, “Are you ladies here to see Billy?” “Yes,” we responded practically in unison. Then he said the unthinkable, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the concert has been canceled.” WHAT????? Was this some kind of cruel joke? Apparently Billy had some kind of “viral infection” and had canceled the show the day before. I hadn’t seen anything on TV or online about this supposed cancelation. We stood around in shock, lamenting that if had gotten to the concert a little earlier, we could’ve at least turned around and bought tickets to a Broadway show.

            So here we are, stuck in midtown at 8:00 o’clock on a Tuesday night in the misting rain. What are we to do? I felt so down in the dumps that I dragged my college friends to NYC for a concert that wasn’t happening. But then something wonderful happened. We just… walked around. And talked. And talked some more. And sure, we went into a few tourist shops so one of my friends could buy memorabilia for her kids. And okay, the bar in the Time Warner Center that overlooks the park where we tried to have a drink was closed for a private event. And yeah, the host from Per Se told us she was “locking the doors” and we had to get up from the couches we were sitting on outside the restaurant. (And no, she didn’t lock the doors. I went back and checked.) That was her pretentious way of telling us she didn’t want anyone in jeans sitting outside the restaurant. But even being expelled from somewhere I had naïvely thought was a public space was FUN. And in that moment, I realized it wasn’t about Billy at all. It was about being together. And reconnecting as friends.

            The concert was rescheduled for December 20th and my friends have agreed to reunite once again. Take two! And that’s the point of all this, I think. It’s another chance for me to connect with friends who I share an important history with and helped shape who I am today. And what better time to reunite than during the height of the holiday season? Maybe we’ll belt out some Christmas songs on our way to the show. Thanks Billy! We’ll see ya in December!

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