Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Billy Joel - "Summer, Highland Falls"

It's not the most rock 'n' roll thing to admit, but piano is the instrument that does it for me more than any other. It's percussive and propulsive and yet wistful and thoughtful. It contains multitudes. That's why I like Elton John, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, and Ben Folds so much.

In fact, one might argue that this song here embodies everything that's great about the use of piano in rock 'n' roll. (One might also argue that it's the prototype for about 85% of Ben Folds' career.)

The song is propelled by a quick-tempo, but the mood is entirely reflective. And though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what the song is actually about (the title is apropos of nothing), the lyrics certainly project a sense of depth.

There are lots of memorable couplets:

"They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known / And I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own."

"How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies / Perhaps we don't fulfill each others' fantasies."

It's the kind of stuff your average over-earnest English major jots down in her college writing class notebook. But it works in this song, mostly because along with the reached-for profundity, there's a hard-fought weariness too. It's actually almost a sense of resignation to life's ebbs and flows (or as Billy calls them "sadness and euphoria.")

It connects thematically with a line from another song on the same album, Angry Young Man. The line goes: "I found that just surviving was a noble fight." That idea has meant a lot to me in the years since my own days as an over-earnest English major, and so has this song.

Album: Turnstiles (1976)
Fave Moment: The sprightly beginning

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