I told him I’d remembered a rubber-stamp image in the margins of Generation X , “Nostalgia is a Weapon”. And it is. And it’s an insidious fucker.
Even though I’m a big fan of the present-tense, and have certain definable leanings towards the future-tense, the Past sometimes has its say. I say that because I sit here watching Inside the Actor’s Studio, with none other than the redoubtable Billy Joel. So impressive, it’s a 2-hour episode.
I don’t believe there’s any other phenomenon during my adolescence and young-adulthood that had more of an effect on me. Most people thought it was an obvious or safe choice; some thought it made me a lightweight. But i was absolutely certain of how I “got” his genius. I never wanted to BE him. I did not idolize him. It was his creativity, his genius, his ability to take the harsh and the mellifluous and make them harmonious.
Because it was his talent, and his works—and NOT him—that I idolized, I never felt the need to defend him, nor defend my love of HIM. And given that I knew, with absolute certainty, where the genius was, and even better, that parts of my love of his work were simply irrefutable: what was magically, individually, my visceral reactions to his melodies and my intellectual resonances with his lyrics.
This is very important. I cannot overstate this. I learned, at age 12, that my own opinions were simply that: MINE. When called upon to defend the castle-walls of self-respect, self-presence for that first time, and you’re successful at it, you discover that inner calm, that poise of repose inside, where the noisy-without cannot penetrate. Your own garden of eden, but without the nettlesome boobytraps from the almighty.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. The tree of knowledge is the tree of life, the tree of shade, the tree that is your own personal landmark.
So I guess I can heap ‘gratitude’ as yet another aspect of my relationship to Billy Joel and his creations.
Watching him on TV as I write this, I remember buying the 8-Track of “52nd Street” when it was brand new. I am fairly certain I got it through the Columbia Record House. I believe the tape’s housing was beige.
Watching him on TV as I write this, I can remember singing along with my adolescent soulmate, Marti Lawrence. She ‘got in’ where no one else did. I remember telling her once, as we were about to celebrate our graduation, that I knew we weren’t meant for each other immediately, that we’d marry other people, but that one day down the road, we’d be together. We were that close.
Watching him on TV as I write this, I remember having the temerity to rewrite his lyrics from “Lullaby” to suit the death of my partner, Allen, shifting its meaning from sleep to death. Tonight I discovered that he wrote the lyrics about what happens when we die, and to assuage the fears of death and divorce of his daughter, Alexa.
Tell ME I don’t “get” his stuff. Go on, I dare ya.
We carry the Past with us. No avoiding it unless you’re seriously disturbed or seriously in denial. None of us has the luxury of an Undocumented Life. Nostalgia isn’t the Past, it’s a manipulation of the Past, to suborn an individual, a group, a nation.
The Past is just the Past. Nostaliga is a Weapon. Never forget that.