Monday, May 6, 2013

Praying with Billy Joel

For someone who loves 70s singer-songwriters, I am sorely deficient in my knowledge of Billy Joel. I mean, I can sing along to "Piano Man" in a heartbeat, but that's as far as it goes. So when "Only the Good Die Young" came on the radio the other day, I turned it up, hoping to further my Billy Joel education. At first I was disappointed. After the first few lines, I thought I had the song pegged as a an anti-church cliche with a little bit of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" thrown in:
Come out Virginia, don't let me wait.
You Catholic girls start much too late.
Aw, but sooner or later it comes down to fate.
I might as well be the one.
Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray.
They built you a temple and locked you away.
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
for things that you might have done.
Only the good die young.
But I kept listening, and I'm glad I did, because of this line in the bridge:

You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
She never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me? 
Wait a second -- did Billy Joel just remind me of an important truth about prayer? I think he did.

According to Wikipedia, Billy Joel has said that "...the point of the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust," but it is also, in its own way, pro-love as well, since praying for someone is a good way to learn how to love them. The song reminded me of this article, in which a man with opposite political views of President Obama learns to love him just through the habit of praying for him. It reminded me of how it only takes a second to pray for that person who overshares personal information in the facebook feed for me to begin to care about that person and their otherwise "TMI" statuses. It reminded me of how I'm a better friend and family member when I remember to pray for the important people in my life. When I do, suddenly my excuses about being too busy to write or call seem silly; when I pray for them, I start to love them better. And as the song suggests, praying for someone is a good way to stop judging them as well. So thanks, Billy Joel, for that lesson -- I better catch up on your body of work just to see what else you have to tell me!


Mark said...

Whenever I have a problem with someone, I picture us both at the foot of the Cross, worshiping.

That *always* helps, even if it doesn't make the disdain totally disappear.

AHLondon said...

Oh you will find much insight in Billy Joel. A girlfriend once asked me about him after enduring one of my repeat album jags. She was surprised to learn that he wasn't doing so well in life because his lyrics suggested that he understood far more about life and love than other pop culture figures. He does. But you will notice what's missing. The River of Dreams makes me pray for him:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To a river so deep
I know I'm searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

Compare, St. John of the Cross:
O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

reneamac said...

Love John of the Cross. And the Billy Joel lyrics are a good example of the way in which art often points us to the absence of God, what life is like apart from him.

Christine Hand Jones said...

Wow. I had no idea about the words to that song. It seems so peppy!

Adam Jones said...

Wow! I love John of the Cross, AHLondon, thanks for pointing that out. It makes me wonder what Billy Joel was reading at the time.

Mark. You nailed it.

Sue Botchie said...

Did he ever say a prayer for her?

Probably not! Billy Joel is a punk-donkey-canine, and his music inhales!