A little bit of pre-work cleaning yesterday had me moving around my stacks of vinyl in order to vacuum underneath the stereo, which led to a detour of sorting through the collection. I came across Billy Joel’s Turnstiles, which was among the first albums I played on CD as a kid. It was one of a handful of discs that my uncle gave my family after we got our first CD player, probably somewhere around 1994 or 1995.
Playing around with the 5-disc Sony changer — especially when I wasn’t supposed to —was one of my favorite escapes. I sat by the big, cloth-covered standing speakers in our basement and (regrettably) picked at the fibers, trying to hear every little sound at the same time. Turntstiles worked its way around The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Rubber Soul, plus the soundtrack to “The Lion King,” the first disc I picked out myself. I was a pretty young kid but Joel’s solid voice, big choruses and fancy piano work struck me, so here I was this first grader glomming onto songs about, at their heart, existential crises.
Years later, I find so much more meaning in these songs, not just their pop sensibilities. With “Summer, Highland Falls,” a song I could recite word for word in front of crowd even after not playing it in many years, older and wiser ears will hear a lot more in this song than a child or even a college kid will. I think it’s one of his strongest lyrical showings, right up there with “Vienna” and “Piano Man,” rife with lessons and imagery. As you get older, you learn to live with the choices, challenges and regrets you’ve accumulated over the years. You learn to respond to what’s in front of you. It might leave you devastated, but other times, you might find yourself happy beyond your wildest dreams. Trouble is, nothing stays the same long enough to live in either extreme, and so you learn how to accept the reality in front of you no matter what it looks like. You learn to keep moving forward.
“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
Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lover’s eyes
And I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It’s either sadness or euphoria”
~Summer, Highland Falls
Billy Joel, Turnstiles