It was a pretty good crowd for a Thursday — about 20,000 people tucked into the Hollywood Hills as evening turned to night, anticipating the appearance at the Hollywood Bowl of a man most of us there grew up with. An artist whose music is a running commentary on love and life, casual moments at an Italian restaurant and serious advice about a symbolic Vienna, sadness and euphoria, uptown girls and downtown jazz, the beaches of Long Island’s East End and the streets of New York’s east and west sides. Then Billy Joel took center stage, his fingers met the keyboard — and the music moved us all.
My friends know that Billy Joel is the one artist whom I would see in concert whenever, wherever, and however I could. From the first time I saw him at the old Boston Garden when I was in college (the days when The Stranger came out and he was climbing on the piano and swinging on the stage curtain); to his concerts with Elton John (incredible performances by four of the best hands on the piano); to the concert a few years ago where it was clear he was aging in looks (“Hi, I’m Billy’s dad”) but not talent; to this most recent appearance at the Bowl, where the music was sprinkled with songs only true fans would know, his demeanor seemed one of pure contentment, and he still managed to rock the stage in an encore that included throwing (and catching) the mike stand — his star stands alone in my mind.
This most recent concert was an epiphany of sorts for those of us of a certain age — an age we thought was light years away when we first heard Billy Joel’s music. As he launched into the opening harmonica riff of Piano Man, the audience responded as one. Cell phones were waved in unison (when did phones replace lighters?) and 20,000 voices joined in singing.
As awesome as that is, what happened next was truly something. Billy sang the lyric about the manager who “knows that’s its me they’ve been coming to see … to forget about life for a while.” And at that instant, all of us, as if in acknowledgment of the fact that we’re older, that life is tougher than we thought it would be, and that these moments of joy need to be fully lived and appreciated — all of us let out an audible sigh.
For all of Billy Joel’s extraordinary talents, that night, in that one venue under the stars, he gave thousands of middle-aged fans the one thing that we all truly needed and that not many are gifted enough to offer — a few rare moments of utter, heartfelt peace.
© 2014 Claudia Grossman