The first record I owned was a 45 of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time.” I played it repeatedly on my Fisher-Price turntable, a hideous looking orange and tan contraption that you could not break if you tried.
The year was 1984 and I was five years old, newly indoctrinated into the world of rock and roll. I also owned a copy of Weird “Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It,” preferring it to the Michael Jackson hit it parodied. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” another early favorite, once inspired an insurrection at the kitchen table, with my brothers and I hurling English peas at the powers that be.
To this day, “The Longest Time” is still my favorite Billy Joel song. The music you fall in love with in your youth becomes part of your DNA. It never really leaves you and you return to it again and again, in good times and bad. All the music you absorb as an adult is subconsciously held up to those early songs you love. And it’s those sounds you reach for when you’re be-bopping around in your car on a Friday afternoon in spring.
In our cover story, Billy Joel talks to veteran music journalist Alan Light about his early days, his passion for songwriting and his return to live performance – he’s currently working his way through a historic, once-a-month residency at Madison Square Garden. He reveals that he started out trying to make it as a songwriter, and never had designs on becoming a performer. A friend suggested he record his own album and use that as a way to market his songs. The rest is history.
Joel has not released an album of new songs in more than twenty years; 1993’s River Of Dreams remains his swan song. He continues to write, mostly in the form of symphonic music, but it’s usually just for him. He says he feels no desire to try to crank out any more pop hits. You have to respect him for that. So many musicians and athletes can’t let go, hooked on the fleeting success they had in their glory days (his Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2 remains one of the top 10 selling albums of all time.)
Joel is of course very much a product of New York. So naturally this is the perfect issue for us to explore the city’s current songwriting scene, as well as its storied music history. Even if you’re never visited the Big Apple, or have no desire to ever live there, you cannot help but construct your own fantasies about the place, largely formed from the myriad novels, songs and films that have taken place there.
And even as you become aware that Manhattan is now only a playground for the rich, having snuffed out its middle class, in your mind that fantasy of making a living there still exists. It is still an iridescent world where sparks can strike on any corner. It’s still the place where Bob Dylan launched his career in 1961, where the Ramones helped create punk rock in 1974, and countless others – from Paul Simon to Talking Heads to Norah Jones to Vampire Weekend – got their start.
In our NYC survival guide, we interview the latest crop of songwriters about their efforts to make it as working musicians, and the everyday challenges they face. Writer (and musician) Nick Loss-Eaton tells us that the city is always changing, and that it’s not even the same place it was five years ago. We look at the best singer-songwriter clubs in the five boroughs, where to rent studio space, and tell you the best way to go about booking gigs. Good luck on your own New York journey. We can’t wait to hear about your success.