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What Really Counts in Life

Updated: Sep 9, 2018

Last summer, we went to New York a couple of times. Every time we'd pass 34th Street, the Madison Square Garden billboard would be doing a countdown: "Billy Joel 40 Consecutive Shows!" (Actually, it was a count up; he made it to 43 straight, 65 total.) I thought to myself, Billy Joel? Still?? It was a name I knew well back in the 80's, since my sister had every tape he had ever put out. But by the time I became a teen, he was no longer making songs, and no longer considered cool. I said to myself, "If he's that old and doing two concerts a week, he must have lost all his money in divorces or something." (Turned out to be true.)

Recently, I happened upon a selection from his biography, and he said something that was so sad, and so cautionary, I had to share it. It's also a confirmation for a lot of us.

"Joel now earns more than $2 million dollars on his monthly shows. He has sold more than 150 million albums and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has six Grammy's. A Hicksville native, he has been considered the poet laureate of Long Island for decades."

Yet he’s always felt a failure where it most counts: love.

“None of those people in the arena screaming your name really know you,” Joel tells author Fred Schruers in the new book “Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography.”

“You just need one — one person out of millions — to know and accept and love you for being, well, just the way you are . . . I see old folks walking down the street who look like they’ve been together 50 years, and there’s something very touching about it — that they’ve lasted so long. I used to wonder: How come I don’t have that? I can dream about it, think about it, write music and lyrics and sing about it. But I don't have it."

So often, people in the middle of married life forget what they have, and what they're working towards. When a married couple grows old together, the benefit is not that something amazing is going to happen when they're old; rather, it's what their togetherness helps them *avoid* happening: the dreadful prospects of loneliness and lovelessness. Loneliness is so bad for the elderly that the UK government established a division to tackle it. But how? You can't do it artificially. Realistically, who would want to spend all that time with a senior citizen? Only one person: the one who sees all their past memories together when they look into their eyes.

Memories; that's what really evokes love. This is why divorce is such a sad thing. You put in all those years, and then have nothing to show for it. Even if you find the best person and remarry, you still have to log in a lot of years before you can look back and have fond memories. And even then, any reminder of the divorce sullies the moment. If there were kids, it's worse: how can you turn the page and be happy knowing that your kids are scarred for life; that's what divorce does.

Billy Joel had three divorces, and is now living in New York doing mundane things at a slow pace between concerts. He doesn't sound happy: "You can have all the money in the world," Joel said, "You can have mansions, you can have properties, you can have yachts, you can have limousines, you can have motorcycles,” he told Schruers. But without love, “it doesn’t mean a goddamn thing.”

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