River of Dreams at 25

An observance on the last Billy Joel pop album

Cover art for “The River of Dreams” 7-inch

In ’93 I was 25, and called no road my own.  Hell, I’ve never learned to drive! Needed no road, though; the Funkhouse where I lay my head, sat only three blocks from the Monkey Pub; and parties at one often spilled over to the other.  Twenty people out each of the Funkhouse doors. Aaron W. ripping the front railing clear of the front staircase—someone insisted that the Ewoks in Return of The Jedi symbolized the Viet Cong.  Munch down some foul-tasting fungus, flash back/forward/folded to the ancient Egyptian transdimensional funerary boat, back to Earth relatively with some bad pinball, bing bing go the bells, don’t mind the tracers.

So I had little Billy Joel perception.  I had not one notion that River of Dreams, a quarter-century old this August 10th, would prove his recording-studio swan song (barring an album of classical compositions, and two songs he’s busted out just to prove, with twisted whiff of Salinger, that he’s still got it, he just won’t put it on the glass).  I saw the cover, probably blown up big down at Tower Records on the Ave, figured it for a Howard Finster original (it’s actually Christie Brinkley, helping out her then-hubby). The title cut’s video must have made MTV; I punched up YouTube but it rings no bells, though I noticed Joel sweating to seriously, cred-worthy, get-down-get-funky with the black background singers on a worn wooden bridge somewhere.  It all wafted sufficiently gossamer in audio; the visual gilds the lily ‘til that flower snaps and shatters.

Nobody ever accused Billy Joel of not trying too hard.  He knows this—that people talk, and that he kills long past overkill.  

Look up his Playboy interview from 1982 with David Sheff; hell, look up any interview. Exclamation points!  Lots of exclamation points! He hates critics! These days, he hates Nazis! even more, fine and dandy by me.  We need more people who hate Nazis; dear Lord who ain’t in heaven, I wish I didn’t need to say that. (Just got word today of PJ Harvey and Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier stumping for Assange and Jordan Peterson respectively—Peterson’s changing her tune, Harvey isn’t so far as I can see—and I said whew, a good thing I gave up on having heroes at least as far back as Johnny Rotten for Trump, and Morrissey vs. the Chinese.)

Joel waxes verbally pugilistic.  But at least he’s the enemy of my enemy.  Also, he made me look up the word “proctoscope.”  As in, “I felt like there was a proctoscope up my butt,” to The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten, 2014.  Yep, that’s a real word. Yep, that’s the man on the perils of fame. (Me, I’d settle for the money.)

The singer, who seems to be constantly granting interviews these days, some of them re:  River of Dreams, natch, said he could have gone on, but the record company boned him.  I don’t trust him on this point; the record certainly seems like a self-eulogizing inside job, assembling a pyre plank-by-plank from Joel’s past.  The first track eviscerates, er, the suburbs, I think, unless it’s Long Island, complete with passing references to the Buttafuco-Fisher mess, if anyone remembers that.

Elsewhere we get hell as a place with no “clicker” for the TV; voyeurism as expensive thrills (he was always skeptical about women, even when nominally happy with one); doo-wop; more doo-wop; apocalyptic landscapes; a portrait of the artist as Jesus saying whatta fuggin’ mess, in slightly loftier language; and finally lights out, “Famous Last Words,” somebody else will do this and/or I’m only gonna go back over old ground after this.  Like I said above: One eye on Salinger.

The Funkhouse is no longer my home; who knows what the people partying there in the 21st century think of the place.  The Monkey Pub still stands, although I don’t know if I’m welcome there no more (long story).  Tower Records took a long time to go down the tubes, but they stayed down. William Martin Joel is on his fourth wife (Brinkley was his second), and his third daughter.  I lose track of the rehab trips. I hope he’s still passionate, still pinning the Star of David to his breast, and still sticking it to the Nazis.

I need as many enemies of my enemies as I can cultivate.  I’ll take the proctoscope. Cost of doing business.


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