by Kevin Burton
Do you have certain albums you play to set certain moods?
Like a baseball manager has a closer, there is one album I go to when one era of life is ending and another beginning.
I moved a lot in my 20s and I listened to Billy Joel a lot. So I guess it was natural that “Songs In The Attic” would become my closer album.
The album starts with “Miami 2017” better known as “Seen The lights Go Out On Broadway” and ends with “I’ve Loved These Days.” In between you have “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.” It’s hard to escape that goodbye vibe.
And I’ve played this tape many times over the years, remembering the past, pondering the future.
The goodbye occasion this time was the closeout of my mother’s rented house just a few minutes’ walk from Jeannette’s and my house.
The landlord’s decision to sell the house forced our family to find my mother a new place to live, and in a hurry. By the grace of God, we pulled it off.
On a Wednesday night we packed up the last two carloads of mom’s belongings and took them to my house. That left me alone in mom’s old house with just a few cardboard boxes to tear up for recycling, some pizza, some Gatorade, one of mom’s old tape recorders and my Billy Joel tape.
I explained to Jeannette what I was doing, how I always play these songs when something is ending. She wasn’t feeling it.
“I don’t remember us playing that when we left your place in Wichita,” she said.
Correct. Exactly. She didn’t remember because she wasn’t around. Nobody is ever around when the songs play. I am always alone, my thoughts bouncing around in my head, Billy’s tunes bouncing off the walls.
Adding to the feeling of finality, there was an echo to the sound because the house was now virtually empty.
I wasn’t feeling it so much this time around. It had been such an emotional week already, I was spent. My mind would not look backward, it was in fast forward, moving on to what had to be accomplished next.
But the songs have served me well over the years.
“Songs In The Attic” is my favorite live album but it has a strange mixture of songs.
You have the love songs “She’s Got A Way” and “You’re My Home” with decadent songs such as “Captain Jack.”
I like “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid,” because he weaves his own story in with that of the wild west outlaw. Also, when Billy sings “from a town known as Oyster Bay Long Island…” I can match it syllable for syllable with “from a town known as Minot North Dakota…” and make it my own.
I’ve been able to separate the lyrics on this record from its status as my goodbye set. In “I’ve Loved These Days,” the last song and the payoff for the whole thing, Joel lyrically drinks “a toast to how it’s been.” I can relate to that. But his musical memories run to cocaine abuse, “caviar and cabernet,” neighborhoods I have never been to.
I usually sing along for parts of the album, often loudly on “I’ve Loved These Days.” Would you call this therapy? Not sure. But it’s a tradition and I kept it.
I did one last sweep of the place to make sure we had gotten everything. This netted me a penny found on the living room floor and most notably, half a container of Lysol wipes, which are practically legal tender in the new virus world.
After the last note, Billy says “Thank you.” To the live audience. I say thank you to him. The click of the tape player echoes, off.
Left the keys on a paper towel on the counter to the right of the kitchen sink. Left a little piece of my heart in every room.
After I closed the front door behind me for the last time, I hit the doorbell twice.
Twice on the doorbell was a signal for mom and me in the distancing days before vaccination that I was out of the house and it was safe for her to emerge from her bedroom or the dining area.
On this night I used it as a goodbye signal along with “Songs In The Attic.”
I truly have loved these days.