It’s a warm summer Saturday night – perfect for a concert under the stars at a local winery. One of my best buds and I set our folding chairs as close to the stage as possible, acquire some cold beverages and wait to hear a Billy Joel cover band for the very first time. Being a Long Islander, Billy is part of the fabric of my youth; each song the soundtrack to a different stage of my development. My standards for these imposters are high and my expectations low.
I am shocked when they began to play. They began with The Entertainer then easily slide into Vienna, Just the Way You Are and Movin’ Out. Each song so true to the sound we know and love. Close your eyes and the sharp staccato piano at the beginning of Angry Young Man would have had you convinced Billy himself was onstage. The musicians chatted and joked in between songs with heavy New York accents and when the classic, so identifiable melodic strains of New York State of Mind (my favorite) began, I was in heaven and adrift in my memories.
I remember, so clearly, putting the Glass Houses album on softly in my teenage bedroom falling asleep on a school night listening to Billy sing about Leyna and Sleeping with the Television on. You May Be Right always makes me think of my friend Tommy in high school; a talented drummer who could always make me laugh. I told him again and again, he needed to be a DJ because of his incredible, honeyed voice and now he’s a prominent figure on the radio in our hometown. Say Goodbye to Hollywood brings back my first love who felt very threatened by my pursuit of a career in front of the camera. Then there’s Only the Good Die Young which transports me to 1990 dancing like a madwoman to the song at a concert with a dear friend named Virginia who happened, shortly after, to die way too young. One of the best memories is being lucky enough to spend the day with the first family of Long Island music, Billy, Christie and Alexa. We were on a boat gliding across Gardiner’s Bay when Billy offered to let us hear a sneak preview of his new album and popped Stormfront into the cassette player. To say it was surreal for the three of them to be happily singing along to Downeaster Alexa as we coincidentally passed the bell in Gardiner’s Bay is an understatement.
As I listened to the music, my mind meandered happily along the twisty-turny path of memories that is my life. I looked up at the stars in the night sky and watched a group of little girls dance barefoot in the grass wearing glow in the dark bracelets squealing with excitement each time a firefly landed in their hands.
July 4th is just a few days away and I think of the big parties we’d have for my daughter’s birthday with my little girls finding joy in their own barefoot firefly adventures. I thought of the Grilled Chicken Breasts with Spicy Peach Glaze we all feasted on, accompanied by my Red Skinned Dijon Potato Salad and Cornbread with Honey Butter seated at long picnic tables covered in red, white and blue checked tablecloths with the fireworks sparkling and booming overhead. I think about how different that day is for me now and I feel wistful thinking about it; sad that now it’s all just a memory.
Just then the sound of a helicopter blade whirring gets louder and louder as Goodnight Saigon begins. A group of veterans stand, arms across each other’s shoulders joining in on the chorus, “And we will all go down together . . .” I try to imagine being terrified and waiting for a helicopter to get me out of some horrible place, being shot at, being far away from loved ones, watching friends die. I feel silly and ashamed for feeling melancholy.
We all have our own journeys in life, however, and they are uniquely ours. I chose my independence. Others may not have chosen what they are currently living but are moving forward bravely.
Independence: free, self-governing, self-sufficient, unfettered
The 4th of July is a day to celebrate our country with BBQ’s and family, but maybe it can also be a day we celebrate our own independence – the journey we’ve traveled thus far and the path we’re forging for ourselves moving forward. There are still more delicious meals to eat with friends under the stars and more happy memories to be made.