Why Billy Joel is the Best Storyteller [With Book Recommendations!]

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few months back, I had the rare occasion to be channel surfing (I hardly ever do this, as I usually only turn my TV on when there’s something specific that I want to watch). Showtime was airing a documentary called A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia and it was all about Billy Joel’s tour of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Far from being merely a “tour diary” though, the documentary examined the difficulties involved in taking the tour to the USSR and what it meant that Billy Joel was willing to take his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and young daughter Alexa along with him amid all the tensions between the US and USSR. Brinkley was interviewed, as well as the band members who accompanied Billy Joel, and they talked about the tour and its place in history in the context of the Cold War. It was fascinating to a pop culture junkie with a music problem (like me).

Listening to Billy Joel tell the story of what inspired the song “Leningrad” got me thinking about why it is that basically everyone likes Billy Joel (especially people from New York, who rabidly adore him). There really aren’t a whole lot of singer-songwriters who have been able to bridge generations the way Billy Joel has, after all. The answer was one that seemed so simple, but was (at least for me) overlooked:

Billy Joel is an amazing storyteller.

And I don’t just mean in documentaries or during concerts. I mean that his music actually tells stories. He writes about subject matter that resonates with real people instead of just lots and lots of love songs (to be fair, he has a number of those as well, but I find his more tolerable than others).

The reader and writer in me is particularly drawn to some of those songs that tell stories that you just don’t hear on the radio. They’re working class stories. Regional stories. Life stories. Some writers can only write what they know. Billy Joel is one of those writers who is good at telling stories beyond his own experience, as well. This is very difficult to do (think about books you’ve read where the writer just couldn’t pull off the different perspective and it seemed contrived).

Of course, then I started thinking, “Well, if you like this Billy Joel song, you might like this book….” So I want to talk a little about some of the storytelling that makes Billy Joel’s music so appealing and relatable. Please note that there aren’t book recommendations for all of these, and of the recs given, I haven’t read all of them. Some of them are just based on my understanding of the book, which could certainly be incorrect. Feel free to leave kind rebuttals in the comments. Continue reading


Frank Jams: Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2013


Author’s Photo: Sara Bareilles at the Electric Factory in Philly (Oct. 2013).

It’s the end of the year, so I feel obligated to do some reflecting, recapping, and re…nee-ing.

2013 was a pretty big year for me. My nephew was born. I officially became employed full time for the first time since 2009. I finally got to move to the Philly area (which is something I’d been trying to do since I finished undergrad in 2005). I knitted my first full-size blanket. I took up running. I ran my first 5k. I joined Rotary.

I listened to a lot of music.

One of the things I love best about living so close to the city is that I can get to shows easily now (bad for my wallet, but good for my love of live music). I love that I can go to a show on a week night and be home 20-30 minutes after I exit the venue. I was fortunate enough in 2013 to see 3 of my 5 favorite albums of the year performed live.

I’m terrible at ranking. I spend too much time second guessing myself. So here are my desert island top 5 favorite albums of 2013.
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An Open Letter to Bob Seger, Re: “Old Time Rock and Roll” (cc: Every Wedding DJ Everywhere)

Hey there, Bob,

How’ve you been? I hope well. As for me, I’ve been very busy — moving, working, settling into a new place, and it’s summer, so we’re well into Wedding Season now. While 2008 was my biggest year by far for attending weddings, several of my friends are getting married this year, and I can’t help but to remember why I really kind of hate wedding receptions.

I’m going to be frank with you, Bob. It’s because of “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

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Frank’s 100th Post Extravaganza!

Dino image: http://clipartist.net/2011/11/11/

Well, holy crap. Welcome, All Ye Friends of Frank, to the 100th Post Extravaganza.

What will this extravaganza entail, you ask?

That’s an excellent question. And I’m going to be really honest with you, [insert your name here], I don’t really know. I’m going to make it up as I go.

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Frank Recommends: Music

So, I’ve been thinking. That’s what introverts do, and occasionally I think about something that is relatively productive. In my writing elsewhere on the Web, I’ve been pretty big into series posts and I thought to myself that it might be fun to try one over here at Ye Olde Frank as well.

What I hope Frank Recommends as a series will do is expose you, cherished reader, to some of my favorite things. As a result, I’m hoping it sparks some conversation, recommendations from you, and just general fun times. Frank can recommend basically anything, and will do so at various intervals. I’ve decided to start with a pretty easy one: Music. Everyone likes music.

I’ve been listening to some really fantastic tunes this summer (but of course I think they’re fantastic, otherwise I wouldn’t listen to them). I get to be really picky about music so it takes a while for an artist to win me over. I have to hear it enough times to really like it without getting sick of it. Seriously. If I hear LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” one. more. time. my head is going to explode… and I’ve never even listened to it the whole way through. I’m convinced it’s the only song Hits 1 plays. Adele is great, but can we take it easy on “Rolling in the Deep” for a little while?

So what’s going to happen right now is that I’m going to recommend 5 songs to you that I am really loving at the moment. Some of these are artists who are new to me, and others I might know a little better. Where do I find these artists? Via other artists, Sirius Radio (I love the Spectrum), doing stuff like this (sharing with friends), and… Conan (seriously, I generally enjoy his mostly-unknown musical guests).

For your part, you’re going to give them a listen, and then you can comment and tell me what you think. We can discuss, we can debate, you can tell me my taste in music sucks, you can tell me similar bands or artists to check out, etc. Pretty easy. You can hit these YouTube videos and let them play in the background while you do other stuff. See how convenient I’m making this for you? Aaaaand GO.

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Frank’s 30 Day Song Challenge…In One Day.

I didn’t post anything last week (call it about as busy as someone who has no real job can get). I’m making up for it by posting twice this week. One non-writing and one writing-related post. Ready? Break!

Every once in a while, a really good meme out there on the Interwebs will catch my eye. They usually have to do with either books or music or writers or something that doesn’t ask my favorite color and the name of my “bestie” (I’m on a crusade, by the way, to take that word out. I find it irritating when anyone over the age of 12 uses it and expects to be taken seriously). When I see those good ones (and they’re few and far between) I just can’t pass them up. This 30 Day Song Challenge is going around, so of course I wanted to participate. The problem is that I’m entirely too impatient to space my answers out over a whole month, thus giving me the opportunity to over-think them (like I do most things). So I’m going with the Kerouac “first-thought-best-thought” method here. Anyway, this ties in nicely with my Desert Island Top 5 Albums post. Anything that’s linked will take you to YouTube (in a new tab/window) where you can listen to all or part of the song (this is a good way to find some new music, anyway).

Also, I encourage anyone else with a blog to participate (it’s fun and it’s a great way to procrastinate). If you don’t have a blog, I’m still interested in your answers, and welcome you to leave them in the comments section.

But be warned: decisiveness is not always one of my strong suits. There might be more than one answer sometimes.

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Frank Listens: Desert Island Top 5 Albums

It’s cold. I’m talking “wind chill is below zero and I keep thinking about how this time last year, I at least had Florida to look forward to” kind of cold that seems endless. Because I have no warmer climates to visit this year (although if someone else wanted to foot the bill, I probably wouldn’t decline), I’ve just been trying to imagine them in my head. Naturally, the whole desert island scenario came up for me, and I started thinking about my desert island top 5 albums.

Of course, this causes my pop culturally sensitive brain to go two places at once: first to the film High Fidelity, one of my favorite Cusack movies. How can you even consider any kind of top 5 list without thinking about that movie? Second, my brain goes to that episode of LOST when Hurley is listening to his Discman and the batteries die. That makes me wonder if the whole concept of “Desert Island Top Five Albums” is kind of dead. When I went to Ireland, I took four CDs with me and three of them were “mix tapes on disc”. But now I have an iPod and all of my music is at my disposal all the time. I wouldn’t really need to choose my top 5 albums. I’d just need to pray for an iPod battery that never dies.

Clearly I’m over-thinking this and should just get to the list. So, for technicality’s sake, here’s my list.

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Enjoy the Silence

Yes, I did just reference Depeche Mode in my blog title.

I have, on several occasions, mentioned how I like to think. I won’t get into how that is sometimes not really a good thing, but I’ve been thinking about thinking, so I decided to write about it (at least to some extent).

As I type this, it has just turned 2:00 a.m. For my entire life, I have been somewhat nocturnal. I love the quiet and the peace of just enjoying time to myself when no one else is awake, and I use this time to do a lot of thinking and reflecting (and, in college, homework). Sometimes I take this time to collect my thoughts and process them into something that will resemble a coherent blog. Tonight is not one of those nights. This is Renee Unplugged. And speaking of Unplugged, there is music.

I’m sure that when I was in high school, I used to stay up late and listen to music. It’s always been such an integral part of my life that I can’t see how I wouldn’t have done that. In fact, most of the time, I would rather turn on iTunes than watch TV. It wasn’t really until I got to college, though, that I realized the pure joy that comes from just lying in a pitch black room, thinking to music.  Continue reading

Love Story: An English Major’s Nightmare

I’ve spent a lot of time reading in my life. In elementary school, I pretty much ignored peers and teachers alike because my nose was always stuck in a book that I kept just inside my desk for when I finished my work before everyone else. I started reading chapter books in first grade, and by third grade, I was already reading on an eighth or ninth grade level (according to those awesome CTBS tests). I love books. I love the look of them, the smell, the atmosphere they bring, the escape, and the knowledge. I just love them.

And that is why I hate when people screw up classic stories.

Okay, yes. I’m going to write my first real post on how the song “Love Story” by Taylor Swift drives me absolutely insane. Now, I’ve recently grown fond of Taylor. I tried really hard not to, but then I finally just had to admit that I really like some of her stuff. She’s talented and funny and she’s so darn cute. And people who say they don’t like “You Belong With Me” or at least that it’s never been stuck in their heads are obviously liars. I’ll leave the song “Fifteen” for another time (it might be one of the corniest songs I’ve ever heard, but maybe that’s because I’m 27 and being 15 was nothing like that for me). Right now I just really want to focus on “Love Story.” Let’s break it down with some lyrics (all words belong to Taylor Swift) so that I can explain to you how irritated I get when I hear it. Continue reading