Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel

Were you the popular kid in high school? Homecoming King, Prom Queen, always at the cool parties, had the nicest car, coolest clothes, (in the case of my school) nicest cell phone.

Well, I wasn’t.

If I were to fit into any stereotypical social clique, I’d be a band geek. As much as I loved what I did in high school part of me always wanted to be one of the popular kids. In college, things were different. High school style social cliques were non-existent and within my group of friends I felt I fit in and while it wasn’t really that important to me I would categorize myself in college as being “popular.” However, somehow I never got over the feeling of social inadequacy from high school.

To reconcile these feelings I told myself that the “popular kids” in high school peaked socially in high school (which is a depressing thought) and while they were going to parties I was developing my musical craft which took me to one of the best universities in America.

In Chicago, made a new group of friends and went on to bigger and better things while the popular kids went to the state college, hung out with the same friends they had in high school and ending up living in the same zip code as their parents. Is this necessarily true? No. However, it makes me feel better to think this and with the popularity of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” it’s clear I’m not the only one who feels vindicated at the downfall of the popular kids.

Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” is an epic song with a non-traditional reflective form inspired by the B-side of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. The song has three distinct sections modeled after the classical symphonic form.  The song is bookended with the “bottle of red” music with a transition “got a new job, got a new office” part that moves into "The Ballad Of Brenda and Eddie." The slower opening and ending is reflective moment as a husband sings to his wife about the prospect of a nice evening together, satisfied with life and enjoying the presence of the one the loves.

The second scene comes straight out of high school reunion. There is a sense of revelry and nostalgia as the conversation quickly changes from the mundane present “got a nice job” to the glory of the past “my sweet romantic teenage nights.” On a dime, all the instruments cut out leaving a rocking bass pattern on the piano as Billy Joel prepares to shows off his unique style of rock, darker and edgier then the music of his youth but rocking just as hard.

“The Ballad Of Brenda And Eddie” tells the story of two popular kids, who had seemed to have it all in high school as the singer reflects, “we never knew we could want more than that out of life.” Because of this there is a feeling that Brenda and Eddie had it all figured out and “would know how to survive.”

Then the illusion begins to fall apart in the second verse when Brenda and Eddie decide to get married and their friends call them crazy for making this decision. The marriage falls apart and the last line reflects,” we always knew that they’d find a way to get by."  This contrasts the ending of the first verse as a statement of hopefulness rather than confidence. While this song is a comforting for those of us were not the popular kids, this song is more about the reality of popularity, well, rather the illusion of popularity.

Feelings of social inadequacy and idealizing the life of others have more to do with ourselves than the people around us. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how popular people think you are, there will always be someone else who seems to have it better off than you do. 

Have I let go of all of my feelings about high school?  I'm getting there.  It doesn't really matter though.  The idea going to an Italian restaurant with my wife beats out any memory from high school.

"The good old days weren't always good and tomorrows not as bad as it seems."   



  1. Well said. As a high school “theater geek”, I’m with you. I’ve seen what some of my high school classmates have been up to since graduation. They seem so content living in town and hanging out with the “old gang”. Life doesn’t stop at 18 and I am so glad I got out of town when I did.

    Good luck on the job search!

  2. Nice "Keeping the Faith" quote at the end, there. :-). --Mary