The Entertainer, by Billy Joel

I don’t know how many people remember Billy Joel these days, but among his many great songs is The Entertainer:

The degree of realism in it is fascinating; also the cynicism. Three points of this really stand out to me:

  1. He’s popular now but will be shortly forgotten if he doesn’t stay at the top of his game.
  2. He’s had tons of experiences.
  3. He can’t remember any of them.

That last part is really the most interesting. The lyrics in question are:

I am the entertainer
Been all around the world
I’ve played all kinds of palaces
And laid all kinds of girls
I can’t remember faces
I don’t remember names
Ah, but what the hell
You know it’s just as well
‘Cause after a while and a thousand miles
It all becomes the same

Fun fact: when I was young I thought that the lyrics were “I’m going to hell, you know it’s just as well, ’cause after a while and a thousand miles, it all becomes the same.” It’s both better and worse that way, but doesn’t change things very significantly.

There’s a very interesting tie-in with the poem The Aristocrat by G.K. Chesterton:

O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
At the little place in What’sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
There is a game of April Fool that’s played behind its door,
Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,
Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t keep his word.

That weariness is fascinating; it is really the sign of sin. Bishop Barron talked about this in some interview, I forget exactly which one, but he mentioned how one of the curious things about the early Christians was the explosive energy they had. They’d just keep going until you fed them to the lions and even then they might well sing hymns of praise to God until the lions actually gulped them down and they could no longer sing.

The problem with being popular is how many people it puts you into contact with. People take energy, and that energy requirement goes up exponentially when the people want conflicting things from you. The more people you know the more conflicting things people want from you.

Also a problem is that the more people you know the more people will misunderstand you—and the less time you will have time to explain what you meant. This too is exhausting.

It takes something quite unusual to be able to be popular and not drop from exhaustion. Doing the right thing is a source of energy to survive it. “Not me but Christ in me” isn’t just humility; it’s a survival strategy.

For man, it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

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