Music Monday: How Did Steven and Billy Have Such Insight into Life at Such a Young Age?

Steven Tyler wrote “Dream On” when he was about 17 years old.

Billy Joel wrote “Piano Man” when he was 24.

I’m sure there are many other examples of young people writing best selling songs, but these two songs have always stood out in my mind because the lyrics seem to show wisdom beyond their ages.

Here are the words to “Dream On”:
Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way
Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay

I know nobody knows
Where it comes and where it goes
I know it’s everybody sin
You got to lose to know how to win

Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
From sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away

Yeah, sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away

Dream on
Dream on
Dream on
Dream until your dreams come true

What 17 year thinks or writes like that? Talking about the lines in his face or how quickly time passes? And the best lime, the point of the whole song – dream until your dreams come true. Tyler has admitted that he wanted to make it big, that he wanted to see his dreams come true. But to put such thoughts into writing and to then turn it into music – a remarkable skill and a thing of beauty.

And here are the lyrics to Piano Man:

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, “Son can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet
And I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

Sing us a song you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be

He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
As a smile ran away from his face
“Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place.”

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they’re sharing a drink they call “Loneliness”
But it’s better than drinking alone

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see
To forget about life for a while

And the piano it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, “Man, what are you doing here?”

Once again, amazing insights and writing for someone so young. It’s well known that the song is autobiographical, that Joel wrote the song as a result of his experiences playing piano at a bar after his first album came out, and that all of the characters in the song are based on real people.

But I’m thinking that if I worked at a bar for a year, there’s no way I’d be able to take that experience and write lines like the following:

  • There’s an old man sitting next to me, Making love to his tonic and gin
  • When I wore a younger man’s clothes
  • Paul is a real estate novelist
  • And the waitress is practicing politics
    As the businessmen slowly get stoned
    Yes they’re sharing a drink they call “Loneliness”
    But it’s better than drinking alone

I think both Tyler and Joel have an innate talent for putting thoughts and observations into words, and then setting those words to music.

And they didn’t need to go to college to enhance that talent. In fact, Joel dropped out of high school, and at one point Tyler was expelled from his high school.

I think such writing comes from a willingness to experience life, to be observant about those experiences, and to then speak from your heart and put those observations into words.

And when that all comes together, you get works of art like Dream On and Piano Man.

I also believe that we’re all capable of such creativity, or as Neil Gaiman says, to “Making Good Art”.

It’s just a matter of committing yourself to the hard work of making such art.

*image from BillyJoel.com

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