Who went to see Billy Joel last Wednesday night…..we’re you there…….did you go….I mean, didja?
This will no doubt be the topic of conversation around the water coolers at work places throughout Manhattan and the 5 boroughs come Monday morning.
“Oh man, that was a F–king great concert.” A large percentage of concert patrons of the famed Madison Square Garden venue were saying on the night of July 3rd as the ear-weary but thoroughly satisfied audience (from a wide age range) filed out of the arena.
For the past few months Joel has, as the media terms it, “taking up residence” at Madison Square Garden where he will continue playing many of his most loved songs until he is no longer able to garner sold out shows. Fortunately for me, as a result of some very gracious friends, I was able to be in attendance and see one of my favorite singer / songwriters / rock legends and a fellow Long Islander to boot with tickets that were given to me at cost.
Our friends, Jack and Jill, who came down from Syracuse with their two friends, Dick and Jane, invited me and my significant other to dinner at a popular, upscale Manhattan steakhouse followed by the 7pm Billy Joel show.
But, you’re already well aware of how awesome Billy Joel is. He has earned his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so it’s no concern of mine to persuade you of this here. What I want to talk about is the experience I had which I have subtitled specifically here, “The Zen of Ecstatic Dancing”.
Okay, I’m not going to assume you understand what this means. Grant me a moment of your esteemed indulgence to subjectively engage you in what this is all about.
If you haven’t read books with similar titles as this you’ve no doubt seen them in passing or out of the corner of your eye or perhaps not at all. Nevertheless, when you precede a certain type of action that we normally take for granted with the word “Zen”, you are actually applying this term, which is meant to describe a Japanese variant of Mahayana Buddhism, rather loosely to mean a spiritual slant on that action. There can be, if our Buddhist friends will forgive the license with which we express a rather strict interpretation of that belief, a very wide variety of everyday things that when practiced in accordance with mindfulness and a meditative focus, are done in a Zen-like fashion. Nevertheless, it could be said that this is what I was doing while at the concert. However, I never gave it much thought. I was just having fun singing and dancing with my buddy, Billy and his band.
Given my love for music, usually, when I go to hear my favorite musical group at a concert I tend to really get into it. This originated from my love for a band called, The Grateful Dead. It is the rule rather than the exception, that participants at Dead concerts are fully integrated participants making up half of what has been known since the bands inception as a synergistic experience.
And unfortunately for those Grateful Dead fans reading this, I will not veer off into a tangent here or dwell upon the merits of what Deadheads experience so as to divert you away from what this article is primarily for. You can, at your leisure, go to Dead.net or better yet read Dennis McNally’s illustrative biography on The Grateful Dead entitled, “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History Of The Grateful Dead”. Believe me, this is really what you want to read. McNally is the foremost source to tell you everything you need to know; for now, and without any pause for station identification, I’ll continue with the subject of this piece.
After such a thoroughly satisfying dinner, the six of us headed toward the entrance of the restaurant. During our repast, a very threatening storm had caught Manhattan by surprise and was blanketing the city in a mass deluge.
BOOM, went a lightning clap, which could have been mistaken for an artillery shell just as we opened the door to busy 36th street and some other seemingly shaken patrons trying to hail a cab to ferry them to their next destination. Jack, hailed one and although we tried to pile in, the driver told us we were one customer over the limit for the car. No SUV-styled cabs were forthcoming that would fit six people so we reluctantly started to walk the few blocks to the garden.
Finally we arrived with the concert-going droves in front of and behind us. The crowd flowed pretty smoothly into the arena thanks to the efficient and expedient staff of ticket scanners and security friskers. At least we didn’t have to take off our shoes or belts. So, in we went.
Gavin Degraw was the opening band for Billy Joel. He and his band were no doubt exemplary musicians; the crowd loved him but I thought the music sucked. However, to Degraw’s credit and for my comic relief he followed one of his songs halfway through his set with “I know you guys are probably wondering, “Where the f–k is Billy Joel?” Well, fortunately we only had to wait another 15 minutes before the lights went down and Joel’s band began to take the stage.
It’s been common for Joel to start off his concerts with the classic, “Angry Young Man”. Don’t get me wrong, I love that song. But, what he did was begin with an equally energy-filled one from his “Streetlight Serenade” album called……”Miami 2017“.
I live for the hard driving rhythm of this apocalyptic tale of the fate of the island of Manhattan. In a way, its kind of weird that he talks about such wonton destruction of this great city. I mean, “they burnt the churches up in Harlem…like in that Spanish Civil War.”, Luckily for those baseball fans out there, “…they sent a carrier out from Norfolk and picked the Yankees up for free.” But……”they said that Queens could stay and blew the Bronx away….and sank Manhattan out at sea.” I suppose we’ll all have to wait a couple more years to see if our fate turns out to be anything like the nightmare that he foretold of in the mid 70’s. Or maybe Gerald Ford was right after all although perversely misquoted as saying “Drop Dead”. Could he or perhaps the Daily News have been prophetic with that headline?
However, “Miami 2017” was the perfect opportunity and vehicle with which to get going with what I do best. Mind you, there wasn’t much more than a square foot of space for me to dance with in the row that I was in but I made due. To be honest with you, I’m not really used to doing the ecstatic dance to Billy Joel songs. Grateful Dead….definitely. Dead songs possess a more suitable quality that lends itself to be better adapted to free-style dancing. But, there’s one thing that does set a part Joel’s music from that of the Grateful Dead. They usually contain lyrics which are crafted in such a way as to more lucidly articulate what is going on in the world around us.
Take the song “Pressure” for instance.
You have to learn to pace yourself, you’re just like everybody else…pressure. you turned the tap dance into your crusade. Now here you are with your faith and your Peter Pan advice. You have no scars on your face and you cannot handle Pressure.
Billy Joel just loves, if I understand him correctly, to flaunt his vivid insight into the weaknesses and vanity of other people whom he has met and known for a while. He seems to read people very well….too well, actually, to the point of pushing the envelop on insulting them more severely than we could ever hope to imagine. He does this with many of his songs like an artist painting on a canvas. He’s masterful at articulating the human condition and expressing the truth, exposing faults seemingly buried deep inside the human psyche surely hidden from our prying eyes.
This is what added to the quality of the fun I was having while dancing to his music.
While I was dancing, with the lyrics of his songs pretty much memorized from all of the years I’ve listened intently to his albums, I could act out his songs as if I was playing the part of one of the main characters in his music video. So, I was doing this with my significant other and we were both having a ball thoroughly getting into the music in such a graphic way.
But, here’s where “The Zen of Ecstatic Dancing” comes into play. Singing and dancing to one of my favorite performers is an expression of energy and a Cathartic Release for me. I live for this. I began doing this about 10 years ago when I was a stay-at-home dad taking care of my two young daughters. While they were at school I would be in the kitchen cleaning up after breakfast when the last of my children had taken the bus to elementary school. So, I had this cd player in the corner by the sink. I’d put on a favorite disk. Sometimes it was rock & roll, sometimes romantic music, even Classical when I was in the mood. But, no matter what it was, if it had the energy within it–and any form of music usually does–I can always move with it.
Remember the movie, “Flashdance” where the Alex Owens character played by Jennifer Beals talks about with her boyfriend/boss about how when she dances at the club she just sort of disappears? That’s what happens to me to be honest with you. You’d think that this sort of experience would be limited to women. However, I’m sure women find it a whole lot easier to take leave of their ego than men do. But, a very significant change happened to me in my mid forties in which my spiritual path led me to get more in touch with my higher self or my feminine side within. That is one of the ways with which someone, whether they be a man or woman can loosen the influence of the ego.
So, my freedom with which I keep the ego at bay allows me to have the courage to express myself freely. In the moment of Catharsis, there is a oneness that is achieved. Some express it as a oneness with God. I like to go deeper. I like to say that the experience lends itself to a more elaborate existential or synergistic state of being.
But, explaining this to you is more of an intellectual exercise than anything. Words can’t express what I feel when I’m enjoying myself in this rapturous maelstrom of ecstatic dancing. I’m present, full of joy and having a good time. For me, that is one of the ways in which I can express my spirituality. Joy is love and being present gives rise to that joy. Therefore, spirituality is joy.
Well, as always, I welcome your comments whether you’re an avid dancer, exploring your spirituality or a hard core Billy Joel fan.