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September 19, 2004

Dear Billy,

It must be strange to live a life in which strangers are continually compelled to tell you how you've come into (and remain in) their lives.  It must, at times, seem a surreal burden you never asked for.  Or maybe, by now, you've learned not to let it affect you at all.  May this free you.  There are thousands of stories like this -- lives you've scored.  This is my thank-you…a letter thirty-two years in the making.  I'm thirty-eight.  Yours is the soundtrack of my time.
     When I was six, my daddy yelled from the car through my jalousie door for me to come on.  I was late for school and Billy Joel was on the radio.  Later that year my folks asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons…to learn to do what you did.
     I did.
     Through childhood and adolescence, you got me out of countless tight spots…not by your music…but through the fantasy I contrived:  that if I could just give this speech, if I could just tell my fiancé I didn't want to marry him, if I could just run this mile, you would be waiting at the end of it to spend an hour on the piano bench beside me -- showing me how.  And in this way, a girl whose name you don't know, got her degree, avoided marrying the wrong person and ran the mile faster than anyone in her class.  
At twenty-two, I took roses to the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta for you before your show.  It was my first time to have you play in the same room as me and I needed to honor it however I could.  They told me you were eating in the restaurant and to go and speak.  I decided to wait and you left another way.
A few years later, on my honeymoon in L.A., I found out you were playing in town the day after I arrived.  It was too late for anything but scalpers and the tickets were $400.  We sold my husband's Chevette that day for exactly $400 and got the tickets and it all made perfect sense.
You are playing on my turntable as I write this tonight in Los Angeles.   Miami 2017.
It occurs to me in writing this that you have shaped the direction of my life in the most subtle, yet sure ways.  I moved to Atlanta after high school because there was a piano bar there, and a man, Danny Staggs, who would play Stilleto if I asked, even though I couldn't afford to tip more than a couple dollars.  Christmases are spent around someone's piano.  Even at ninety-four, my granmama still requests Billy Joel.  Trips are booked to visit my family when you are playing their town.  We have you in common.  Sharing you has become one of our traditions.
Two years ago, my family went to see you and Elton play in Atlanta.  You had been my brother's first concert fifteen years earlier...a magic night in which we actually managed to sneak past the guards all the way to the stage.  An amazing feat in a 20,000 seat venue.  He didn't realize how rare it all was until he went to a few more concerts.  
     But the four of us had never seen you together.  And since it was my folks that turned me onto you, and since I had played them to sleep for years with your songs on the Yamaha they gave me, it seemed important that we all see you together.
ey had never been to a rock concert.  They were out of their element but understood the significance and carefully chose what to wear so as not to embarrass their kids.  Daniel, my brother, and I waited out Elton's part in our seats thirteen rows from the stage.  We grew up on him too, but as Daniel leaned over and said to me, "We'll dance when Billy comes out."  And we did.  With everything in us.  Mama too on a couple of occasions.  And daddy watched your hands fly across the keys right in front of him.  
     No matter how surreal, this was our common ground.  Our past and our present.  Under the lights and in the dark.  
Now here you are in L.A. again tonight.  The world keeps spinning and every once in a while it spins you my way.  Tomorrow you'll get your star on Hollywood Boulevard, a street I lived on for ten years.  I now live within walking distance of the Pantages Theatre where your star will be.  It's nice -- something so tangible as that, inside a history so elusive as this.  But the thing is, I've always had your star within my sights.  And it has shined down on me and mine all my life.  And shines on still.

With all thanks,
One of Many

Read more about Billy Joel at his website.

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