#1 – Just the Way You Are
As a rule, I avoid love songs these days. I am an emotional man and, therefore, despite the fact that I rarely drink anymore, when the nights get long and the insomnia gets bitey, I know I’ll end up clutching old photographs and waving my fist at the sky.
Nonetheless, I’ve been listening to a lot of music again lately and, to be honest, you can’t completely escape the form unless your tastes run to Norwegian death metal. Even then, there are a number of artists who have a fair old pash on for young Satan.
I suppose I could skip the songs when they come on, but that feels like giving in, and so, to prevent myself from melting into a pool of teary, bereft mush, I’ve decided to start examining these songs with a critical eye, rather than with a broken heart and other disgruntled body parts.
Today’s entry is the evergreen standard “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel. Now, despite my occasional lapses into musical pretension, I bow to no one in my love for William of Joel’s oeuvre. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is the fucking bomb and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
Now, Just the Way You Are is not my favourite song on the otherwise impeccable album The Stranger, despite its Grammy glory and its ubiquitous presence on many soothing radio stations. However, my soppy, youthful impression of it was that it was a song of acceptance, of the kind of love to which we all should aspire.
Let’s see how well that stands up, shall we?
Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
Okay. So far, not too bad. Billy doesn’t want to impose some kind of patriarchal hierarchy in which his partner feels the need to conform to some imaginary ideal in order to retain his affection.
Nonetheless, it raises a few questions: Why is he bringing it up now? Has there been an incident? An accusation? Has Billy been consumed with his work, banging away at the piano as precious time ticked away that might have been vitally spent maintaining communication within the relationship?
Looked at from a certain angle, it’s a rather defensive statement. You can imagine it as the rejoinder in a particularly heated argument. But we’ll give Billy the benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps he was simply concerned that she might feel that way and wanted to reassure her. That would certain demonstrate a healthy lack of complacency.
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are
Again, fair play to him. It’s a fine sentiment. He’s in it for the long haul. Although, if I were his partner, I might be tempted to think: “And what exactly is wrong with the way I am, that you have to make a special point of mentioning it?”
But Billy isn’t finished. He’s moving from the big picture to the little details now, which are, of course, important.
Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
Hold on a minute. Why shouldn’t she try some new fashion, if that’s what she wants to do? You’re telling her how to dress now? And what business is it of yours what colour her hair is? What is this, fucking Vertigo?
And, I think you need to ask yourself, why is your passion unspoken exactly? Obviously, you’re aware of the problem, but you’re unwilling to modify your behaviour. I think there may be some intimacy issues here that merit discussion. You can’t just say, “Look, I know I appear to be largely ambivalent to you, your feelings, your hopes, dreams and ambitions, but, trust me, I would still jump you as soon as look at you. Provided you don’t get highlights or anything.”
I’m starting to hear alarm bells here, Bill.
I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.
Fuck me. That’s romantic. “It’s fine. I don’t mind that you have the intellectual acuity of a decomposing squirrel. Smart’s not my thing.”
And he never wants to work that hard? What is that? Way to make someone feel special. “Sure, I want to be with you. I just don’t want to put in any effort.”
And how’s about talking with someone, rather than to them? Huh? Or, are you concerned that said talk might reveal some hitherto unexplored academic side of your partner? I mean, I know, that’s such a boner-killer.
But let’s be fair. Every relationship has its ups and downs. We all have to work through our own baggage to make it work. Maybe Bill is just putting it all out there, for comment. Perhaps he finds articulating his feelings difficult – his passion is unspoken, lest we forget – and this is a genuine cry for help.
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.
Motherfucking Christian-Grey-looking motherfucker. You will not change. You will not experience personal growth. You will, however, adjust your feelings to match my own.
Fucking hell. You need to know, do you? Well, it’s not all about your needs. It’s about time you learned that, if you want to be with a grown-up woman.
I’ll be honest, Bill, if this is representative of your genuine feelings, I’m disappointed in you. I’m desperately trying to convince myself that this is a character song and you are subtly examining the dark side of conventional masculinity and its effect on the self-worth of both parties.
I mean, if that’s what you’re doing, it’s genius. The dichotomy between the soft, sweet melody and the vicious cycle of control and emotional violence described in the lyrics is truly and brilliantly unsettling.
I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.
Oh dear, oh dear. What a note to end on. He couldn’t love her any better. I mean, that would just be asking too much. He’s not even willing to bloody try. She should just shut her mouth and get on with it.
God, this is such a sad song.
What also worries me is that, contextually, this is also a man who, rather suspiciously, keeps denying acts of arson in the first person plural, so I’d advise professional help and, at best, a trial separation.
Join me next time when I examine the tragic identity crisis at the heart of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”.