The Weekender, August 21, 2020


On Tuesday, I wrote about how famed rocker Billy Joel saves some front-row concert seats for his biggest fans, instead of selling them for the premium they’d almost certainly fetch. It’s a pretty straightforward fact and as I said in the little note at the top (which isn’t on the archived version), it’s one I almost didn’t write about because it’s so hard to confirm. I did, indeed, confirm it to my liking. And then, I had some fun with it. Throughout the story, I sprinkled in references to about a dozen Billy Joel songs. 

A lot of you noticed. That email elicited more responses than any other in recent memory, with most replies simply sharing appreciation for the easter eggs. A few of you asked how many songs I referenced, some wondered how long it took me to put it together, and a few bemoaned that I couldn’t or didn’t get their favorite song mentioned. Either way, here’s the brief backstory:

I didn’t intend to do this. At least not at first. So as a result, I can honestly say that I have no idea how many songs I referenced and even looking back, I’m not totally sure. And there are definitely more songs I could have easily gotten in there — it would have been trivial to mention a “Brenda and Eddie” or really anything from We Didn’t Start the Fire. Except for trying (and failing) to make a reference to my favorite Billy Joel song, The Downeaster Alexa, I basically just went with the easy, obvious ones. 

What happened? I didn’t know how to describe Billy Joel.

In the article itself, I say “Billy Joel is so famous you probably don’t need me to tell you much about him; he’s been performing for the longest time, with his first studio album debuting in 1971.” If you focus on the part before the semicolon, you’ll see the dead giveaway — I almost never say things like that. Typically, I’ll describe the person, place, or thing to some meaningful degree. In this case, it proved difficult, though, and I realized the best way to go about it was to assert his fame and then make the case that he’s been around forever. Only then did I realize I could say “for the longest time.” I brought up a list of his songs that I had read previously — see the first long read today! — and sprinkled more in as I kept writing.

So it really was a very last-minute decision. Glad I went that way, though.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Aliens in the Cupboard. There are no aliens or cupboards involved in this story, but the title still works.

Tuesday: You Don’t Have To Be A Big Shot: Billy Joel’s greatest hit. 

Wednesday: The Sound of Silence: The room where you can’t hear anything, except maybe for your own heart beating.

Thursday: The Turtle With Bricks for Wheels. For the record, the LEGO company is rather insistent that their product be called LEGO bricks, with the world LEGO stylized in all caps. They are not called “legos.”

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Complete Works: Ranking All 121 Billy Joel Songs” (Vulture, about 12 minutes, or ten seconds per song, February 2015). I have a lot to say about this list but I won’t bore you with my own rankings, except to say that there’s no way one can rank Allentown (#51) over The Downeaster Alexa (#75). 

2) “Gone phishing” (Rest of the World, 13 minutes, July 2020). The subhead: “Obinwanne Okeke was supposed to be a rags-to-riches Nigerian success story. Then the feds followed the money.”

3) “How to Learn Everything: The MasterClass Diaries” (Longform, 21 minutes, August 2020). A professor goes on a six-month binge, taking online classes from people who have mastered their field. But does she learn anything?

Have a great weekend!