Oscar Wilde wrote in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life"…..
It does not take too much imagination to see that he was right….but of course with the benefit of hindsight it is always easy to make such statements.
In 1977 Billy Joel, arguably one of the best of the great singer songwriters, penned his classic “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. When questioned about his inspiration for this classic (which never was released as a single but appeared first on his album The Stranger), Billy Joel stated that he was thinking about a restaurant called Fontana di Trevi, which was located across from Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
The signature line from the song….”A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rose instead?” is said to have been words spoken by his waiter one evening as Joel was dining in the restaurant after he performed at Carnegie Hall.
The lyrics appear simple enough, although musically the song is extraordinary complex, containing a soft balad, a jazzy interlude and some good old fashioned rock ‘n roll in its 7 plus minutes.
Today, I want to look at the lyrics in the context of today’s political climate….
Remember, this was written in 1977.
The first part…
“A bottle of white, a bottle of red
Perhaps a bottle of rose instead
We'll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I,face to face”
If one supposes a deeper meaning of those first two lines…rather than the words a waiter might say…but rather a more profound meaning, what do we find? Set against a backdrop of the turbulent late 60’s and early 70’s, and the re-emergence of liberal influence in politics, with the commencement of the Carter presidency, it is easy to see two old friend sitting together and discussing political philosophy…where red and white refers to Democrats or Republicans…or perhaps a third party instead?
As is the case when two old friends get together, the conversation drifts between the past and the future…with the lines so blurred that sometimes it is difficult to know whether it is the ramblings of minds remembering better times…or of minds hoping for a better future.
In either case…the next verse tells us how we decide…
“A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I'll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant.”
What is your appetite? The pairing of wine with food has become an art form…as has the pairing of political philosophy with economic belief. In the years since this song was published, labels have been attributed to people who believe a certain way…and the two main political parties have created delineations that mark very clearly the way your appetite should go.
If you eat steak, red wine is best…fish goes with white wine…it all depends on your appetite!
If you are conservative, you must be republican….democrats must be liberal.
In 2011 this is certainly the case…in 1977, those lines were not so marked….but of course Carter put an end to that by the end of his time in the White House.
In 1977, two old friends could talk of political things without the need for the vitriol and rhetoric that so imbues todays discussions. Talk of hope, talk of future, and talk of success were not limited to talk of the fool in the White House and his impact on Hope and Change.
“Things are okay with me these days
Got a good job, got a good office
Got a new wife, got a new life
And the family's fine
We lost touch long ago
You lost weight I did not know
You could ever look so good after
So much time.”
….life is good. Change happens. We make the best of what we have…we do the best with the hand dealt us…and we move on. Oh how I wish this were the way it was today. But the last line of this ditty gives a clue to what is coming next…..”after so much time”….
This is where I believe the past and the future starts to blur….when life imitates art it is almost like the art “predicts” the future…and with the change in style of the song from ballad to jazzy interlude we find ourselves in the future looking back at a past that is also long gone…
“I remember those days hanging out at the village green
Engineer boots, leather jackets and tight blue jeans
Drop a dime in the box play the song about New Orleans
Cold beer, hot lights my sweet romantic teenage nights”
This speaks of a time when the energy of youth and discovery outweighed the concerns of the future. A time when a young man’s dreams were full of hope. It speaks of a time when a man who promises hope and change could win the hearts and minds of youth…could start a love affair with America that promises a future of perfection.
A past where the American mind was primed to be carried away by the young dynamic senator from Chicago…who goes by the name of Barack Obama.
“Brenda and Eddie were the popular “steadys”
And the king and the queen of the prom
Riding around with the car top down and the radio on.
Nobody looked any finer
Or was more of a hit at the parkway Diner
We never knew we could want more than that out of life
Surely Brenda and Eddie would always know how to survive.”
Brenda and Eddie…..let’s look at the choice of names for a minute.
In English, the name Eddie means- Diminutive of Edwin: Rich in friendship, or wealthy friend. From the Old English name Eadwine, meaning rich or happy, and friend. Also a diminutive of Edward: Wealthy guardian. From the Old English name Eadweard, meaning rich or happy, and guardian.
It is does not take a giant leap to see Eddie as analogous to the People of the United States. Rich, happy, friendship…the People who are the United States.
In Irish, the name Brenda means- Feminine form of Brendan: Prince, little raven, or beacon on the hill. Some scholars believe Brendan means stinking hair.
Just recently Barack Obama hailed his Irish roots on a trip to the Emerald Isle. The name Brenda just happens to start with a “B” …and Barack Obama was seen by many as the beacon on the hill. Reagan spoke of a shining city on a hill, and Barack Obama has spent much energy trying to compare himself with Reagan. A beacon on the hill….a guiding light for all mankind.
So...what happens if we take an analogy of Eddie representing the people of the USA and Brenda representing Obama”
“riding around with the car top down and the radio on”… let the sun shine…listen to what’s popular…be the coolest kids in town because together we are hot!
Brenda and Eddie…Barack and the people…HOT!!!
“Brenda and Eddy were still going steady in the summer of '75
when they decided the marriage would be at the end of July
Everyone said they were crazy
"Brenda you know you're much too lazy and Eddie could never afford to live that
kind of life."
But there we were wavin' Brenda and Eddie goodbye.”
The relationship between Brenda and Eddie is not dissimilar to the relationship between America and Obama….Obama was swept into the Senate on the heels of a popular movement ignited by his ability to present himself as the man who can save Illinois. Brenda, the beacon on the hill, was able to parlay that local relationship into a grand affair with the people of America…Eddie. It was time to get married.
The end of July is important as it represents mid-summer…the high point of the relationship between Brenda and Eddie…this is the “high”…this is an analogy for election day….this is the day that the beacon on the hill consummates his love affair with America…and the world changes.
Of course, not everyone was happy that this union was taking place. Many knew that Brenda was too lazy to make it work…and they also knew that Eddie (the people) could not afford to live that way. This could well be foretelling the divorce that was rushing headlong toward them, even before the marriage was really started.
“They got an apartment with deep pile carpet
And a couple of paintings from Sears
A big waterbed that they bought with the bread
They had saved for a couple of years
They started to fight when the money got tight
And they just didn't count on the tears.”
At first America was happy with Brenda. Eddie lavished her with the trappings of a home. The White House was renovated in Brenda’s image…the courts and the legislature too. But this marriage was doomed to failure and Brenda and Eddie soon found themselves fighting when the money stopped flowing.
Tears? I think the people are crying tears of anger…anger that Brenda had fooled them. Anger that Brenda had wasted all their money on “paintings from Sears” and “big water beds”….instead of creating economic strength.
Brenda found the people to blame….the recalcitrant Republicans, an ineffective Congress, a tsunami in Japan…and don’t forget George Bush.
But Eddie wasn’t going to buy that anymore…he was done!
“They lived for a while in a very nice style but it's always the same in the end
They got a divorce as a matter of course and they parted the closest of friends
Then the king and the queen went back to the green but you can never go back there again.”
The relationship soured. The people (Eddie) knew that the divorce had to happen….and of course it did. Have you all noticed that with limited exceptions, after a President has left office, and with the passage of time, most Presidents are remembered almost fondly regardless of the messes they made or the issues they had? This is how Brenda and Eddie “parted the closest of friends”.
Of course, try as we might, there is no going back to the past….the people cannot go back to life before Obama…and Obama cannot go back to life before the Presidency. Both will carry the scars of his ineptitude and arrogance for years to come. The difference is that Eddie has a chance to change things…Brenda is stuck as the beacon on the hill, who became nothing more than stinking hair!
“Brenda and Eddie had had it already by the summer of '75
From the high to the low to the end of the show for the rest of their lives
They couldn't go back to the greasers
The best they could do was pick up the pieces
We always knew they would both find a way to get by
That's all I heard about Brenda and Eddie
Can't tell you more than I told you already
And here we are wavin' Brenda and Eddie goodbye.”
The end was foretold in 1977. The American love affair with Obama was indeed over before he became President. We just didn’t know it, and he wouldn’t believe it. There is no doubt that there are plenty of pieces for Eddie to pick up now that he sees Brenda for what she really is….nothing but a big mistake.
“A bottle of red, a bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you're in tonight
I'll meet you anytime you want
In our Italian Restaurant”
And finally….in 2012 we have a choice to make. It is no longer dependent on appetite…it is dependent on mood. Are you really satisfied with the way America has grown under Obama….or are you angry at the direction he has taken?
A bottle of red….a bottle of white….?
What is your mood?
Listen to it, talk about it with a tristed old friend…explore it…and see the future…for YOUR mood on election day is what will direct this country.
Do you think Brenda and Eddie need more time for marital harmony? Or do you think Brenda and Eddie have had it already?
Depends upon the mood you’re in tonight….I’ll meet you anytime you want…at our Italian Restaurant!
Life imitating art? I sure hope so.