Of Sisters, Songs, and Strangers
a writing prompt for you + January writing hour
I’ve just returned from a quick trip to New York City with two sisters. From our far-flung towns and continents, we gathered for a brief reunion of food, music, and lots of walking and talking. The primary excuse (secondary to my birthday which is today!) was a concert—Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. We grew up on his music as did the majority of the crowd packed into the house—it holds 20,000 for a concert. Nearly all of us sang along to most of the songs and no one was annoyed by that.
The woman next to me in the fringy-feathered jacket leaned over when the opening notes to Just the Way You Are began and announced “this was our wedding song” before she and her husband stood up and swayed together. I instantly forgave her for the jacket strands brushing my arms and head at regular intervals. The song comes from Joel’s 1977 album The Stranger. His band has gotten bigger, and concerts flashier, but the piano man’s sound is the same.
Music connects us, doesn’t it?
In the 70s and 80s, we didn’t seem to have as many choices as today. All my sisters and friends listened to Billy Joel and sat by the radio with a finger on the cassette tape button to try and capture his songs for our mix tapes. We still know the words to the songs, or at least the choruses. We have specific sense memories of the albums and connect them to people, places, and periods of time. I still remember the opening to the choreographed dance a group of us did at summer camp to The Stranger.
In a giant venue, in a diverse city, music gathers actual strangers together. In the basement bathroom of our hotel, we met another family of sisters also going to the concert and got a little lost on the walk together. On both my planes to and from my small southern city, I noticed the same mother-son pair traveling together. I had wondered to myself on the way up what their plans were in the city—a show? a college visit? family? On the way home, along with the same green shirt I’d admired on her on the way up, the mother wore the tired travel expression I also wore. The lanky teen wore his brand new Billy Joel t-shirt.
a writing prompt
Who is on repeat in the soundtrack of your younger years? Listen to one of the songs, and pay attention to the specific sense memories it brings up in you. Write about a song, an album, a concert, or whatever else is tugging at you today.
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Mmmmmm.... another good one.... music has always been central to everything. The memory of hitting record on a radio song is strong. How I'd be dancing to the music, then as the song ended my finger hovering on the record button while I waited to hear what the next song was, and the split second decision to record or not record. *chef's kiss* Thanks for another good one.
I came across your substack from one of the Substack feature threads. I run a literary zine in the form of a newsletter on substack called The Abandoned Dreams Collective. I love the entire concept behind your newsletter and I'm looking forward to being a part of the community. I also think there's some overlap between the kind of writing communities we are both trying to build and I would love to collaborate if you're interested