Music does more than represent life; in a very real way it is a reflection of life as we see, feel, touch and taste it. The chords and the lyrics seem to reach out over the airwaves (or earbuds, in today’s world) and mirrors our own joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, and connects us through those piano keystrokes, thunderous drumbeats and unforgettable guitar riffs.
And the lyrics, well, sometimes they connect with us on a visceral level with words we ourselves would have said had we chose to speak out loud.
And that’s just the beginning of “The Wheels on the Bus...”
Seriously, though, even “bad” music, if there is such a thing, resonates with us because it is people writing all those myriad lyrics, and we too are people. And the really good songwriters and musicians share everything they have with us in attempt to help us understand just what they were feeling when they wrote and recorded those songs. There is a story behind every song from light-hearted music we sing with children to soul-wrenching love songs or songs designed to bring about social change. Some songs make us smile or think of a certain person, and then there are other songs that just point out how sometimes life is ridiculously difficult, often to an absurd degree.
“Close to the Borderline” is a song off Billy Joel’s 1980 album Glass Houses, and it plays like a stream of consciousness reaction to all of the pressure (not to be confused with Joel’s song named “Pressure”) we feel during turbulent times. There were, after all, a lot of problems hiding under all of the big hair that ruled the decade. Homicides and suicides, social upheaval and injustice, and economic concerns often bordering upon the desperate. Sadly, 40 years later, we still have those things, with every single one of them cranked up to 10 by COVID-19.
There are a lot of good lines in the song that express the volatile landscape of the decade, including the frustration of being hedged in by it all represented by “… I need a doctor for my pressure pills — I need a lawyer for my medical bills…”, but overall the song is at base hopeful in its mania. Another line sums up determination to survive (relatively) intact, in spite of what is going on in the world with “… Another night I fought the good fight, but I’m getting closer to the borderline.” Or “Don’t know why I’m still a nice guy, but I’m getting close to the borderline.”
The theme, of course, is that it just isn’t easy to keep your sense of self and maintain your life when everything and everyone around you seems bound and determined to go crazy. Or at least that’s my opinion because of all the “Billys” I know, unfortunately Mr. Joel isn’t one of them (but my email is at the bottom of the article. Just sayin’ ...). The thing is, though, that it is times just like these when we need to maintain ourselves more than ever. Because in reality we are always “Close to the Borderline,” and there is a very fine line between doing what we need to do and simply throwing up our hands and walking away from it all.
Walking the borderline is an extremely difficult task, and it becomes much more difficult when that border is blurred. People are forced on a daily basis to both ask themselves hard questions and accept answers that are less than satisfying. When this is the case, when important issues have no clear resolution, we are left to wonder and worry. And when so much of our waking hours revolve around such stressors, the normal everyday things are neglected. But those small things can’t be allowed to monopolize our neglect while we focus on the bigger, more immediate things.
An example of this is that early on in the pandemic (and still somewhat today), people were so scared they would run out of food that they bought everything remotely resembling food. Supermarket shelves looked like cartoon fields after the locusts passed by; nothing left but a couple of bent cans of okra or beet soup. Black market toilet paper became a thing, the price of meat doubled, and everyone’s beverage of choice became whatever could be purchased in bulk. But, even though in an emergency being able to eat is more important than what we are eating, there are still ramifications.
Fifteen bags of “Cheesy Puffs” don’t really digest all that well, even when they are washed down with 12 gallons of generic soda pop. Just an FYI here, anything that needs to have the word “food” printed on the label probably isn’t. Or at least shouldn’t be. But it goes beyond food as well. With all of the changes we have been through, well, we need to examine those changes. In many cases, getting up and out, and going to work, were what served most people as exercise. And with so many of us unemployed or working from home, even that amount of exercise is gone. Not me, mind you, because I still do the 300-centimeter dash to the coffee pot at least 20 times a day. Just to keep my strength up.
The point is, we neglect ourselves while we are focusing on “important” things. We should focus on important things — because they are, after all, important — but never discount the benefits of not focusing. Take at least five minutes three or four times a day and try not to think of anything. Walk around the house with no concern about how long it takes. Stress builds up without our knowing it, and if we aren’t careful, we might need some of Mr. Joel’s Blood Pressure pills. And the borderline we are close to might be a stroke.
The current pandemic isn’t a sprint. No matter how fast we run (or in this case how hard we worry), we aren’t going to outpace it. No, we need to settle in for the long haul because, like life itself, it is more of a marathon. We can and will finish, but only if we take care of ourselves in the meantime. If we don’t then we are doing half of the work for COVID-19 and all the other nasty bugs out there. Yeah, its hard, like the lyrics “Everybody knows you got to break some time.” But that’s followed up with “I survived, I’m still alive …,” and this applies no matter how close we get to the borderline.