67. Billy Joel - Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)

Divorce is something that all of us have dealt with one way or another. If it wasn't you whose parents split up, it was your best friend, or your cousin. Divorce touches us all, even if it's not directly. I was lucky enough to have parents that were married for 41 years when my Mom passed away, but I've known divorce, first through friends, then with my own divorce. When kids are involved in the dissolution of a marriage, the bonds of marriage aren't the only thing that are broken. The family that was, that the children will always pine for, is gone forever. Luckily for me, my divorce was before we had children and my ex-wife and I were the only victims.

"Lullaby," by Billy Joel, is about divorce and the toll that it takes on a family, his family, and especially his daughter, Alexa. He wrote this song to her, trying to get her to go to sleep with a restless heart and a brain that's racing, thinking of the uncertain future ahead. For the moment, he just wants to sing his daughter to sleep, and they can talk about tomorrow, tomorrow. But before she closes her eyes, he makes this promise:

And you should always know
Wherever you may go, no matter where you are
I never will be far away.

Even though I may not be in the next room, or next door, you're never far from my heart and I'll always be there when you need me. It's a sentiment that many parents in a divorce say to their children. Then they hope above all hopes that they don't break that promise. It's a burden that weighs heavy on the heart of the parent that's not there every day, kissing them goodnight and tucking them in. And in the lyrics, the burden shows:

Goodnight my angel, now it's time to sleep,
And still so many things I want to say.
Remember all the songs you sang for me,
When we went sailing on an emerald bay.
And like a boat out on the ocean,
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep, inside this ancient heart

Of course, not too many of us have the talent to sing a song for our children in a perfectly toned voice, much less write one, but if you're a parent, you can empathize with Billy and Christie's plight. You still try to stay the devoted and loving parent that you've always been, but the job's made all that much tougher by the circumstances that you created. It may be what's best for the family, but you just can't help thinking that it's your fault and that your child is suffering not because of what they've done but because of what you've done. That's a tough rest-of-your-life type situation for someone and its toll shows. Just talk to your parents who split up when you were eleven, or your brother, who only sees his kids on the weekends and two weeks a year. Even if it's decades later, the burden is still there. It may lessen with time, but it never goes away. But in "Lullaby," Billy Joel just wants his daughter to have a good night's sleep and know that he loves her.

There's simplicity here that mirrors the music of the song. Musically, the song is extremely simple, like almost all lullabies. There's some strings for some extra atmosphere, but for the most part, it's just Billy with his piano and his voice. In many ways it feels like he just added words to a lullaby we already knew, but the composition is his. Some people may call it derivative to write a song that sounds familiar the first time you hear it, but I think it's a testament to the songwriter's ability to take that familiar notion and do something new and interesting in it. One of the interesting things Billy does in this song is near the end of the song. He takes "Lullaby" into a minor key for the bridge, giving the song a hint of the dark melancholy that everyone it the family must be feeling.

Billy Joel is a classically trained pianist who just ended up in the rock & pop music world. In this song, you can hear him kind of paying tribute to Chopin with his piano playing style, especially Chopin's piano concertos. At times, it's played in the rubato tempo, which gives the performer the flexibility to speed up and slow down the tempo of the piece as it goes along. There isn't a consistent beat, giving it a more improvised feel. So even though this is a formal, produced song, it still has that feel to it that Billy just sat down and this is what came out.

As a father of two, I hope I never, ever have to think about singing this song to my own children. I want to kiss them goodnight (as long as they'll let me!) for as long as I can and be able to walk back to the bedroom with my wife. That's the goal that we all have as parents and unfortunately, some of us don't make it. But never doubt, children, that we parents love you and will never be too far away. Goodnight, angels.

1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I heard this song again the other day. My daughter is 9. I see her every weekend.and I do imagine singing this to her as she falls asleep.thank you for the article