Only The Good Die Young?

The other day I was listening to my local classic rock station. The Billy Joel classic, Only The Good Die Young  came on and of course I was singing along with it.  You know it’s a catchy tune, and I don’t listen to the lyrics so it doesn’t affect me blah blah blah…  OK, but this time I was listening and the lyrics did affect me.  I was thinking what are the results of living the life that he was lambasting?  And, what are the results of the lifestyle that Billy Joel was advocating in the song? 

I must admit as a teen these lyrics seems so appealing, “Only the Good Die Young” so let’s go out and get a bit wild.  But this is all a deception.

Billy Joel in his lyrics is talking to a Catholic girl “Virginia” that is practicing chastity and self-control.  I thing we can generalize this discussion to anyone that chooses to practice these virtues.  What are the advantages and life results that come from practicing these disciplines?
The list of advantages is long and quite encouraging.
1. Young kids that build healthy relationships with the opposite sex.
2. Young adults finish their education and prepare for adulthood before families are started which in turn helps to build stronger families and communities.
3. Young people with higher self images knowing that they can be strong and in control of there urges and life and not be controlled buy the waves that come in life.
4. Live a life of peace and security not worrying about the repercussions of dangerous actions.
5. Generally much happier marriages.
6. Generally much better sex life when you do marry.

The list of disadvantages and social ills is long and disturbing.
1. Guilt and shame for the actions.  Yes I know there are those that would state the guilt and shame are misplaced, but I assure you the guilt and shame are there for a purpose.  It is there to stop you from doing these acts and protect you.  It is often those who try to just remove the guilt and shame that end up with very low self-images and depressed.  This is especially true of girls.  This is one reason why the rate of cutting and drug abuse is so high among our teens.
2. Sexually transmitted diseases.
3. Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
4. Abortion and all the repercussions that come with that.
5. Young unprepared parents then end up producing families in poverty.  This often perpetuates a cycle of crime and violence.
6. The male wild dog mentality that encourages young men to have sex whenever and where they want with no strings attached, causing massive devastation to society.

So, how did the lifestyle that Billy Joel recommend work out for him?  Well I don’t know about you, but I love the musical style and passion that Billy Joel has put into his music.  He is obviously a gifted musician.  He had everything going for him, money, fame, and married to the perfect wife.  But then it all fell apart.  He was cheating on his wife Christy Brinkley.  Yes, I know we don’t know the full story but I think it is fair to say Billy Joel had some responsibility here.  And, now were here more recently he as been in treatment for addictions (story here).

So this begs the question, Should we be living by Billy’s rules, or should we be living by God’s rules.

While it is true that sometimes the good die young, when they do, they often times die with peace and joy in their heart because they know their final destination.  As Paul said in his letter to Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”,  The destination is know.

I think there are times when people live lives that are not according to God’s rules and they come to a point in their lives where maybe they wish the would have died young because of the mess that they have made with their lives.  Billy may be an example of such a life.  The good news is, it is never too late to turn to Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation that he offers.  It is in accepting that free gift that all our messes can become cleaned up.

So in reality, Only The Good Die in Peace, when our goodness comes from Jesus…

waynem

About waynem

As a Minnesota based photographer and artist I have been greatly influenced by the Upper Midwest. I focus my skills and energies on portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, architectural and fine art work. My best work comes from images first painted in my mind. I mull over a prospective image for weeks or months, seeing it from different angles and perspectives, then finally deciding what to capture. The result is images that deeply touch people's emotions and powerfully evoke memories and dreams. My images are used commercially by companies and organizations ranging from Financial Services firms, mom and pop Ice Cream shops and The Basilica of St Mary to communicate their shared vision and values. Book and magazine publishers have featured my images on their covers. My photographs also grace and enhance the decor of many fine homes.
This entry was posted in Cultural Commentary, Music, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Only The Good Die Young?

  1. Jennifer V. says:

    I really like it Wayne. You are right on the money. It is so important that our children understand the consequences of actions and the benefits of inaction (sexually speaking). Instead of just telling our kids ‘not to’, we need to explain the whole picture so that it becomes their choice ‘not to’. Thank you for addressing this.

  2. Wayne M says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Help us to keep teaching our children….
    Thanks for checkin’ in.

  3. DJ Hastings says:

    Hi Wayne,
    This hits home for me, because around 1980 I wrote a song called “It Just Ain’t True” as a direct response to Billy Joel’s song, “Only The Good Die Young.” I followed the style and feeling of Mr. Joel’s, perhaps even a bit more ‘hard-edged’ than his. Funny thing, “It Just Ain’t True” is now on my list of songs to rework for the current band which began practicing last fall.
    These lyrics are not worthy to be posted (besides, it needs to be heard in tempo, not read), but here’s a snippet of my old ‘chorus’ lyrics:
    Come on people, it just ain’t true
    The ‘music man’ never died for you
    Don’t be quick to take the radio’s views
    If you still have the power to choose…
    I actually wrote “Billy Joel never died for you…”, but I opted for a more indirect phrase. Any who, I’m with you on this tune. I love Billy Joel’s music, but he’s dead wrong here.
    Why can’t we hold the music and movie industries accountable for glorifying sex the same way others want them to pay for glorifying cigarettes? I would dare to say that unbiblical sex ruins more lives than cigarettes today…and much sooner.
    – Daren Hastings

  4. Todd Rolek says:

    Very good Wayne. Keep up the good work!

  5. niecerrator says:

    I agree – the song is a deception and living “wild” doesn’t give you real joy, and certainly doesn’t extend your life.
    However, I hate to pick on one songwriter. There are really so many song lyrics out there, in many genres, that glorify sex, drugs, hate, self-centeredness, and even violence. The song “Born to Be Wild” is running in my head.
    Billy Joel is a talented songwriter and musician. I just wish he could have put it to a little better use. When you have societies ear, why not give them some real truth to chew on?

  6. Wayne M says:

    You are right on! He is very talented and I fact I wish I had 1/10 of his talent. I dont think I am picking on him, it was just one song playing in my head. Maybe you need to write a piece on “Born to be wild”. lol
    Thanks for the comments.

  7. Another song by Billy Joel to pay attention to is “Everybody has their dreams”. The words are a bit vague, but combined with the music (organ and piano, reminiscent of church music) the message is clearly about Christianity.
    I used that song and David Meece’s “Satan Just Leave Me Alone” to illustrate the futility of judging a song by it’s music style. I played the intro to each song and asked which sounded more Godly. Of course the Billy Joel song did. The David Meece song had a very hard and rocky electric guitar intro. Then I read the lyrics, and played each song in its entirety. The message of both, then was clear. Billy joel was belittling faith as meaningless. But David Meece used the rock format of the song to underscore the anger in the message “Satan just leave me alone”. The Bible says “Be ye angry and sin not” so the song obviosuly had a Godly meaning and intention.

  8. Sierra Faith says:

    Constructive Criticism

    Wayne graciously and constructively suggests getting done what I’ve been planning for awhile, i.e. darken the neon white and boost the gloomy gray of the Sierra Faith text.
    Be sure to check out Wayne’s Christian Carnival 71 Entry (parents should rea…

  9. Caitlin says:

    just to let everyone know “only the good die young” is written for my sister in laws aunt virginia who died. they were high school friends (they went to hicksville hs) and she was never allowed to date him because my grandmother said he was a bad ass, a musician and he’d only make her look good. however, he was best friends with her brother, tommy.

  10. Wayne M says:

    Caitlin,
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Katie says:

    hmm, I can’t say I agree. I just happened across this when i was looking for the lyrcs to this song. I am not at all a ‘wild’ teen out having pre-marital sex every night but I am a teen and I do believe in pre-marital sex and take particular umbridge to some of the comments made in your ‘disadvantages’ column. As research recently published shows, encouraging abstinence in teens is ineffective and only means that when these kids inevitably do have sex, it is unprotected. It is this which causes problems, not the sex itself. If all people were provided with in depth, proper sex education and all the information to make educated decsions then, there would not be as many instances of teen pregnancies, STIs or abortions. And in terms of the ‘guilt or shame’, sex in a loving relationship, regardless of marital status should NOT lead to guilt or shame, such feelings have been created by society and in particular religion. I understand you in no way agree but your post just really struck a chord and I felt I needed to make a comment. Thanks.

  12. J says:

    katie i just came across this too looking for these lyrics and i just wanted to say im in the same boat as you and this song is amazing

  13. Marge says:

    But there are disadvantages in teaching teens to always abstain. I understand that some teens don’t practice safe sex, and are with multiple partners. Couldn’t this be avoided by showing them what to do if they do choose to engage in sex. Also, I have been in a monogamous relationship for 2 and 1/2 years.I personally wouldn’t sleep with many people. But If you love the person, get tested, and practice safe sex. There aren’t so many disadvantages. A marriage and a relationship is what you put behind it.

  14. Lauren says:

    You’re right, Marge- there are problems with starting too early or too late. Most of the “advantages” of abstaining are assumptions– how does a virgin know he or she is having a “much better” sex life?? Safer sex with people they care about, no matter the number (tends to be pretty low), will never steer a young person wrong. Thank goodness for the 1990’s, a middle ground of sanity for those who came of age then. 😀

  15. haha…It is so useful imformation for us to read…gogo..

  16. Anne says:

    I’m wondering how abstaining from sex makes for a generally better marriage and a generally better sex life during marriage? Please don’t think I’m trying to be rude here because I’m not but I stumbled across this while I was searching for lyrics to this song and those were two of your points that really seemed to hit me. I don’t even really have a comment for a better marriage, because I honestly don’t understand how someone’s sexual history can make a marriage better. If you would like to explain that me, I would love to hear it. As for a generally better sex life… Sex certainly isn’t the only thing in a relationship. So much more goes into that as well (love, trust, friendship) but sexual chemistry does play a roll and I personally don’t understand how two people could commit to spending their lives together without knowing if they are sexually compatable. Sex is a fundamental part of a romantic relationship – wihtout it aren’t you basically just friends?

  17. Wayne M says:

    Sure Anne,
    In general people with many sexual partners so in general they end up comparing their current partner to all the others.
    There is tons of research on the topic..
    Feel free to start here.
    http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&q=research+obstaining+from+sex+before+marriage+produces+better+sex+in+marriage&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=c096fadce09e306f

  18. Ella D says:

    I love Billy Joel- his music, that is. Sometimes, I think to myself, “Ooh, I sooo wish he wasn’t an athiest, so that he would be even awesomer.” He’s a fantastic musician, but not a necessarily good person in my book. Getting married several times, attempted suicide, substance abuse, etc.
    Been thinking this for a while. Had to vent 🙂

  19. Ella D says:

    Not to discriminate against athiests. Just to clarify. Some of my best friends are athiests; I’m just a very religious Christian. Thanks 😀

  20. Liz says:

    Well, as someone who thinks of herself as living both in God’s light and yet as one who can be a fun-loving, thrill-seeking person (maybe even a heathen in your view), I disagree with about 85% of this post. Not all women (or men) who have sex before marriage get pregnant, have abortions, or carry sexually transmitted diseases. And the world is not a black-and-white place where you either accept God and follow his law day-to-day or you are a grand sinner and heathen with no hope for redemption. I agree with most of your listed advantages of living a virtuous life, but I disagree with most of your disadvantages of living the lifestyle purportedly set forth in this song. Let’s discuss, shall we?
    1) A fairly strict Catholic upbringing gave me more of a sense of guilt, shame, and self-loathing and caused me to have a serious distate for both the Church as an institution and the Diocese, and many other Christians that thought they were living “in the light of God” by condemning those who they believed were not. In consequence, I strayed from the Church and sought other religions and lifestyles to find meaning in my life. I have since returned to the comfort of familiar Christianity, but only on my own terms, and am bordering on despising the Diocese.
    2, 3, 4, 5)I have had pre-marital sex and have neither had an unplanned pregnancy or transmitted/contracted any STDs. I’m responsible, and careful, as are many many MANY of my young friends in the same situation, both male and female.
    6) I knew and still know plenty of young men ages 14-30 who are intelligent and know how to control their urges. Doesn’t mean I didn’t know some that were screw-ups as well, but not all young men have raging hormones and act on them at any given moment of the day, becoming a huge detriment to society.
    Finally, how can you say that he is recommending a lifestyle of sex and drugs? There is no mention of sex nor drugs in this song. At all.
    I don’t believe that’s what this song is doing at all. I don’t believe that it’s meant to be taken literally, that “good” means you “die young”.
    Personally, and I know that you will not like this comment, but reading back into the lyrics, I believe he’s saying that human beings can get so wrapped up in our religion, social codes of conduct, morals, etc. that we forget to have fun. We put little flags that signal boundaries all around us, limit ourselves and our experiences, and in turn, and up standing in our backyard with nowhere to go, lest we step over the flags we’ve placed all around us. In this particular song, there is no mention of drugs or sex. In fact, this line rings particularly true with me:
    “well your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
    Aww She never cared for me
    But did she ever say a prayer for me? oh woah woah”
    Yes, people will judge you for what you do. But will they ever turn and pray for you? Usually not. And if they do, it’s only in the hope that you “change your ways”. This is a very hypocritcal attitude, and exactly the one that I believe Billy Joel is portraying in this song.
    Now, these next lyrics can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Please hang with me here. With this statute, try to read the following lyrics: what if the singer doesn’t actually represent a “boy” or a “man”? What if it represents doubt in one’s religion? Suddenly these take on a whole new meaning. The girl with her white dress and golden cross didn’t think that perhaps one day she would doubt her religion, her God, and those around her. Now, with that in mind, please read:
    “So come on Virginia show me a sign
    Send up a signal and I’ll throw you the line
    The stained-glass curtain you’re hiding behind
    Never lets in the sun
    darlin only the good die young
    woah
    i tell ya
    only the good die young
    You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation
    You got a brand new soul
    mmmm, And a cross of gold
    But Virginia they didn’t give you quite enough information
    You didn’t count on me
    When you were counting on your rosary”
    And you think his talents are misplaced just because of this song? Let’s talk about Piano Man, the all-too-iconic Billy Joel song, which discusses the realities of his job as a pianist in a bar and the people that go there. Waitress practicing politics, business men getting stoned, and drinking away lonliness. He is not encouraging this behavior, but pointing it out. In “Only the Good Die Young” I don’t think he’s advocating a wild life of sex, drugs, and partying. I think it’s a much more deep and complicated song than that, and if you take it at face-value, of course you’ll hear the religious aspect. But try to think beyond the written words.
    I’ve noticed, as a very big Billy Joel fan, that most of his songs cannot be taken at face value.

  21. Liz says:

    And Ella D, you really think Billy Joel is not a good person because he’s had drug and substance abuse and has attempted suicide? That’s a very very sad mentality. I know many people who are lost, who have been on and off drugs, and even family members who had alcohol abuse issues.
    And they are not bad people. In fact, most of them are very very good people. They either are depressed and lost and have very little hope, or do not cope well with stress. That is very different than not being a good person.
    I went to college with a wonderful young man who was interested in filming documentaries. He had a wicked sense of humor and always made me laugh when I saw him. He committed suicide about 6 months after we ment.
    Does that make him a bad person?
    Just because someone sins does not make them a bad person. And if that is the logic here, then I suppose we are all bad people, because, just as Jesus said (he who defended Mary Magdalene – an adulteress – and even saved her life, and dined with prostitutes and tax collectors), we are all sinners.

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