Thomas Pynchon and Billy Joel

When you write a post about Thomas Pynchon and Roy Orbison, I suppose you can’t be annoyed when only six people read it. (And I thank you). But, I mean, it’s Roy Orbison.

Here’s a 40-page essay about The Crying of Lot 49 written by Edward Mendelson at Yale in 1975. (Just to show you I know how to have a good time).

One of the things going on in Lot (now see, that’s probably intentional, too) is a message about muted communication. Is communication futile, or is fiction? Is revelation muted in the world of “ones and zeros, twinned” or is the dampened horn (again, on purpose?) a stand-in for a certain kind of expression? Had Pynchon foreseen the world we live in now? Was he warning us about the eventual, inevitable, impotence (the muted horn) of mass media?

I may not be thinking so much of these horn symbols if I had not heard Billy Joel talking about the composition of “Christie Lee” last night on, of course, satellite radio.

“There’s a lot of clever stuff in there. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of that one.”

Let me tell you a story
About a woman and a man
Maybe you will find familiar
Maybe you won’t understand

The man’s name I don’t remember
He was always Joe to me
But I can’t forget the woman
She was always Christie Lee

He was working in a night club
That’s where he played the saxophone
He used to fake to stock arrangements
He left the customers alone

But one night before the last song
About a quarter after three
He saw her standing at the coat check
And made his move on Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

She was a nice piece of music
She had a rhythm all her own
He blew a solo like a blind man
She really dug his saxophone

She wanted more than just an encore
And he could play in every key
He left the stage and packed his alto
And he took it home with Christie Lee

Oh I heard the man knew “the Bird” like the bible
You know the man could blow an educated axe
He couldn’t see that Christie Lee was a woman
Who didn’t need another lover
All she wanted was the sax

It took a while for him to notice
It took a while for him to see
He was never in control here
It was always Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee

Oh the man took a calculated gamble
Yes the man had the power to perform
But Christie Lee was more than he knew how to handle
She didn’t need him as a man
All she wanted was the horn

hey say that Joe became a wino
They say he always drinks alone
They say he stumbles like a blind man
They say he sold his saxophone

Even the band must face the music
That’s what the moral is to me
The only time you hit the high note
Is when you play for Christie Lee

Christie Lee, Christie Lee
Christie Lee, Christie Lee….

I’m just old enough to have bopped around the basement to the Innocent Man LP when it was new. Another track, “Keeping the Faith,” describes the whole project. Billy Joel is not mired in the past, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love it:

 If it seems like I’ve been lost
In let’s remember
If you think I’m feeling older
And missing my younger days
Oh, then you should have known
Me much better
Cause my past is something that never
Got in my way
Oh no…

etc.

Synchronicity is a key theme in Lot. It’s also the name of a Police album whose most famous song is about obsession. We can stop there for now.

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