There is a saying in the basketball world: “How you play is who you are.” This adage has been uttered in musical circles, as well.
While putting together some lunch on yet another snow day this week, the song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by Billy Joel began to play in my house. As a longtime fan, I have always loved this song. But the other night, I watched an incredibly powerful music documentary released last year entitled, “Hired Gun.” This film, by way of interviews, old footage, and music, tells the story of the behind-the-scenes, unknown heroes of many of our favorite songs over the past several decades.
Being a musician, I know the music industry can be shady. But to hear the stories of such greats as Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s drummer for 30 years, broke my heart. By means of news stories and interviews with two members from Billy Joel’s old band (Liberty DeVitto and Russell Javors, ever heard of them? Me neither.), the movie chronicles the untold story of Billy Joel’s success; and how Billy, after many years touring and recording with his band, decided to suddenly fire his guitarist Javors and his bassist, Doug Stegmeyer for no reason, no warning, and no explanation. Eventually, DeVitto was fired too- after 30 years of loyal contribution. The devastation caused by these firings, incidentally, is believed to have been a key factor in Stegmeyer’s tragic suicide in 1995.
Other stories were exposed in the movie, too. Stories of songs and stars and unsung musical monsters (for those of you unfamiliar, ‘monster’ is a good thing in music). When the movie ended, I closed my laptop and reflected. I thought about these super famous songs, by Billy Joel and others, that feature the playing of these incredible musicians, these “hired guns.” And yet, none of us know who any of them are.
Here’s a quick screenshot of the “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” credits from Wikipedia:
Where are the back line guys? Sadly, this information that is shared with listeners and fans is typical. It strikes me as odd that “Format: 7″” takes a place in the credits here, and yet there is no listing of the people (besides Billy Joel) who brought this music to life for generations of listeners. That takes some searching.
I know as educators, we sometimes feel like the hired guns must have felt and still feel. Behind the scenes, we work everyday to make a difference. To help our students be great. To help them believe in themselves and succeed. Just like those amazing guitarists, bassists, drummers, and keyboardists worked to make those stars who they became.
I think about that phrase: “How you play is who you are.” Not sure it applies in every sense of those words.