When I was a teenager, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley at the Montauk Yacht Club in Montauk, Long Island, New York. It was a chance meeting, being in the right place at the right time. Montauk had always had special meaning for me as I spent much of my youth there, sailing and washing and waxing yachts. My parents were sailors and started keeping their boat there in 1972. There are so many memories of my years in Montauk, too many to count. I was on the dock at the Captain’s Marina when President Nixon resigned in shame. One man on his boat had a tv that was able to pick up the local news channel.
I always loved sharks and I would wait for Captain Frank Mundus, (the shark hunter that Quint from Jaws was patterned after) to return with a Tiger, Hammerhead, Blue, or Great White shark and marvel at their beauty but awed by these primitive, frightening sea predators. I knew many of the local fisherman because I often hung out with them in divey bars, that I look back on with great fondness. Even though I wasn’t one of them, they accepted me as they knew how much I loved to fish, and I basically kept my mouth shut. Many of the fisherman were missing fingers, the result of a tough existence in commercial fishing. The stories they told of their adventures at sea, fascinated me and I could listen for hours on end, without uttering a word. I suppose my love of fishing started with my parents when they would take me, my brother and sister to streams and we would stand in hip boots as my parents fly fished. My interest peaked after reading The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick.
One night when I was barely old enough to drink, I was sitting at the bar at the Montauk Yacht club, sipping a seven & seven, my drink of choice at the time. I had a crush on the bar tender who was to me, the perfect woman, even though I knew nothing about her. When you’re a teenage boy, you have the idea of perfect in your head. For me it was a combination of Elizabeth Montgomery, Barabara Eden, Marlo Thomas and Farah Faucett all wrapped up in one. She was the perfect blend of beauty, personality and sense of humor. Looking back, I appreciate how well she treated me, even though I was just a stupid teenager, hoping that somehow, she could be my date that Saturday night.
As I’m sitting at the bar, I hear several people whispering. It sounded much louder than it probably was because there were only a handful of us, the bar having cleared out early. Sailors often turn in early, exhausted from all the boat work and the early departures due to tides. There was a restaurant with a piano in the center. Every weekend a talented musician would entertain the diners, for what seemed like hours, without a break. He reminded me of Dooley Wilson, and would play As Time Goes By, (made famous in the movie Casablanca with Humprey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman), during every set. People would come just to hear him play that song.
As I turned around to see what the few people left in the bar were whispering about, in walked Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. They weren’t yet married and looked so incredibly happy. Christie is still the most beautiful woman I have ever met personally, matched only by her sweetness. Even so, my bartender still owned my heart. Christie introduced herself and I basically couldn’t respond. My mouth froze in place. She grinned as I believe she understood that I was overwhelmed by her. Billy sat down and played several of his hits, which at the time were contemporary to the day, certainly not yet classics. Although he did play Piano Man which was already rock-&-roll greatness. As he played, mere feet from where I was sitting, I remember thinking two things. First, this would probably be a memory that stands out as a highlight of my life. Second, I was watching someone who could be defined as having achieved greatness. Not in his personal life per se, as he would battle alcohol and failed marriages. He was and is just a human being. But as an artist and musician, he defined Greatness, Brilliance!
As I listened to him play songs, a few that I didn’t yet recognize, but would soon be released, I was in awe. I’m sure he played Uptown Girl even though it was August, and it wasn’t released until September of 1983. Uptown Girl is obviously about Christie and the music video is a classic. He also played All for Leyna and my all-time favorite Vienna. Of course, in those days, there were no cell phones with cameras, so no keepsakes of the night. By the time Billy ended his set, we were all just mellow and high from the booze, and great music. I’ve never been a person who’s impressed by people. I’ve never met someone who I thought was so incredibly talented or brilliant that I would have been impressed. Billy impressed me, as I was a piano player as well and his technique was flawless. The number of incredible songs he had already written, was simply astonishing. We hung out a while longer and then they left. I stumbled back to my boat, recognizing, even in my haze, that it was a night I would remember always. Fifty years later, I can confirm that I was absolutely right.