Why do people have to die before we name things after them? | Dave Schilling

The New York Assembly is fighting over whether ‘Billy Joel Boulevard’ would be acceptable for a stretch of Long Island highway. The crux? He’s not dead yet

As if the routine vulgarities of Donald Trump haven’t made politics depressing enough, the New York state assembly is now on its second year of debating whether or not to rename State Route 107 in Oyster Bay, Long Island, “Billy Joel Boulevard” in honor of the Piano Man himself. While fellow singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is basking in the glory of a Nobel Prize for literature, Billy Joel can’t even get the state of New York to write his name on a street sign. Someone should write a song about that.

The crux of the argument over the renaming is that Joel is not yet deceased, making the honor premature. People who get streets and roads named after them and statues erected in their likeness tend to be two things: male, as this New Yorker article points out, and dead. Billy Joel is definitely a man, as you would know if you’ve heard the song Big Shot, but unfortunately for his bid for getting a patch of asphalt named after him, he’s still ticking.

Never in my gravest nightmares did I imagine that Christie Brinkley’s ex-husband could be a wedge issue in an election involving human adults in the year 2016. This could only be dumber if the debate was over whether or not to name an abandoned subway tunnel after Rick Springfield.

“My opponent is either impotent or is simply not trying, because everyone loves Billy Joel,” Democratic assembly candidate Dean Hart said about incumbent Republican Michael Montesano in a press release issued on Thursday. Yes, he issued a press release. The world must know! Michael Montesano doesn’t care about classic rock!

“Next to Teddy Roosevelt, Long Island really doesn’t have a more famous or popular person than Billy Joel,” Hart continues. Bit of a gulf in significance there. We go from a former president of the United States to the man famous for writing Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. Excuse me, but Long Island also gave us guitarist Joe Satriani, Amy Fisher, Stuttering John Melendez from the Howard Stern Show, and former NFL quarterback Vinnie Testaverde. I’d mention Thomas Pynchon, but I’ve clearly already proved my point.

Nevertheless, hasn’t Billy Joel done enough, his supporters ask? The residents of suburban New York don’t even bother hiring a DJ for their weddings any more. They just play The Nylon Curtain on repeat and no one complains. But more importantly, shouldn’t Billy Joel get to see Billy Joel Boulevard before he departs this earth? I might not be much of a fan of his, but as a fellow human, I can sympathize with those who want to recognize him while he’s still around.

Consider the funeral. Your loved ones dress you up in expensive clothes, toss you in a box lined with silk or velvet, then eat a bunch of cheese and drink a few glasses of wine at midday. They say wonderful things about you, pray that you’ve gone to a bespoke afterlife that caters to your every whim, and, most importantly, remark on how good you look. “They did a great job cleaning Dave up,” they’ll say as they gawp at my eerily beatific, rotting corpse.

I don’t get to see any of that – I’m dead! No wine, no cheese, no silk prison box, and no fancy suit. All the best parts of being dead are lost on the corpse. Why deny Billy Joel the right to see his name slapped on a green road sign before he travels “uptown” for real.

These sorts of honors really only serve one purpose, and that’s to lend the honoree a semblance of immortality. Your body might quit working, but there will always be that road for kids to ask their exasperated parents, “who’s Billy Joel?” The more roads, bridges, burn units, sports arenas, museums and vape shops with our names on them, the greater chance we have of not fading into obscurity. At least, that’s the theory. Nevermind that Billy Joel is already the guy who sang Only the Good Die Young (that’s a bit of a laugh now, eh?).

Granted, you’ll still very much not alive, no matter how many places someone has scribbled your name. Also, State Route 107 might be ripped up and replaced with a tube system for self-driving cars in the next 50 years. For now, at least, Billy Joel should be able to drive over a stretch of road bearing his name. It’s as close as any of us get to enjoying our inevitable demise.

Actually, a Nobel Prize would be nice too.


Dave Schilling

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
What's the secret of this photograph? | Kevin Moloney
Images like ‘VJ Day Times Square’, one of whose stars has died, are about more than a particular time and place. Their power comes from collective recognition

Kevin Moloney

13, Sep, 2016 @8:23 PM

Article image
Imagine if you could delete bad memories. Well, you can | Ed Cooke
A new study shows that it’s possible to deliberately forget things. It turns out that’s a surprisingly useful life skill

Ed Cooke

09, May, 2016 @6:54 PM

Article image
Five things people should stop saying about Bernie Sanders | Trevor Timm
Establishment Democrats want him to stop criticizing Clinton, they want him to lay off the party, they want him to drop out. Here’s why they’re utterly wrong

Trevor Timm

19, May, 2016 @1:06 PM

Article image
How Barack Obama can avoid having to remember George Osborne's name | Michael Moran
Michael Moran: So Bart, you got George Osborne mixed up with a soft soul crooning knitwear model. I get this problem – let me help

Michael Moran

20, Jun, 2013 @12:10 PM

Article image
Do black people have second amendment rights? | Zach Stafford
The answer should be ‘of course they do,’ but two police shooting deaths this week of black men carrying guns suggest the standard isn’t universally applied

Zach Stafford

07, Jul, 2016 @6:36 PM

Article image
People who film police violence are citizen journalists. We stand with them | Trevor Timm
The harassment of men and women who record violent incidents involving police is an appalling abuse of first amendment rights

Trevor Timm

10, Aug, 2016 @5:52 PM

Article image
People learn more after a siesta, say scientists

Psychologists say sleep clears the brain's short term memory and makes space for new facts to be remembered

Ian Sample

22, Feb, 2010 @11:54 AM

Article image
Social distancing? Working-class people don't have that luxury | Francine Prose
While the rich work from home, others are packed on subways or losing their jobs. This pandemic calls for a reckoning

Francine Prose

01, Apr, 2020 @10:20 AM

Article image
The 2009 financial crisis taught us hard lessons. Have Democrats learned them? | David Sirota and Alex Gibney
The political meltdown of a decade ago crushed faith in hope and change, and led to Maga and mayhem

David Sirota and Alex Gibney

28, Oct, 2021 @10:37 AM

Article image
Lots of things in life are sexist – but the phrase ‘nepo baby’ isn’t one of them | Arwa Mahdawi
Lily-Rose Depp said she hears the term mentioned ‘a lot more about women’ – but plenty of celebrity men are nepo babies too

Arwa Mahdawi

26, Nov, 2022 @2:00 PM