Dianella, Perth, Western Australia, 1984
I’m 15 years old, zipped into a secondhand nurse’s uniform pretending to work in a pharmacy. Well, to be fair, I actually do work there, it’s my very first part-time job, but I don’t seem to know where anything is when anyone asks or how to do anything anyone needs me to do. The shops are only open from nine to noon on Saturdays at Dianella Plaza, so that’s my shift. I get paid cash in a small brown envelope. It’s exciting to rip the top off the envelope and see all the cash inside. I have a bank book, but none of my earnings end up in the bank. Most of my salary is spent on false nails: bright painted plastic nails that occasionally accidentally snap off into my customers’ medicine bags.
I have managed to save some of my earnings, and come up with a sound investment plan. My plan does not involve stocks or bonds or higher education. It is Billy Joel, The Complete Collection, 1971-1984, for sale in the record shop next door. I don’t know much of Billy’s music, but the box set is $90. $90! I know that if it is that much now, it will be worth so much more later. Brilliant. The plan is that I will never open the box, never play the records, and sell the box set in many, many years (probably about 2018) for a fortune.
The plan lasts five minutes after I get the shiney and tempting box set home to my beige brick middle-class home in Dianella Heights. My first big purchase. I sit down on the red and orange shagpile carpet next to the bookcase with the Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopaedia and gently peel the protective plastic off. I decide that it won’t hurt to play each record – just once – record them on cassette, and then save the records in almost pristine condition for later sale and profit.
The first album I pick out of the box is Cold Spring Harbour. A moustachioed Billy Joel is on the cover in a peacoat looking pensively at… Cold Spring Harbour is my guess. He certainly looks cold, and it doesn’t look like it’s Spring. Anyway, I carefully place the needle into the groove of the first song on the album. Just one chord plays over and over on the piano at first. I am mesmerised. And then … this:
She’s got a way about her, I don’t know what it is, but I know that I can’t live without her.
These words go straight through my heart. A longing wells up inside me. A wish. A desire. A question: will anyone ever love me like that? Followed closely by: Do I have a way about me? How do you get one? What is it? Not even Billy seems to know.
She comes to me when I’m feeling down, inspires me without a sound, she touches me and I get turned around
More questions: will I ever be able to inspire someone without a sound? How is that done? With a meaningful look? A pat on the back? A hearty thumbs up? I realise I want to be not-lived-without so, so, so, so much.
From that moment, wealth creation takes second place to my new focus and eventual life’s work: to be loved like that. To have ‘a way’ about me.
Many years later, I will play that song over and over with tears streaming down my face, far from home, desperate to escape and still longing to know how it feels to be loved like that.
Today, I understand that a cruel combination of upbringing and genetics means that I am built to completely reject anyone who comes even close to feeling that way about me. Just a suggestion of my ability to inspire without a sound, and I’m off.
I also understand that Billy wrote She’s Got A Way about the first of his four wives.
And Billy Joel, The Complete Collection, 1971-1984 (slightly used) is today probably worth somewhat less than $90.
I still love the song.