Sleep Song #5: “Sleeping With the Television On” by Billy Joel

Recently I wrote about my early love for Billy Joel’s music:

The year after my mom bought me his great album 52nd Street in 1979, Joel’s Glass Houses was released, and I managed to get my grubby musical little hands on that album as well, and as I had done with its predecessor, I played it over and over in our basement until everybody in the house was bloomin’ sick of it.

The second song on the the second side of the LP is a happy 3-minute track called “Sleeping With the Television On.”  Here it is, for your listening pleasure.

It occurs to me as I write this that younger readers may be genuinely puzzled by the prelude to the song:  years ago, before “24-hour news cycles” and hundreds of channels to choose from, network television stations “signed off” late at night, following the national anthem, and the viewer would then see snow or some focus pattern until the next morning, when the station would resume its programming.

Anyhow, though this song actually has little to do with sleep, I am nonetheless using it as an opportunity to bring up one point:  many people do sleep with the television on, specifically because of their insomnia.

When you’re tossing and turning in bed for hours at a time, frustration inevitably develops, paradoxically making you feel more stimulated and awake.  This problem is compounded by a natural tendency to try to fall asleep, which rarely works, because you can’t force a biological function to occur just because you want it to, so the more you try to sleep, the more frustrated you get, and the worse the insomnia becomes.

At some point this can drive you completely nuts, and finally you arise from bed in disgust and go to the living room.  You turn on the TV and you lay down on the couch.  You’re now asleep instantly.

Why is that?  Because you’re no longer trying to sleep.  The TV also serves to distract you from the frustration, allowing your body’s natural impulses to become drowsy and fall asleep to take over unimpeded.

Sometimes this phenomenon leads people to believe that they need the TV to sleep, and that they are unable to sleep without it.  Trust me when I say that your body and brain do not biologically require a television set in front of you to generate sleep.  It can feel like they do, however, because, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, we humans are creatures of habit.  We’re simply used to what we’re used to, and so over time sleeping without the television on after spending years sleeping in front of the TV seems foreign and abnormal.  To me, it’s reasonable to expect that if you managed to learn how to sleep well with the television on, you can learn how to sleep well without it as well.

Below you will see Joel’s lyrics for this great song.  Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Sleeping With the Television On

(written by Billy Joel)

I’ve been watching you waltz all night Diane
Nobody’s found a way behind your defenses
They never notice the zap gun in your hand
Until you’re pointing it and stunning their senses
All night long, all night long
You’ll shoot ’em down because you’re waiting for somebody good to come on
But you’ll be sleeping with the television on
You say you’re looking for someone solid here
You can’t be bothered with those “just for the night” boys
Tonight unless you take some kind of chances dear
Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up with the white noise
All night long, all night long
You’re only standing there ’cause somebody once did somebody wrong
But you’ll be sleeping with the television on
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But your attitude is “don’t waste my time”
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But you won’t hear a word ’cause it just might be the same old line
This isn’t easy for me to say Diane
I know you don’t need anybody’s protection
I really wish I was less of a thinking man
And more a fool who’s not afraid of rejection
All night long, all night long
I’ll just be standing here ’cause I know I don’t have the guts to come on
And I’ll be sleeping with the television on
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But my attitude is “boy, don’t waste your time”
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But I won’t say a word ’cause it just might be somebody else’s same old line
All night long, all night long
We’ll just be standing here ’cause somebody might do somebody wrong
And we’ll be sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Oh, sleeping with the television on

What a Young Billy Joel Fan Can Teach Us

I was the tender age of 12 when Billy Joel released his groundbreaking album, 52nd Street, in 1978. His songs were all over the radio, and I fell in love with them. When his tour stopover in Wichita, Kansas was announced, I begged my parents to go. After some inter-parental discussion and to my great disappointment, it was determined that I was too young to attend the show. As consolation, Mom took me to Musicland in Towne East Square and picked up the 52nd Street LP for me to take home and enjoy. And boy did I enjoy it. I played both sides over and over, memorizing every word. “Zanzibar” remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Imagine my surprise and delight when, upon finally seeing a live Billy Joel concert several years ago here in Seattle, he performed that obscure but wonderful piece from 52nd Street; it felt like he played it just for me.

(In the unlikely event that you’re interested, I eventually wore my parents down, and my very first rock concert ended up being Kiss in 1979, a year after 52nd Street was released.)

I am but one of many millions who have loved Billy Joel’s songs over the years. Recently, during a Q and A with Joel at Vanderbilt University, a freshman named Michael Pollack stood up and asked if he would be willing to be accompanied by him on piano on “New York State of Mind,” his favorite song. Joel granted him his wish, much to everyone’s delight, and the musical result was . . . well . . . incredible. Inspiring. Please click on the video above to witness the performance.

There’s a lesson or two to be learned from this brief event, one which I’m sure Michael will never forget. This world is getting smaller, but the number of people inhabiting it is getting bigger. How are today’s young people to survive and succeed with so much competition surrounding them? It’s no longer sufficient to be good at what you do. You have to have guts now. Billy Joel, in his typical east coast nonchalance, said of Michael, “guy’s got chops!” No disagreement there; he killed it on the piano, as you can see. But another quality Michael possesses is just as crucial, if not more so: guy’s got cajónes too. Big ones.

The favor Michael asked of Joel was asked for honestly and audaciously. No one outside his friends, family, and teachers would know who Michael is today if it weren’t for that moment of boldness and risk. It paid off.

We are at a societal turning point here in the United States. Health care is in a major crisis. Regulations, ever-declining reimbursements, minimal autonomy, increasing overhead and malpractice premium costs, mounting paperwork and administrative hassles: it’s becoming more and more difficult for doctors to find success and happiness in their work. This isn’t a whine or a call for sympathy; it’s just factual. My concern is, in a time in which doctors are retiring early or just plain quitting, who of our young citizens will choose medicine as a career in the future? Why should they go through the hassle and put in all that money, time and effort for so little in return?

I’ve been asked recently by high school and college students if I would recommend medicine as a career. My answer was that it really depended on who they are, based on honest self-assessment. There’s a definite analogy I see between the qualities of a successful and happy future doctor and those of Michael Pollack, the Vanderbilt freshman pianist:

1. You have to have passion. You have to really want it, and for the right reasons.

2. You have to be good.

3. You have to have the audacity to work aggressively to get what you need or want, because in today’s way of the world it’s no longer given to you or made easy.

Seems to me that a young man or woman possessing these three elements should be able to weather the current health care storm and carve out a satisfying, fulfilling career in medicine. If any of the three are missing, however, the happiness factor will plummet, I can promise you. A missing link or two may be why there is so much unhappiness and dissatisfaction among doctors right now.

I want people to go into medicine in part, admittedly, for selfish reasons. I want a quality physician to be willing to care for me when I am old. Doesn’t everybody?

So to those kids and teens considering becoming a doctor: do it if you really want it. If you really want it, and if you know it, and if you know what you’re getting into, then go for it. And go for it hard. Not obnoxiously or unethically, but boldly. It takes audacity now to make it in this world. If you ever want a reminder of what that quality looks and sounds like, click on the video again.

Have a great weekend, everyone!