Monday, January 24, 2005

Turn the Music On

Good news from my old home town (or at least region): Charlie Lang, an old friend of mine from high school, has released his first CD, “Turn the Music On.”

Charlie is one of the most gifted musicians I know and also an excellent singer-songwriter. Most important of all, he is a mensch. He has endured tremendous adversity in his life and triumphed. (Here’s a link to a book about Charlie and his experiences. It is not easy reading, but it is worthwhile.)

Back in high school, Charlie and I had one thing in common: we were both very fond of the music of Billy Joel. But while I contented myself with learning the lyrics and figuring out harmonies to them (where appropriate), Charlie learned every single song Billy Joel had released until that time and played each one—from memory—perfectly and with maturity and soul beyond his years.

In his description of his just-released CD, Charlie mentions his rendition of Billy Joel’s song “Prelude/Angry Young Man.” Even though that performance took place approximately twenty-five years ago, I remember it so well that I could even tell you where I sat, and it is the example I use when I tell my friends about the incredibly gifted musician-songwriter I knew in high school.

One image from Charlie’s performance of Billy Joel’s “Prelude/Angry Young Man” stays with me to this day. Actually it is something I couldn’t see: his wrists.

Billy Joel’s strong background in classical piano is evident in the “Prelude” segment of the song, which begins with an extremely quick and demanding staccato on middle C performed with both hands. A pianist needs incredibly supple wrists to pull it off, and Charlie did it perfectly. As he performed that difficult staccato his wrists blurred in the stage lighting to the point where they became almost completely invisible.

But Charlie’s abilities don’t stop there. He’s been writing songs since he was a kid. Recently he sent me a digital copy of the recording he made at A&R Studios in New York City, backed up by a local band, when he was about seventeen years old. The song, called “Cruisin’,” is his take on high-school life. (I hope he won’t be too embarrassed to read that this recording is one of my most cherished possessions.) And his songs have only gotten better since then.

In a delightful twist, one of the musicians who plays on Charlie’s CD is none other than Richie Cannata, who used to perform and record with Billy Joel and performs the saxophone solos on “Only the Good Die Young” and “New York State of Mind,” to name just a few.

I hope that the release of “Turn the Music On” will be a wonderful beginning and a step on the way to further success for my old friend. Congratulations, Charlie.

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