Many of you know me as an unapologetic Billy Joel superfan. Thank you for your tolerance. It is now a data-driven fact that this problem is not only incurable but congenital. My poor children - who did nothing to deserve this - now know all the phases of Brenda and Eddie’s dissolving marriage, the impact of globalization on the Downeaster Alexa, etc. My kids are stuck with Billy for life now. He may even punch through to their kids, and infect a whole new generation. Your thoughts and prayers are welcome.
I, however, did not inherit my taste for Billy Joel from my parents. I actually remember quite clearly the very first time I heard Piano Man, because it was deliberately played for me. I was eight, sitting in my friend’s living room. He went over to his parents’ stack of records and took the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the record player, specifically for my ears. You’re going to like this. The music I now know and love best in this world was essentially given to me as a gift by an eight-year-old kid. His name was Eric Most.
Eric and I went to elementary school together, the Greenacres School in Scarsdale, New York. Eric was an infectiously sunny kid, one of those ultra-rare people whose utter lack of cynicism doesn’t really become apparent until you grow up and stack him up alongside everyone else you’ve ever known. (His optimism may have been in his genes - his dad, Bernard, was an accomplished children’s book author.)
Eric carried his dad’s childlike optimism with him always, like a candle in a lamp. It’s hard for me to remember a moment that Eric wasn’t smiling.
Eric died last week. He had cancer, bad. He was down to 80-some pounds at one point. A fundraiser photo of emaciated Eric made the rounds a few years ago, and it was one of the most gut-punchingly sickening images I’ve ever seen. Eric battled back from that low point, and for a couple of years, news of his health went quiet. In a good way. Subconsciously, I think that those of us who knew him, but weren’t regularly in touch with him, optimistically placed his status into a new folder. Maybe he’ll be OK.
Instead, he died, leaving his wife and children behind, with the rest of us.
The darkness of cancer extinguishing such a positive spirit is almost unconfrontably bleak. And yet, here I am, carrying Eric’s gift with me, not only in my bloodstream, but in my childrens’ lives and futures, woven like a stubborn thread into the my-God-are-we-blessed ebb and flow of our lives. Our iTunes shuffle spins Billy all the time now. Summer, Highland Falls, All For Leyna. My son Owen loved Uptown Girl until he got a little older and turned on her for being too saccharine. I even bust out the drunken guitar and bang out The Downeaster Alexa for my caterwauling friends.
And so on shines Eric Most: the unsnuffable candle in a lamp.
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