And So It Goes

Before I analyze the lyrics of this very worthwhile song, I thought it would be worthwhile to examine some of the context of the song in my personal life. I first became familiar with “And So It Goes” at the age of 17, when I found it was a song on Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Album Volume 3. Fairly immediately, I found the song related to my own longstanding tension between cynicism about the success of romance with an undeniable longing for love and romance that induces us to seek it anyway despite knowing we are likely to be hurt very deeply by our efforts in romantic endeavors. What was true for me as a seventeen year old is sadly just as true today, as not much in my life has changed to either decrease the cynicism or the longing that are present in my own heart.

Three times so far I have attempted to perform this song in public. The first time was at seventeen, and it was unsuccessful because the variety show for my congregation at the time was at the same time as my senior prom, and I went to my senior prom with a friend and classmate of mine instead, and enjoyed a pleasant evening. The second, and so far only successful experience of the lot, was when I lived in Los Angeles a couple of years later, where I performed the song at a talent show in my congregation there. The third time I proposed singing the song but was told that the song would be inappropriate as a love song. The song is well-suited to my range and expresses my own complicated relationship with romantic love, and so it remains the sort of song that I have on my permanent short list for karaoke or at variety shows, assuming the context is a friendly one to such obvious yearnings on my part.

That said, it is worthwhile to examine the lyrics of “And So It Goes” in detail [1], as it was written about a short relationship that Billy Joel had with supermodel Elle MacPherson before he started dating, and eventually married, Christine Brinkley [2]. The first verse of “And So It Goes” reads as follows:

In every heart there is a room, / A sanctuary safe and strong, / To heal the wounds from lover’s past / Until a new one comes along. / I spoke to you in cautious tones. / You answered me with no pretense. / And still I feel I said too much. / My silence is my self defense.”

Here we see the song open with a view of the singer in all of his vulnerability, pointing out that failed relationships tend to lead people to try to hide their feelings deep inside and let their hearts recover from the wounds of past heartbreaks until they find themselves stirred to some sense of hope by others. The singer also describes his own cautious and hesitant attempts to feel out a potential partner, his own timid romantic longings, and the honesty that he feels that he received back from his intended. And yet the singer feels he said too much because he can only defend himself by remaining silent and not exposing his feelings to ridicule and rejection. Yet some people, sadly, cannot remain silent very well, and hence find it difficult to protect their tender hearts from a cruel world.

The first chorus of the song goes as follows: “And every time I’ve held a rose / It seems I only felt the thorns. / And so it goes and so it goes, / And so will you soon, I suppose.” Here we see, as is common in some other songs [3] a waw-construction that is very Hebraic in nature, beginning sentences with “and” to carry on a thought. As Billy Joel comes from a Jewish background, it seems at least possible that he was subtly influenced by that aspect of the Hebrew language, even if unconsciously. Sometimes people come with a bad background, which leads them to have a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty when it comes to relationships, recognizing that their own experiences in the past have been very bad, and yet we are induced by our intense longings to continue trying anyway despite our failures and suffering.

The second verse of “And So It Goes” goes as follows: “But if my silence made you leave, / Then that would be my worst mistake. / So I will share this room with you / And you can have this heart to break.” Here we see Billy Joel wrestling with the other side of silence. We defend our hearts by being private about our feelings and not sharing them with others, but at the same time this silence can lead others to (falsely) conclude that we do not have any feelings at all. And so we are torn between our desires to protect our vulnerabilities by silence and our intense longing for love which leads us to open up to others, to communicate our feelings, and to risk heartbreak and rejection. We are afraid of being hurt, and yet because we wish for intimacy and happiness, we allow others into our hearts knowing that they could be unkind and hurt us. Does this realization, though, lead us to be more tender and gentle with the hearts that we have been entrusted? Surely, if Billy Joel’s heart was tender and easily broken, the same is true for everyone else’s heart too, and those who know they need to be treated with gentleness ought to be gentle to others as well, although this is not always the case.

The second chorus of the song reads: “And this is why my eyes are closed. / It’s just as well for all I’ve seen. / And so it goes and so it goes, / And you’re the only one who knows.” Here we see that having chosen to communicate his feelings to his intended, he closes his eyes, afraid to see what is going to happen next, because of all the heartbreak he has seen in his own family. In the case of Billy Joel, that includes the divorce of his parents and his own history of broken relationships. Having communicated that painful aspect of his feelings to someone else, he wonders whether he can trust the woman he cares for to be tender with his heart, tender with his feelings, and ultimately protective of his own vulnerabilities and sensitivities. Despite failure, he hopes against hope, as do so many of us.

The end of the song makes this point even more plain as it ends on a note of longing and fear: “So I would choose to be with you, / That’s if the choice were mine to make, / But you can make decisions too. / And you can have this heart to break. / And so it goes and so it goes, / And you’re the only one who knows.” The song ends beautifully, but somewhat abruptly, with the reminder that although the singer would choose to be with the woman he loves, he is aware that she can make choices too. We can choose to love others, but true love cannot be coerced, and when we love others we have to accept that they may not feel the same. They may want to be friends, but not feel the same romantic longing, or they may find one’s romantic longings to be awkward or uncomfortable or may even feel hostile about them. When we give our hearts to others, as Joel does here, we have to accept that we may have those hearts broken. And yet we love anyway, because we are compelled by our longings and desires. I, for one, can relate to the intensity of those longings, the intensity of concern and anxiety about them, as well as the desire not to try to coerce or deceive anyone else into returning those affections. And so it goes for me too.


[2] As told here: on page 168-169.

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Love & Marriage, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to And So It Goes

  1. Pingback: Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Joe Cocker | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Song Review: Color | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: On The Many Faces Of A Stranger | Edge Induced Cohesion

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