Keeping The Faith

Gather ’round, kids. I’m gonna talk about the Old Times.

I’ve recently caught up with old episodes of the Stuck In The 80s podcast (which is very good, by the way, if you’re at all interested in pop culture of the 1980s). Anyhow, when I got caught up, I decided to make a huge mix of about 1,000 80s songs on my ipod since I’d recently finished my grand A-Z listen and was feeling like my music listening was missing a theme.

I was listening to that playlist the other day when Billy Joel’s 1983 song “Keeping The Faith” came on. I’d heard it a lot and like it, although there’s one part that I never really understood well. About halfway through he talks about the outfit he used to wear when he went out in his wild youth, saying:

We wore old matador boots
Only Flagg Brothers had them with a Cuban heel
Iridescent socks with the same color shirt
And a tight pair of chinos
I put on my shark skin jacket
You know the kind with the velvet collar
And ditty-bop shades
Oh yeah
I took a fresh pack of Luckies
And a mint called Sen-Sen
My old man’s Trojans
And his Old Spice after shave

Now, it may be because he’s describing clothing from a few decades before I was born, but I really had no idea what basically any of his clothing items were. I understood all the accessories: cigarettes, mints, condoms (although based on his description of his outfit, I’d say that the condoms were pure wishful thinking on his part), and after shave.

But what are matador boots, and why did only the Flagg Brothers have them? What is a Cuban heel–a dumbass from Cuba? I’m pretty sure of what “iridescent” means, but I’m also pretty sure I’d never use that word to describe socks, let alone a matching sock-shirt combo. And OK, I know what chinos are (and in English…here in Costa Rica, it’s a lazy and probably racist way to refer to anyone from Asia or who looks remotely Asian), but imagining Billy Joel in tight chinos makes me a bit nauseous. Then we’ve got a shark skin jacket (huh?) with a velvet collar. Sharks and velvet are two other concepts I’d not combine in a word association game. Finally, I assume ditty bop shades are something like the sunglasses Tom Cruise wore in Risky Business, but it’s hard to imagine anyone wearing those types of glasses without accompanying them with a huge, shit-eating grin.

All in all, the lyrics painted a picture in my mind of a young Billy Joel who looked like a cross between Nick Cage in Wild At Heart (Exhibit A) and Jesus from The Big Lebowski (Exhibit B).


Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Basically, a New York Harassment Monster with puffy hair. Still perplexed, I decided to see if there was a video for the song. Wow, was I in for a treat!

That’s easily the most 80s thing I’ve seen all day, and I just finished watching the pilot of The Americans. In addition to Joe Piscipo and Christie Brinkley–both totally 80s–the video is basically a shotgun blast of 80s fashion to my face, despite the fact that it’s ostensibly a song about music from the 50s and 60s. I do think he was kinda wearing some of the crap he was singing about in the song at various points in the video, but like I said before, I can’t imagine he’d be needing those condoms wearing that getup. But then again, the women’s fashions from that time were also pretty appalling. All in all, it’s the kind of clothing where, when leaving your house, your father stops you and says, “And what do you think you’re wearing, young lady/man?” But in this case, it’s not to suggest that your clothes are too revealing, it’s because he’s asking out of genuine curiosity, mixed with a bit of horror.

Anyhow, I’m probably being too hard on Joel for a song that was written over 30 years ago, especially considering that I like the song a lot. My favorite line is, of course, “‘Cause the good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” It’s simple wisdom, but simple wisdom still counts.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to listen to some Nirvana and reminisce about my outfit when I used to go out in the late 90s: faded baggy blue jeans, my No Tread Four-Holes Asics running shoes, a T-shirt with a large flannel shirt over it, and a middle-parted hairstyle somehow reminiscent, 20 years in advance, of Kim Jong-Un’s hairdo. Now that was keeping the faith.

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5 thoughts on “Keeping The Faith

  1. Billy Joel grew up near Levittown NY and was referring to the Flag Brothers shoe store on Hempstead Turnpike near the Mays shopping strip mall that is now a flea market.

    Matadors boots were a zip boot slightly higher than the ankle. They were always black and had very pointy toes with a raised “Cuban” heel that was similar to a low cowboy boot in height. They had a zipper on the arch side I F the boot that was verticals. They were mostly worn by “ hood” types. One has to remember that this style was shortly after the Cuban revolution and mass emigration of Cuban refugees into the United States. They faded out after the Cuban misleads crisis of 1962. Iridescent shirts and pants were also in fashion then as were sports jackets with black velvet collars…irrespective of the material that was used in the rest of the jacket

    • Hello Sandy,

      Thanks for those points! It helped me understand the song better.

      Have a good one,

  2. I love that they were his dad’s Trojans. Also, this bit made me nostaglic for my middle parted hair cut in the 90’s.

      • Hi Richard! Thanks for your comments–sorry I didn’t see them until now. 🙁

        It also makes me nostalgic for when I had hair, haha.

        Thanks again, and you keep the faith, too!

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