Captain Jack Will Get You High

Upon first listen to Billy Joel’s classic “Captain Jack,” you may think the song is glorifying drug-use (if you’re not paying attention to the verses).

So you play your albums, and you smoke your pot

You meet your girlfriend, in the parking lot

Oh, but still you’re aching for the things you haven’t got

What went wrong?

Great and classic songs have many meanings to many people; I’m not saying (part of) “Captain Jack” doesn’t sound like an incitation to roll one up. Rudy Giuliani certainly tried to use it against Hillary Clinton during the 2000 New York Senator’s race, after someone accidentally played the song, instead of “New York State of Mind,” at the rally where Clinton announced her candidacy.

In the book The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz, the writer of the song explains it.

“‘Captain Jack’ was a ‘look-out-the-window’ song,” Billy noted. “I wanted to smack people in the face and say, ‘Whatever you have to do to escape your own life by chemical means is useless‘.”

Billy had been down the drug road before. He also knew people who continued to travel it, like [Bruce] Gentile. He saw what the drugs could do to people.

The song also painted as bleak a portrait of growing up in the affluent suburbs as anything before LA Punk hit nearly a decade later. “It’s about coming out of the New York suburbs,” Billy said, “but in my travels I have seen a lot of the same suburb all over the country. The song is sort of brutal, but sometimes it is good to be brutal and offend people – it keeps them on their toes.”

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