What does The Stranger mean?

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Billy Joel: The Stranger Meaning


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Song Released: 1978

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The Stranger Lyrics

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Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
Show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them...


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    Jan 14th, 2018 1:38am report

    A person can give a completely different impression to the outside world than they do in the bedroom. What you think is the quiet, conservative and reserved person that reveals themselves that way to the public world, could be the one who enjoys having sex with multiple partners at one time, may be bisexual, polyamorious and/or or may have a very extensive sexual history in the bedroom, so to speak. The woman Billy Joel came home to could have had a sexual secret that she never shared with him and he was not prepared for, hence, she became, “The Stranger.” “You’ve done it”- you’ve kept secrets about your past or fantasies you’ve had. “He isn’t always evil and he’s not always wrong.”- maybe your “Stranger” enjoyed participating in group sex and/or your fantasies. He will never quench the fire- you’ll keep having your erotic desires. “Don’t give in to your desires when the stranger comes along.”- Maybe there are things that are better not shared. Maybe asking your partner to participate in an orgy because you’d be very stimulated by it, would scare them away. So don’t give into those desires when “Your Stranger” comes along.


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    Jul 19th, 2014 7:20pm report

    To me, it is very clear he is talking about sexual fetishes. "You'll give in to your desire when the stranger comes along." It's a part of ourselves that we don't even understand.


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    Jun 23rd, 2012 6:32pm report

    This lyric is one of the boldest and most honest ever written. It is about our guilty pleasures, so to speak - that thing that turns us on of which we are ashamed. To me it is clearly about sexual fetishes. Even the cover of the album has Joel sitting on a BED with the mask on the pillow. "You will never quench the fire, you'll give into your desire when the stranger comes along." You may be able to seem perfectly normal in public, but in the privacy of your own home, when the stranger surfaces, you can't resist and you succumb. "Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?"


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    Jun 1st, 2010 6:41am report

    The way I first interpreted it was that the "stranger" in the song was a love interest who was unable to see the narrator for how he truly was (a lot like the song 3 Libras by APC)- thus the love interest is a stranger to him. But reading other interpretations, it does seem that the song is about the feeling of overcoming an addiction. However, applying my initial interpretation to that interpretation actually makes for an even more interesting suggestion. After all, moving on from a drug addiction is presumably a lot like moving on from a harmful relationship with someone.

    "Shy away phantom, won't you move away, terrified child"

    To me, he is talking to his inner addicted self. This self, is a "phantom" and "child" because it isn't truly him- it's just a weaker, dependent version of himself. However, even though he despises it, moving on from this inner self is still painful for the narrator because he is still "in love" with it deep down (you can even detect the pain in Maynard's voice as he sings it).

    "As I listen for the whisper, of your sweet insanity"

    Perhaps the reason he loved this "self" is because it made his life more interesting, turbulent, and fun- thus "sweet insanity". Even though he is in the process of moving on, he is still listening for some whisper within himself to coax him back into his former ways.

    So my overall interpretation is that the song is about someone who is still overcoming the addiction, and is prone to relapse because deep down he still misses whatever he was addicted to. To me this is exactly like getting over a love interest.

    Only the genius of APC or Tool could capture such an intricate feeling in a song.


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    Dec 27th, 2009 12:49pm report

    I find this song is about the different 'faces' or personalities that everyone has. everbody has their regular face, and everyone has another face, a 'stranger' that they keep hidden from the public world. as it is said, some 'are satin' or 'silk' and are easy to pick out and expose, whilst others 'or steel' or 'are leather' and are much more well hidden and harder to break. This face is the 'secret' that 'we never tell'.

    Joel also makes a point in the line 'why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger? did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?' here he says that you shouldnt be so suprised people you care about hide a part of themselves and keep secrets from you if you've always done the same thing (basically, don't be a hypocrite). The line 'once I used to believe I was such a great romancer, then I came home to a woman that I could not recognize' shows the point of epiphany, the moment of realization when joel understood everything at last. 'once I used to believe I was such a great romancer' this part is the remembrance of another, more naive mindset. 'then I came home to a woman that I could not recognize' here he talks about when a girl he was with revealed her secrets and her hidden self, her 'stranger' (the stranger being the 'woman I could not recognize') his trying to understand what was happening ad getting upset at her for keeping her secrets is all in the 'when I pressed her for a reason she refused to weave an answer'. He doesn't LITERALLY mean that she didn't give an answer, he smiply means the answer he got, he didn't understand it, untill finally... 'it was then I felt the stranger kick me right between the eyes' BAM. and the lightbulb flickers into life.

    The 'we may never understand how the stranger is inspired' means we don't know WHY we keep part of ourselves hidden. 'but he isn't always evil and he is not always wrong' but its not always a bad thing we don't show a part of ourselves. 'though you drown in good intentions you will never quench the fire' even if you hid it for a good reason, your lovers will still be upset. 'you'll give in to your desire when the stranger comes along' you can't keep it hidden forever.


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    Apr 20th, 2008 4:36pm report

    The Stranger is a song that makes us think about how well we really know who we are or who others are. It almost questions are sanity. Theres always a person hidden within that does not reveal themselves. So you think you know someone but it turns out that you didn't know them. The strangers within everyone and if were not careful the stranger will kick us right between the eyes.

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