Questions Raised By Billy Joel's "Piano Man"


What is Billy Joel pointing at?
  • What is Billy Joel pointing at?
Billy Joel is making a rare Memphis appearance next week. And, as Memphis prepares for the wave of Billymania sure to sweep through the ranks of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who are really into him, we take time to reflect on Joel’s signature song, Piano Man. The iconic tune is filled with enigmas and mysteries. And perhaps riddles. The point is, we have the questions. Perhaps you have the answers.

1. How does one make love to a tonic and gin? Or any other beverage?

2. Who has ever used the phrase “I knew it complete.”

3. When the old man says he knew the song when he wore a younger man’s clothes, does he simply mean he knew it when he was younger, or did he murder some guy, steal his clothes, and sing a sad and sweet song? Why does the old man talk in this affected manner?

4.Is John a good bartender? He doles out free drinks, which can’t be good for business, right?

5. Is John a good actor? Could he, indeed, be a movie star? Has he tried acting? Or does he just think that, on the strength of his ability to quickly light cigarettes and tell jokes he could be a movie star? Even if he can’t get out of that place (for whatever reason, perhaps this is an indictment of the nation’s refusal to adopt a country-wide rail system), he could try acting at some level, don’t you think? Maybe take a class.

6. What kind of politics is the waitress practicing? Is she Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or perhaps Tea Party? Should she be getting political in a bar? It seems a dangerous tactic as she shouldn’t want to offend a potential tipper.

7. Why are the businessmen getting stoned in the bar? Drunk, sure. But stoned? This seems legally ill advised, unless the bar is in Amsterdam. Or Colorado.

Who is sharing a drink called loneliness. Is it just the businessmen? Or is the waitress also somehow involved? Is that wise? And is it actually better than drinking alone? Depends on the other businessmen, I suppose.

9. What the hell is a real estate novelist? Does real estate novelling actually eat up so much time that you can’t find a wife? I think Paul just didn’t really want one and uses that as an excuse.

10. Which would explain why he’s talking to Davy, who conveniently for rhyming purposes, is in the Navy.

11. I understand why the microphone smells like a beer. As we’ve established, John gives Bill free beers, so it’s no wonder that the mic smells of free beer. But how does a piano sound like a carnival? Is he just playing that clown song over and over again? You know the one. They always play it at circuses. If that’s the case, I do not understand why the bar retains Bill. Unless it is a clown bar. Which would be awesome, but unlikely, as real estate novelists hate clowns.

12. Is it appropriate to tip musicians with bread? Maybe it is in a clown bar.

13. When the crowd asks Bill “Man, what are you doing here?” is it because he keeps playing that carnival song, and is not actually hired by the bar? If so, John really shouldn’t give him free drinks.

Joey Hack is a member of the Wiseguys Improv troupe and a kind of regular contributor to Fly on the Wall.

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