It’s hard to find time to talk at the club since I’m busy managing the place and you’re at the piano. And we need to talk. I’ve occasionally given you a nervous smile hoping it would initiate a conversation, but that hasn’t worked out. I’m hoping that by writing my thoughts down, you’ll have a chance to read this when you’re at home or something.
I think you should sing songs. Actual songs. Because you don’t sing any at all right now. You’ve been playing at my club for three months, and though you’re a fine musician and an acceptable vocalist, these things you perform are just not songs in the traditional sense. They’re streams of observations about what the people in the club are doing, punctuated by the occasional “la la la, de de da da” when it’s clear you’ve run out of things to say. It’s just a continuous stream of musical small talk lasting up to five hours. How about “Stormy Weather” or “Yesterday” or something? Hell, “Feelings.” Anything. Do you need sheet music? I have some at home.
Frankly, this has been bothering me since you started, but I figured since we get a regular crowd shuffling in on Saturdays when you play, why rock the boat? But this past Saturday I couldn’t help notice that there was a lot of tension in the room. As you know, it was actually a pretty good crowd that night, customers who wanted to forget about life for a while by having some drinks and hearing some music. John the bartender provided the booze, so they looked to you for the songs. But instead they just heard their own sad lives echoed back to them. That nice old man wanted to hear something from his childhood but couldn’t remember the tune all the way. It would have been great if you had at least guessed at one before loudly rephrasing his confusion in rhyming verse before firing off more “la la la, de de da da” lines. That old man—a regular customer, by the way—was so humiliated that he ended up performing a sexual act on his cocktail. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that. You put that in the song, too. You had to be a big shot, didn’t you?
Billy, that kind of thing is why people kept yelling at you all night. “Sing us a song, piano man! Sing us a song tonight!” they shouted. But instead of doing so, you simply shouted their words back to them and added a line about how you were making them feel all right. Which you weren’t. You were making them mad. People aren’t just in the mood for a melody, they’re in the mood for a legitimate composition.
They were annoyed, too, because the observations were cruel. Davy often discusses his plans for when he gets out of the Navy (it’s a steady paycheck but the rhyming-name thing annoys the hell out of him), but to hear you speculate that he would be there for life was a crushing blow. Again, why the public humiliation? And our businessmen were irate about your description of them getting “stoned.” Do you not know the difference between drunk and stoned? Hint: One is acceptable businessman behavior, the other’s illegal. But even if you were to say they were getting drunk, that still would not be OK. As a matter of fact, just don’t sing about the businessmen. They’re nice guys and good tippers. I guess I do owe you some thanks, however, for singing about the drink called Loneliness. That’s a terrible name for a drink. I’m renaming it Banana Mambo. More festive.
As to our waitress’s efforts to get a graduate degree in political science or Paul’s attempt at pioneering the literary genre of real-estate fiction, Jesus, Billy, leave them alone.
Looking back on that Saturday night, I’m actually surprised that with all your observational nonsong music, you didn’t notice the acrimony you were creating. The smile faded from John the bartender’s face, yes, but he wasn’t giving you free drinks, he was throwing empty beer bottles at you. He wasn’t playing jokes or lighting your smokes, either, he was literally trying to set you on fire. The only thing you got right was having him say, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.” It was killing all of us. But still you would not sing songs. I got so desperate I poured a beer on your microphone and shoved huge wads of bread in your tip jar, thinking it would get your attention. “Man, what are you doing here?!” I shouted. But instead of stopping, you just sang it all back to me. I mean, I’m sorry I lost my cool and all, but Jesus, what is your problem, Billy?
So for next week: Please sing some actual songs. That’s what you were hired to do. You’re the fucking piano man.