What If The “Piano Man” Was An Unreliable Narrator?

From where does John Moe unearth these revelatory letters? We enjoyed “Beth”‘s nagging epistle to Peter Criss, but this one is even closer to our hearts: Moe’s latest Pop Song Correspondence is titled A Note Placed In The Pay Envelope Of Billy “The Piano Man” Joel and it’s sent us for a Jamesian Turn Of The Screw.

Hi, Billy,

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.

Read the rest at McSweeney’s. John Moe, we love you.