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Expand the Narrative: Piano Man by Billy Joel

Updated: Jan 4, 2022


Expanding the Narrative is a short story creating the background of a song. This story explains the background of Piano Man by Billy Joel

Billy has been playing at the Misty Leaf Pub for the last five years and has gotten to know all of the regulars by name. Usually, Billy wakes up at 10:00 am, practices piano for a few hours, and composes music for the rest of the day. Most people know Billy as the Piano Man but no one ever notices his true talent, writing music. And because no one notices, he’s too humble to bring it up. He’s perfectly content playing the piano at a bar every night, at least then his talent and effort are acknowledged. Except for today, when he was walking into the bar Billy had a bit of a realization. He walked in and hung his coat as usual and noticed a young man sitting at a table writing furiously into a notebook. Billy didn’t know what he was writing, or what it was about but this image caused a memory to resurface. The day he got the job at the Pub, he had been 26 and writing at the pub table. He liked to write at the pub because the energy of the building let him loosen up and just write. He had been writing for a few hours when a bartender named John approached him and asked if he played an instrument. Billy had answered with, “Yes, I play the piano.”

John took one look at the music Billy was writing and said, “You’re hired,” and walked away. Billy hadn’t been looking for a job that day, but it fell into his lap and he had to take it. For the next few years, he pushed his dreams aside and focused on a job that would get him nowhere. Like I stated earlier, Billy was perfectly content with this life but seeing this young man writing made Billy realize. Realize that unless he did something, he’d be working this pub for the rest of his life doing nothing but play the same songs over and over until he died.

Billy walked to the bar and looked around at the regulars. All the people he called friends, actually just sad souls unhappy with their life attempting a temporary escape at their tables. He hears John say “This is killing me,” and instead of laughing as he always has, Billy actually hears him for the first time. He looks at Paul and Davy, both slowly wasting away their lives in their monotonous jobs and yet they fake a smile and down another beer.

The manager approaches Billy and smiles at him before walking away. He knows everyone in the pub came to see him play. The old man at the bar smiles at him and says “Play me a memory.” Billy doesn’t know what that means but for the first time he feels hopeless and resilient at the same time. He goes onto the stage and begins to pull out his normal songs to play. But before he starts he pauses. Everyone is looking at him expectantly waiting for him to begin but instead, Billy puts his music away and pulls out the piece he had finished that morning. He takes a deep breath and begins to play.

Every note comes out exactly how he planned, his fingers slide over the keys as his voice sings out the words he had brought together. The song takes flight and he feels like he’s floating. There’s no more pub, no more John, no more Davey, or Paul, there’s no more worry, no more pain, just him and the music. The song winds down and he plays the last note and opens his eyes. Everyone is staring at him, it’s so silent all you can hear is the howling of the wind against the old pub walls. Slowly people begin to clap. The clapping turns into hollering and the hollering turns into a standing ovation of everyone from all walks of life are participating. Billy bows and leaves the stage and the old man from before approaches him. He pats him on the shoulder, “Thanks for the memory” and walks away.

Billy leaves the pub and walks home, he was invited to drink with the manager but politely declined. He needed to be alone, and figure out what he was feeling. Everything felt wrong and yet what felt wrong seemed right. He walked the rest of the way home with the old man’s words in his head. Thanks for the memory.

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