By Cindy Phillips posted Feb 7, 2013
I have never denied the fact that Billy Joel is my all-time favorite entertainer. I admit my relationship with him has been on the outs for the past, well, I guess it has been more than a decade. He lost me during his “I want to write classical music” phase which, I believe, was his period of bad-drug flashbacks. And to this day, I cannot forgive him for not writing the ultimate 9/11 song. He was the perfect person to do it, and I waited, and waited, and… Well, if you’ve been reading my column since the beginning you know my feelings on that.
I remember watching a James Lipton interview with Billy on Inside the Actor’s Studio. He talked about Piano Man and the fact that instrumentally, it is quite a simple and almost boring melody. He pantomimes the typical scene when he walks into a restaurant and upon recognition, the piano player segues into the song. And then he comically acts out the musicians facial expressions when he realizes the simplicity and repetition of the chords. And Billy just gives the knowing nod of “yep, that’s all there is.”
Musically, it may be a simplistic song, but lyrically, like all of Joel’s songs, it tells a powerful story.
I tend to frequent the same restaurants and sit at the bar for dinner. An avid people-watcher, I notice the same faces time and again. I guess they notice mine as well. I can’t help but think we resemble the cast of characters in The Piano Man, albeit with our own unique stories.
Sylvia (not really her name but she looks like a Sylvia) is a retired school teacher. She always sits at the very end of the bar at my local steak house, orders the same drink, eats the same food and does Sudoku puzzles the entire time she is there. I frequent this restaurant once a week, on different nights, and I don’t believe I have ever been there when she was not there as well.
Boston Tim spends a lot of time at the bar because he has been out of work for awhile. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue, boredom does. He also has a tendency to be very outspoken, especially after a few cocktails and much to the annoyance of the other patrons. I typically get an apology email the following morning along with an invitation to dinner. I politely decline.
Tom spends Friday and Saturday nights at the bar in my favorite Italian restaurant. He once explained that he only drinks on the weekends. He is friendly and a great conversationalist, but bitter over his divorce so the walls are up. But we have intelligent talks and a few laughs and pass the time.
Billy wrote lyrics about the characters who “share a drink called loneliness, cause it’s better than drinking alone.”
Why do so many Boomers choose to be alone these days? We were raised by parents like the Cleaver’s, Stone’s and Anderson’s. So why do we choose to be more like the Golden Girls and Grumpy Old Men?
The Boomer generation changed the face of relationships. Women fought for their rights to break through the glass ceiling and earn the big bucks. They determined they no longer needed men to have a nice lifestyle. Men made the choice to outfit their bachelor pads with giant screen tv’s and to no longer share the remote. Everybody got what they wanted. But did they?
One of my gathering spots also seems to be the place to go when on a blind date. You can spot them a mile away. One is pre-seated at the bar while the other comes in and scopes out the room looking for recognition of the person whose profile pic they saw on Match or Plenty of Fish. They start out all smiles, providing their autobiographies over foo-foo martinis. The rest of us look in wonder asking, “how did they find someone who seems normal and maybe compatible?” But the following week we see them again, either on another blind date or alone. Have we just become too picky?
Perhaps Billy’s song Scenes from an Italian Restaurant explains the phenomenon. When we were younger, we grabbed what we thought was the brass ring, only to become disillusioned when reality set it. We bought in to the fantasy that Ward and June had the perfect life, but we found out it all too often ends like Brenda and Eddie. That “deep pile carpet and a couple of paintings from Sears” just wasn’t enough.
I will always love Billy Joel and his lyrics and Piano Man will remain one of my favorites. But when it comes to my personal Boomer existence, two facts remain. My number one Piano Man will always be my dear friend, Frank Chase. And when it comes to lyrics, I have to go with Barbra on how I feel about life. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Cindy Phillips is a collumnist for The Mountain Times, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org