top-rated free essay

Piano Man

By rml1994 Dec 14, 2010 1384 Words
Forever Alone Together; A Literary Analysis of “Piano Man” Music has been a part of human culture for many years. It is embedded deep in our roots, from Native Americans chanting around a fire, to slaves harmonizing while laboring in the fields, to Beatle-mania, to the Backstreet Boys welcoming the new millennium. The great artists of this industry will forever be remembered for their ability to combine moving, soulful lyrics with enchanting melodies, all while reaching millions of individuals in a unique way. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” is a perfect example of this melodic combination. Joel’s inspiration for this song came directly from his own experiences. Early in his career, he played a stint as a piano man for a local bar in Los Angeles, California during the early seventies. This piece was created as a “thank you” message to all of the lost people that inspired Joel to get back into the world and to dream big again after his first single failed miserably. His harmony depicts a typical bar scene, packed with down and out drunks and tired, bedraggled businessmen, all trying to find an escape from their stressful, everyday lives. Billy Joel tries to convey the message that everyone is always searching for something more in life, but no matter how much success they have, they will still be filled with loneliness and desire for something else. In “Piano Man,” Billy Joel uses a simple, straightforward syntax, an indirect characterization, and an informal, bittersweet tone to enforce his theme of disappointment and un-fulfillment.

At a first glance, the simple syntax used by Billy Joel enforces the simplicity of his message. He is trying to show that these people at the bar represent everyday people. They are lost, looking for something more. They feel alone and are sitting at this bar because it is a safe haven of escape. By keeping his lines short and straightforward, it both relates to the lives of the people and ensures that his message is clearly presented to the reader or listener. For example, the line reading, “Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness/ but it’s better than drinkin’ alone,” (31-32). Billy Joel clearly describes these men or women being sad and alone, but finding comfort in each-others presence. Joel is clear in stating how these people feel. The rawness of the lyrics correlates to the lives of these characters. The excerpt “And the waitress is practicing politics/ As the businessmen slowly get stoned,” (29-30) demonstrates this clear-cut and unrefined syntax. Joel is depicting how the waitress may be exploiting herself for the sake of making money and how even businessmen succumb to the stress of everyday life and resort to drugs to try and heal themselves. By putting together two short lines in such a basic form, he is able to ensure that the audience receives his message. By keeping his syntax simple and straightforward, the reader understands that these are everyday, monotonous characters, representing everyday people, all beaten up by life. Also, his simplistic structure backs the simplicity of his message. When further analyzing the song “Piano Man,” Billy Joel’s intense use of indirect characterization stands out among the other devices in the lyrics. Indirect characterization is defined as the act of creating a character where their traits are revealed either by their words thoughts or actions, by the description of the character’s appearance or background, or by what other characters say and how they react towards this character. As Joel is describing the scene at the bar, he creates very personable, relatable characters by giving a brief insight into the character’s life. For example the lines, “Now Paul is a real-estate novelist/ Who never had time for a wife/And he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the navy/and probably will be for life,” (25-28). These lines depict a decently successful man (Paul) who has a career, but is alone. His career takes up the majority of his time, leaving none for finding a wife and starting a family. The other character, Davy, is seen as a young man who is enlisted in the navy. The song describes how he will most likely be in the navy for life. Many people today choose to have a career instead of focusing on family life, like Paul, and these people are most likely feeling the emptiness that this song portrays. The other character, Davy, is also a replica of young men in the armed forces today. They enlist when they are young and feel as if they still have a future, but since the forces are all they have ever known, they choose to re-enlist year after year. The listeners of the song are able to attach themselves and relate to these characters. Another instance where direct characterization is present is in the lines, “ Now John at the bar is a friend of mine/ he gets me my drinks for free/ and hes quick with a joke or to light up a smoke/ but there’s someplace he’d rather be,” (15-18). John is depicted as a typical small town bartender, light hearted and entertaining. Again, the audience is able to identify with the characters that Joel creates. They might know a Paul or a Davy or a John, or they might find pieces of these characters in themselves. Having the reader to be able to feel a personal attachment to these characters makes them feel a personal attachment to the song itself. When the listeners become emotionally involved in the lyrics, feeling as if they know the characters, they begin to share the same emotions that the character is feeling. By using indirect characterization to form round, real life characters Billy Joel is able to emotionally instill the central message of the song into the audience.

Since Billy Joel is telling the story of maybe his most influential experiences, he uses a very informal, bittersweet tone. The way the piece is written comes across as a man telling a story to his friend. His in-formalness is shown in the lines, “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar/ and say ‘man, what are you doing here’ ” (43-44). This line is very bittersweet as well because it is describing how the people at the bar think that this piano man is capable of much more than hanging out with this crowd, but it also shows how the people at this bar have become almost a family. They all know each other and understand each other better than anyone else. They have bonded over their lost dreams and empty hearts. Again, this idea is shown in the verse, “ ‘Well I’m sure I could be a movie star/ If I could get out of this place,’ ” (21-22). These lines also suggest a man who is stuck in this rut, but knows he can be something better if he could just find a way to get out. The striking truth and honesty in these lines evoke a feeling of sympathy and understanding in the listener. The bittersweet tone is shown again in the lines, “Well we’re all in a mood for a melody/ and you’ve got us feelin alright,” (49-50). The people in the bar are sad and depressed and feeling alone, they are looking for an escape, and the piano man provides that for them. The tone in which these line are written creates a sympathetic, understanding mood in the audience that enforces the theme of the song.

Billy Joel does a fantastic job of pleasing listeners with his soothing lyrics. The thought that other people, represented by his characters, feel the same emptiness many struggle with today is comforting. By using simple structure, an indirect characterization, and a bittersweet tone, Billy Joel is able to enforce the central message behind his song, “Piano Man.” He tries to explain to the world that we, as humans, are always trying to search for something better, and yet we never reach that something because we are always filled with a sense of loneliness and emptiness that then results in us looking for a way to escape.

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • Long Island Man

    ...Long Island Man The mid-1960s was an exceptional time for rock music. Many different kinds of rock, from a more bebop sound to psychedelic, from folksy to hard rock, were beginning to develop and Long Island was in the forefront.  The first band to make it to the national charts was the Young Rascals1 and soon others were trying to make...

    Read More
  • Piano and Steinway

    ...and Sons remains one of the best-known producers of concert pianos in the world. Throughout its great history the company has shown a distinctive talent at innovation and quality workmanship, as evidenced by its 114 patents. In an age of mass production, Steinway continues to manufacture a limited number of handmade pianos in a unique testament ...

    Read More
  • Piano Concert

    ...Concert Review On April 8th 2004 I attended the "Music for Piano" concert featuring Bette Coulson and Philip Seward at the Columbia College Concert Hall. The show was only about an hour. Mr. Seward and Mrs. Coulson played five pieces together and then each play on solo. This was my first piano concert, of any kind, that I have attended. This wa...

    Read More
  • History Is the Piano

    ...H The Piano Prepared By: Maria Darbinian Prepared For: Professor Daniel Moser Introduction to Humanities DeVry University Online In the 1700’s the piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence, Italy first introduced to the world as the "pianoforte" meaning “Soft loud”. “In the last quarter of the 18th centu...

    Read More
  • The History of the Piano

    ...Piano In the early 1700s, a new modification to a classic favorite, the harpsichord, changed the world of music across all genres. In 1709 a new instrument, classy and sophisticated, yet loud and dynamic was brought into the world by Bartolomeo Cristofori. The piano has continued a well loved legacy of many instruments predating it, while...

    Read More
  • Learning to play piano

    ...Learning How To Play Piano I have always been interested in art since I was young so it did not take me too much time to decide the general area for my project. Drawing, singing or dancing have been growing with me since I was little. However, to make this project more challenging and interesting, I will try to do something I have never done...

    Read More
  • History Seminar: Beethoven Piano Sonatas

    ...Hammerklavier, Beethoven’s passion for the piano sonata refused to dissipate. The next three piano sonatas, written over the span of three years, have consecutive opus numbers: Op. 109 in E major, Op.110 in A flat Major, and Op.11 in C minor. Beethoven clearly approached his last three piano sonatas as a single project. In the letters to Adolf...

    Read More
  • The Piano Lesson

    ...April 21, 2004 African American Culture The Piano Lesson In the Piano Lesson, August Wilson traces the family heirloom back three generations, to an incident in the family’s slave legacy that has left them to face the present on the terms of a history that, later is not just communal (done by all members of the family) and familial....

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.