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Billy Joel is the “Piano Man,” and the song is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Originally released on Nov. 2, 1973, Joel’s signature song isn’t even the tune that made him a star—and Joel admits he doesn’t think it’s necessarily his finest work.
“It’s like a kid: Sometimes it pisses me off, but I always love it—I wrote the thing, you know? I do think ‘Piano Man’ could’ve been better,” he told Vulture. “There’s quirky things—people think, ‘What a cheap rhyme: Davy in the Navy.’ I’m sorry: The guy’s name was Davy! There was actually Paul, in real estate, and the guy was writing a novel. I used the real people’s names in the song. I suppose it’s hard for some people to believe that.”
In 2015, The Library of Congress selected “Piano Man” for the National Recording Registry for its cultural and historical significance.
Billy Joel penned the semi-autobiographical tune all by himself about his time as a lounge performer at a bar called The Executive Room in Los Angeles.
“It’s pretty accurate. It’s what really went on when I was a piano man in this piano bar,” he told The Library of Congress in 2017. “All the characters have the same name: there was John at the bar, the bartender; Davy was in the Navy; a guy named Paul, who was a real estate agent and was trying to write the great American novel, and the waitress, who was my girlfriend at the time and then became my wife.”
Joel, who says he was “hiding out” from an allegedly exploitative record label at the time, said he wrote the song over the course of several weeks, explaining, “I had the idea to write a song about that particular job. I was like, ‘I’ve got to get a song out of this!’ So it took place over a period of time. I came up with a melody: ‘Sing us a song, Piano Man…,’ and then, little by little, I filled in the characters, and the scenario.”
George Michael once called The Beatles “the strongest force in popular music”
by Arun Starkey via faroutmagazine.co.uk
The late George Michael was one of the finest pop stars the world has ever seen, creating music that sends fans into a bout of euphoric abandon in some instances and, in others, melodies so piercing that there is no option but to reach for the tissue box. Incredibly authentic for an artist of his stature, Michael’s originality was there for all to see, and it was due to this authentic character and undoubted talent that he established such a remarkable legacy.
Having a natural propensity to keep fans on their toes, Michael surprised the music industry when he purchased John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ piano for an eye-watering sum. Reportedly, when the iconic instrument went up for auction at London’s Hard Rock Café after previously being on show at the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool, the former Wham! leader – a longtime superfan of Lennon and The Beatles – outbid the Gallagher brothers and Robbie Williams for the instrument.
When sitting down with People, Michael discussed his motivations for buying the upright Steinway piano that Lennon composed ‘Imagine’ on in 1971 at his home in Tittenhurst Park, Berkshire. He said: “It is so symbolic of the best elements of the ’60s and ’70s youth culture, great music and a desire to change things for the better. As a songwriter, it’s such an amazing thing to own, and as far as paying the $2.1million, it’s worth every penny.”
After this point, the ‘Careless Whisper’ musician was asked what The Beatles meant to him. Openly, he was a big fan of the Liverpool band, to the point that he covered classics such as ‘Get Back‘ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’ in his time, so he gave a candid answer. Whilst Michael admitted to being too young to say he grew up with the Fab Four, he maintained that they remained “the strongest force in popular music”, despite it being 30 years since their breakup.
He said: “I wish I could say that I grew up with them, but I was too young, and my parents’ only Beatles record was ‘Let It Be.’ But like so many others, I found them for myself many years later. They remain the strongest force in popular music simply because they were the first and—more important—the best.”
Michael was then prompted to outline what he felt was “best” about the music of John Lennon, replying: “Pure quality. Simplicity and heart. That is really all that great pop music needs. Of those three elements in combination are not too easy to find these days, which is why generation after generation come back to the Beatles and look to them for inspiration.”
The purchase of a piano is often the largest single musical investment a person or family will make in a lifetime, and choosing the right instrument from a reputable business with longevity, a track record of excellence in service after the sale, and many decades of combined expertise in their professional staff (not to mention the quality of products they offer) will make all the difference in the world.
“I had the surprise planned out. The moment our new au pair arrived at our house, I would pull the dust sheet off his welcome gift and say, “Ta-da!” His jaw would drop at the sight of a Steinway baby grand piano.
One of the reasons I’d hired our au pair — aside from him being an experienced babysitter — was his musical talent. He was a classically trained pianist from the Czech Republic. The video on his application showed him sweeping back the tails of his tuxedo and playing a grand piano.
I saw him teaching our kids how to play. I imagined him entertaining our friends with an impromptu performance or two.
We couldn’t afford a new piano. I appealed for a secondhand model on the neighborhood-networking site Nextdoor. A few people sent me photos of their “well-loved” — and, dare I say, ugly — pianos. They were literally on their last legs. It wouldn’t have been worth my while paying the exorbitant moving costs.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted the ‘free piano’
I found a decent-looking upright Yamaha on Craigslist. But it cost $5,800 — plus an estimated $1,250 relocation fee.
So I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a gleaming baby grand piano by Steinway & Sons. Not only is Steinway the Lamborghini of pianos — John Lennon played an exquisite white Steinway in the video for “Imagine” — but the piano was free.
I messaged the seller. “Yes, it’s still available,” they said. They told me that they were acting on behalf of their sister, Joyce Ehle, a recently widowed doctor who was downsizing. I sent her an email.
She replied the next day. “I’m hoping to give it out to someone who is a passionate lover of the instrument,” Ehle wrote. “It’s currently going to be with the movers I employed to move my properties from my house which is it’s on the move,” she added. I failed to notice her poor grammar. “If you really don’t mind making new arrangements with the movers, I can attempt to get in touch with them to reroute it,” she went on. “This should not attract too many charges since the distance can be recovered within a day or two.”
I saw a photo of the dismantled piano, seemingly in transit
Things moved fast. Ehle sent a link to the freight company and her order number. She said to communicate with them via online chat. The only favor she wanted in return, she said, was a photo of her husband’s piano in its new home.
The website of the freight company looked professional enough. I typed Ehle’s order number into the chat and asked about the reroute. They sent a photo of a disassembled piano inside a shipping container. It was wrapped in packaging material, but I could see the outline of the lid of a piano. I wrote my name, address, and telephone number into the chat. The operator set the delivery for a week later.
I followed the instructions, sending the agreed $340 moving fee via PayPal. The payee was a Yahoo address. They wanted a screenshot of the transaction. I sent a thank-you email to Ehle, assuring her that the piano would be in good hands.
I couldn’t wait for my bargain Steinway to arrive. I hadn’t figured out where to put it yet. “It’s going to be tight,” I thought. “But it’ll fit somewhere.”
Two days before the expected delivery, I received an email from the freight company. They apologized for the late notice, but there was an extra charge. They said the owner had failed to complete some paperwork in time. I was liable for an “interstate fee” of $370. If I didn’t pay by Zelle, the delivery of the piano would be canceled.
I realized I’d been scammed
I thought about contacting Ehle. “Maybe it’s not too late for you to sign the paperwork,” I planned to tell her. Then I felt guilty. It would be heartless to pester a grieving widow. The total cost of the piano may have increased to $710, I thought, “But it’s still a pretty good deal.”
I went to sleep without paying the $370, thinking I’d Zelle it the following day. But I tossed and turned. Around 3 a.m., I sat bolt upright in bed. I thought about the “interstate fee” — something I’d never heard of before. I’d never spoken to anyone on the phone about the piano. The arrangements had been made either by email or chat. “It’s a dirty, rotten scam,” I thought.
I got up and Googled “grand piano scam.” There were dozens of hits with titles like “Avoid Baby Grand Giveaways” and “Don’t fall for the Grand Piano Scam.” The warnings were all over media, consumer, and police websites. I read some lengthy Reddit threads. I was the victim of a sophisticated con which, judging by the dates of the reports, had become increasingly common in recent months.
The Georgian, a boutique Art Deco-style Santa Monica hotel that’s occupied the Southern California coastline since 1933, is reopening its speakeasy utilized during prohibition six decades ago.
The space, dubbed The Georgian Room, once embodied the glamor of Hollywood’s Golden Age, hosting television stars such as Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Dick Van Dyke, according to it owners, and it’s once again open to the general public.
The Georgian, in Santa Monica has reopened its speakeasy 60 years later. (Photo by Maxime Lemoine)
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The Georgian, in Santa Monica has reopened its speakeasy 60 years later. (Photo by Maxime Lemoine)
The room was carefully restored using vintage photographs to bring the speakeasy back to its original design with an L-shaped layout of booths and the entrance showcases a 1918 ebony-polished Steinway & Sons piano built into the rose marble-topped bar. Guests can expect hand-crafted cocktails and signature dishes created by Chef David Almany, including a dry-aged tomahawk ribeye, rigatoni alla vodka and a grilled dorade.
Although most alcohol was banned in the U.S., the law was difficult to enforce, paving the way for speakeasies to offer a place to sneak a drink for over a decade. The term “speakeasy” came from “speak-softly shops” and referenced the need for secrecy with customers asking to speak quietly while inside to avoid detection.
As a callback to a secret and intimate space of a speakeasy, The Georgian Room only allows a maximum of 65 guests and strictly prohibits photography and the use of cell phones.
Astoria, the popular northwest Queens enclave, is still home to one of the world’s most famous brands despite its rapidly changing demographics and buzzy avenues.
Tucked away at the top of the neighborhood at 19th Avenue and Steinway Place, the Steinway & Sons piano factory still builds its iconic pianos from start to finish on the same property it’s owned since the 1870s.
If you’re like me and you have lived in Astoria without knowing Steinway & Sons is still in the neighborhood, now you know it’s not just Steinway Street’s namesake from long ago. It’s actually still operating and turning out their gorgeous pianos.
Below are five “secrets” we learned about the factory during a recent visit.
1. Steinway Street in Astoria is named after the company
Steinway & Sons, which was founded in 1853 by German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway in a Manhattan loft on Varick Street, has owned and operated the same land in Queens since the 1880s. In fact, it owned 400 acres of land in the area and built a sawmill, a foundry and a streetcar line, eventually creating “Steinway Village” for its workers with a school. Eventually, it all got incorporated into Long Island City, but Steinway Street remains.
It has seen a lot of history, including World War II, when it manufactured glider parts for the government and G.I. pianos for the troops.
2. It only makes 1,300 pianos a year
Because making a single piano is such a long and painstaking process (they’re each made by humans), the factory creates only six a day, and 1,300 a year. From start to finish, a single piano takes 11 months to craft. A single grand piano has about 12,000 parts.
Between its New York and Germany factories, Steinway & Sons makes 2,500 grand pianos and a couple of hundred uprights, according to Anthony Gilroy, the company’s vice president of marketing and communications, who took us on the tour.
“When you see how big these places are—there are about 225 union workers to build six pianos a day—then you realize how much is going into each of them,” he tells us on our tour. “Walking through the factory, you see hundreds of pianos in different stages of manufacture, but it’s an 11-month process.”
A single piano will move through various departments in the factory. Workers first select the wood crafting the rim, including rock maple from the Eastern U.S. and Canda, sugar pine and Alaskan Sitka spruce. The rim is bent into the iconic piano shape, which was patented by C. F. Theodore Steinway in 1880. Then, the case is dried again for several months and is trimmed to get rid of excess corners. It then goes to the “Belly Department,” where “belly men” remove excess areas of the piano’s bridge called “notching the bridge” and manually nail hundreds of pins in it to guide the forthcoming strings. A Steinway piano carries up to 40,000 pounds of tension from its strings.
Nearing the end of the patented process, the piano is sent to Keys & Action, where technicians use weights to check the weight and balance of each key. They ensure “fullness and brilliance of sound” by fine-tuning the instrument with an extensive tone regulation process. The keys are integrated with the piano and tested in the “Pounding Room,” where each key is played up to 3,200 times and adjusted until it reaches “perfection.” Finally, it is finished after it is sanded, painted and hardened.
3. 75% of its workers are immigrants
Steinway & Sons has unionized employees, many of whom have been working there for as long as 50 years and the majority of them come from other countries. It’s always been that way, Gilroy says. “Today, the workers are mostly from Latin America, the Caribbean, Southern and Eastern Europe … our workforce is all coming together to do something special, they’re building something that’s best in class and known as a luxury product.”
4. Celebrities visit the factory
Beloved musicians like Billy Joel and Regina Spektor among others have visited the factory because they exclusively use Steinway & Sons pianos (their signed posters decorate a hallway). Cole Porter, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinsky, Nina Simone and Arthur Rubinstein were some of the company’s most illustrious customers while they were alive.
5. It recently sold land to Robert De Niro’s forthcoming studio
Remember how the company owned 400 acres of land in Astoria? It sold off more of it (a storage area for finished pianos) in 2019 to Wildflower Studios, a massive film studio backed by actor Robert De Niro.
When it opens this year, the studio will be made up of “a mix of interconnected spaces” that includes office spaces, 11 sound stages, a fitness center, a slew of lounges, cafes and production-support areas.
The Bjarke Ingels Group designed what is apparently to be the first “vertical commercial film, television and film studio” in the world.
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