"Piano Man" question

I have been debating the meaning of these lines with friends for a while:
"They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar / And say ‘Man, what are you doing here?’ "

Is the line “Man, what are you doing here”

A) Directed at the Piano Man, as in “You’re too good for this place, what are you doing here?”


B) Said by one of the patrons to another patron that he hasn’t seen in a long time, as in “I haven’t seen you in a long time; what are you doing here?”


They are tipping him, and commenting on how good he is, and that he’s too good for the little bar.

Yup, A.

I always assumed it was the first thing, but that’s an interesting take on it. I suppose a patron could be saying it to himself, in a commiserating sort of way.

I like the line “… and the microphone smells like a carnival, and the piano feels like a beer.” :smiley:

Perhaps they wondered what he was doing at the piano when he could have been chatting with the real estate novelist.

I think the piano sounds like a carnival, while the microphone smells like a beer.

I always heard it as A, although it could also be directed at “C: Anyone within hearing range”.

Definitely A. Unless you’re listening to this one local guy cover it…

“…And they sit at the bar and they spit in my jar and say ‘Rich, get the fuck out of here’…”

It all makes sense if you read the note from the bar manager:


If a microphone smelled like popcorn, mud, and elephant shit, I’d be wondering what I was doing there. What the heck have they been using that equipment for?


I’ve heard a rumor (feel free to debunk - really, I’d enjoy it) that Billy Joel fired a manager, but ended up by contract owing him a percentage of any future songs he wrote/released. Rather than fund the guy, he dropped back and did some bar/lounge playing in an attempt to either outwait him, find a way out of the contract, or something.

Eventually, he gave up and went back to the major media anyway. Piano Man was his first release back in the game. So for awhile he was the Piano Man and he was better than most bars expected.

As much as I enjoy Google, I can’t imagine how I’d go about proving or refuting this.

A. He was too good for that place. And history proved him right.

You need to Google “Artie Ripp.” BJ finally did extricate himself from Ripp’s clutches a few years ago, but IIRC it cost him yet another bundle.

Any BJ CD or cassette that has the “Family Productions” logo (a bear or dog or something; I can’t be arsed to go look) is one that ol’ Artie Rippoff had his thumb in.

I know I’ve probably been wooshed, but just in case: the lyric is “the piano, it sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer.”

Ah, but if the real estate novelist had time to chat, then he might have done better to chat with a young lady. If he got to know one better, he might have made time for a wife.

Another vote for A: “Man, you’ve got talent. What are you doing in this joint?”

Actually, I always wondered about the real estate novelist who never had time for a wife… he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the Navy. It entered my mind that perhaps the real estate novelist is gay and trying to hit on the navy guy. Not a really serious theory of mine, but it did pop into my mind one day. Also, they cut out the Davy line on the radio sometimes.

The real estate novelist never had time for a wife because he was so busy writing his famous book, Flip This House of Seven Gables.

Gosh, all of my life I thought the line was “the piano sounds like a carnivore,” bringing to mind thoughts of it being loud and passionate, like a lion’s roar. Which, er, would make more sense with a guitar than a piano, huh? This is quite a shock for me, though. I’m listening to the song now and it still sounds like “carnivore,” but when I look up the lyrics they agree with all of you.

muttermutter Who the hell wants to listen to a carnival anyway.

I always thought that line contained unconscious irony for the people saying it to him. They say to the piano man, “Man, what are YOU doing here?” when he could just as easily be saying the same to them, as they are have the potential to be much more than what their lives are.

Thanks Scarlett67. I’ll check it out.

It does sound like “carnivore” if you’re not listening closely, and it’s hard to stop hearing it that way once you’ve done it, but it’s definitely “carnival”.

And the piano sounding like a carnival is supposed to be a bad thing–it’s all jangly and discordant, which matches the description of the rest of the joint.