I used to run and yell “no!” when the song Piano Man would come on. I loathed it. Yet, last Fall, my husband and I ended our wedding reception with this old school tune. To say Piano Man invokes a variety of memories would be an underestimate; Piano Man and I have been on quite a journey.
In Eighth grade, I received Confirmation through the Catholic Church. As a student at a small, Catholic grammar school, it was the Sacrament we long waited for after First Communion, which took place in the second grade. The process to receive Confirmation was somewhat involved; my classmates and I had to choose a Confirmation Sponsor (Shout out to my sponsor – you know who you are!) as well as attend numerous preparation courses and seminars. As part of the process, we had to attend a one-day, Confirmation Retreat where we learned more about what it meant to be a young adult member of the Church as well as the impact of our decision to take this step in our journey of Faith.
I don’t remember much about that particular day, but I do remember it as the day that forever changed the song Piano Man for me.
We were in my school’s lunchroom, and around the room were smaller, intimate circles of chairs where the Confirmation candidates sat. It was a cold, February day, and most of us were distracted looking out the floor to ceiling windows and watching our Saturday pass us by; wondering what our other friends were doing that day. In the same breath, it was exciting because there were a lot of new faces in the room that day; kids from the neighboring public schools that were also receiving the Sacrament. At the time, that was a big deal to me and my classmates; we always kind of wondered what the other larger schools were like.
It was sometime around the middle of the day, when we had a guest speaker come in to do a session. I cannot even remember the topic of the session; I simply remember a more eccentric looking Priest (let’s call him Father Jimmy) enter the room. Around the same time, the song Piano Man filled the speakers of the room. Without so much as an introduction, Father Jimmy began to spin and twirl and move his hands and body in a way that was quite unfamiliar and unnatural.
About a minute in, we figured out that he was miming, and he was miming with this legendary tune as his background music. His movements were rehearsed, rigid, stern and serious, yet not in unison with the song itself. At one point, he twisted his thumbs together and wiggled his figures as if to create a butterfly. The mime continued for the entire duration of the song (5:30:00), while forty something 13 and 14-year old kids looked on in confusion. Mass confusion.
As a young teenager, it was shocking and somewhat disturbing. Not to mention, Father Jimmy’s facial expressions throughout his routine were alarming and somewhat scary. The movements seemed bizarre and unordinary, and it was utterly random; one minute we were having conversations about the Scripture and the next minute, without so much as a heads up, a new Priest enters the room to Piano Man and starts dramatically miming. However, at the same time, it was clear that this production was not something to be taken lightly. Whatever Father Jimmy was doing was to be taken very seriously.
Of course, as you can imagine, this could be difficult for anyone to witness, especially a bunch of adolescents. There were looks passed across the room and lots of eye contact made between kids. Within moments, little giggles ensued and attendees bit their lips and looked down at the floor to avoid laughing out loud. It was an uncomfortable situation; I don’t remember laughing out loud, but I’m certain I had my eyebrows scrunched together, squinting at the miming Priest with intense confusion.
Several minutes later, the song finally concluded and Father Jimmy did his final mime movement. He then stood up straight, took a huge breath, put his hands together and looked down at the ground in prayerful reflection. “This is the gift God gave me to prepare you all for our session,” he explained.
Looking back now, 16 years later, I see that miming was Father Jimmy’s way of meditating and preparing himself for the job ahead; equipping kids with knowledge they need for Confirmation. I guess it’s much like a basketball player bouncing the ball three times before a free throw or a public speaker taking deep breaths before walking out on stage. I guess we all have “our thing.” However, even knowing that now, I would not be prepared to experience what I experienced that day.
I’ll never forget coming home that night and having a teenage freak out about it to my parents. My friends all did the same as well. I’m not proud to say that the whole experience became a running joke with the fellow eighth graders and Confirmation candidates. I’m also not proud of the way most of us reacted and behaved at the time; I’m not proud. But, it was a very dramatic way to experience the song Piano Man. When you experience something so vivid, it imprints a certain memory and reaction in your mind. And, it does not go away.
I’m sure most of us have those songs that take us back to a certain place, a certain time or a certain person. It just so happened that, for me, Piano Man became one of those songs, and I wouldn’t say it brought me back to something I enjoyed nor understood at the time. While some friends were turning off songs because it brought back memories of an old fling or someone they did not like, I was turning off Piano Man, because all I could see was Father Jimmy miming, and it was not something I wanted to revisit.
I came to loathe that song, and I decided it would be my least favorite song of all time. In fact, most people in the room with me that day had the same conclusion about it as well.
Every time I heard the beginning notes on the radio or playing in the background of a store, I cringed. I couldn’t stand it. Any chance I had, I would quickly turn the song off or say, “No, not this song!” It just became “that” song for me. Not to mention, every time it came on while I was with someone, I would tell the person about my story and the miming Priest. I never forgot.
Seven to eight years later, I was at college in South Bend, Indiana (Go, Belles!), and I began to experience the college night life at local bars. Finny’s, The Backer, Main Street, Fever – you name it. My girlfriends and I loved our nights out together, especially after busy weeks. You see, at Saint Mary’s, senior year did not mean you coasted; my roommates and I were busier than ever that year. So, every couple weeks we would crack open some forties of PBR or Franzia after Thursday evening class and get ready for a night out.
Second semester senior year, Thursday nights typically meant Finny’s. And, normally we would have so much fun on Thursday, that a couple weekends, we closed down the bar at 2am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. But, every night at Finny’s ended the same; the beginning tunes of Piano Man would start through the DJ’s speakers, and the lights would come back on. Everyone would grab the person closest to them and put their arms over each other’s shoulders and sway side to side.
I desperately loathed the song, but I was not going to go stand outside in the dark, city street at 2am by myself. So, night after night, I was forced to stay and sway. I closed my eyes and pretended not to hear the song in my tipsy, drunken state.
Until eventually, one night, I found myself closing my eyes, swaying side to side with my friends and belting the song out like I never had before. I’m not sure if it was the bittersweet vibes of upcoming graduation or the plastic, mini pitcher of beer I drank from all night, but I sang that song; that song I loathed.
And, I continued to sing it at the top of my lungs each night after. Whenever we went to Finny’s, I sang it out loud for the whole bar to hear. I would sing, smile and sway with emotion and love; so much love.
I’m not sure what it was, but I came to love that time of night at Finny’s. The ballad would start, the lights would come on and my friends and I would gather together to close out the night. I actually looked forward to it.
Seven and a half years after that, my husband and I chose Piano Man to be the last song of our wedding night. It was an autumn night in Estes Park, Colorado and 130 of our closest friends and family from all over the country were all together in one place. It was 11:30pm, and with exception to perhaps 10 people, everyone stayed until the very end.
The chords started and our guests recognized it right away. And, almost as if it was rehearsed or planned, John and I danced in one another’s arms and our guests formed a large circle around us, put their arms over one another’s shoulders & waists and swayed in unison. And everyone sang.
It was the perfect send off to our beautiful, Big Day and a precious way to enter our journey of marriage; our closest friends and family gathered literally around us, singing, smiling and linked all together, arm in arm.
It’s a moment I will never forget, and one of my favorite memories from our wedding day. And to think, it was Piano Man that made the moment so magical.
I think most of us have those things in life that make us cringe. Something that rubbed us so much the wrong way or something that quite frankly, upset us or confused us or made us sad. We’re human. It’s normal to have likes and dislikes, and things we love and things we loathe.
Some people go through life racking up long lists of likes with equally or even longer lists of “don’t likes.” It can become part of our make-up, or what makes us, us.
Yet, I would challenge each of us to be open enough, even if just a little, to allow our perspectives to grow and change. To allow our opinions to form, but maybe not be so set in stone. To allow our tastes and palettes to morph and mature. To allow our minds to change.
We don’t have to like everything, and not everything has to sit well with us. But perhaps there are those smaller, more simpler things in life that we do not have to be so set on, such as loathing and cringing at a particular song.
You never know how much joy can come from something you once loathed; and, you’ll never know unless you open yourself up to the possibility.
Open yourself up to the possibility that your mind can be changed. Be open to the possibility that you can cultivate new and better memories with something that once seemed so bleak. You are allowed to revisit things from your past, as well as your list of “likes” and “dislikes;” and you’re allowed to look at them with new eyes and perspectives.
You may not believe it now, but you can edit in new memories with something or someone. And you can rewrite the story to make it in to something that doesn’t make you cringe, but instead, makes you smile ear to ear.
What’s that “thing” for you?
I, for one, may have gotten over my general hatred for Piano Man, but I think there may be a couple other things I can be more open to as well… More to come on that.