Tom Waits: The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)

Written by Henry Rinehart


In category: Song of the Day

Published December 8, 2016

This number is dedicated to all my wonderful HENRY’s bartenders at closing time. My Song of the Day today is from my modern everyman, Tom Waits with his delightful song, “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” The time is ripe for some rich satire.

“The Piano Has Been Drinking” is special to me because of its unique perspective on my life’s work, service. Waits focuses on a particular moment that hospitality professionals know well: closing time. There is a moment at every bar, as the night comes to an end, when the air goes out of the room. Your best guests have left before the cleaning crews start working the dark edges, slowly moving into the dim light. Everything changes at that moment, as a night of endless possibilities suddenly becomes a morning of bitter reflection. Last call lures so many to stay beyond their limits and to test the patience of those that serve them.

Waits’ growling, slurred vocals fit a particular vision of the over-served lounge pianist who’s drooping eyes rove over the room at closing time, leaving no thing and no one unscathed. His fingers move up and down the keys carelessly, aimlessly, while his lyrics pull it all into focus.

And the telephone’s out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make

And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking…

And the box-office is drooling, and the bar stools are on fire

And the newspapers were fooling, and the ash-trays have retired

But it is his denigration of the owner that sets my heart afire with love for this song. “And the owner is a mental midget with the IQ of a fence post.” Let alone that he has rhymed that line with “As the bouncer is a sumo wrestler cream-puff Casper milquetoast.” This is one of those songs so well suited to its writer’s gifts that we are left to bathe luxuriously in its wonder.

Tom Waits: The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), aka The Bartender’s Prayer

Studio Version from Small Change, 1976

Live Version from Bounced Checks, 1981

Live Television from Fernwood Tonight w/ Martin Mull & Fred Willard

PPS. If you want more politics in a Waits-ian vein, try this on for size – God’s Away on Business. Waits wrote it with his wife, Kathleen Brennan for a Robert Wilson musical of Woyzeck, the songs from which are on Waits’ Blood Money album.

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Restaurateur Henry Rinehart is a long-time friend of NYFOS and a lover of song. His own HENRY’s Restaurant is Steven Blier’s local haunt. There Henry hosts the concert series “Sing for Your Supper,” which often presents NYFOS After Hours. Up next is our favorite holiday tradition: A Goyishe Christmas to You!  Reserve your seats today at (212) 866-0600 for this year’s iteration on Monday, December 12 at 10pm.


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