I first heard the song, "Piano Man" back in 1973. I'd snuck out of bed and was listening to a program with host Chip Monck late on a Saturday night. I fell in love with Billy Joel's soulful voice and that song. I went to school the next week and raved about the song. Typical OKC market, it took about two weeks for "Piano Man" to hit there.
I've loved story songs since "Puff the Magic Dragon," but "Piano Man" has somehow always stuck with me. I had questions about the piano player's life and those of his listeners.
Well, thanks to my friend, Robin Meloy Goldsby, I have learned a lot more about the people behind the beautiful big grand pianos.
Her debut book, "Piano Girl" introduced me to Robin's early career, at eighteen playing at coastal fish restaurants during the summer and then moving to New York City to play in the lobby bars of grand hotels. I learned about being stuck behind the potted palm while all the really visible floor-space went to the bar and patrons. And, I will never be able to listen to "Cheek to Cheek" without wholly inappropriate hilarity that requires a "you-had-to-have-read-the-book" explanation.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I heard the sequel to "Piano Girl" was coming out in April.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I saw the cover. "Waltz of The Asparagus People" is the kind of title that stops you at a bookshelf and most likely brings a chuckle to your lips if not an outright guffaw. And that's just the cover. Robin Meloy Goldsby makes beautiful music with her piano and soul-stirring laughter with her words.
This encore collection takes us to her current career as a composer and pianist at the luxurious Schlosshotel Lerbach in Germany. Life behind the Steinway is not all glitz and glam, though. It's trying to find a skirt that doesn't get tangled up in the piano pedals, wearing sleeves that don't chafe as you move your arms, and shoes that look good and don't make your feet hurt. We see Robin's life from the highs of an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered" where she accidentally meets a former US President to playing a bit role in "House on Sorority Row" where she's the awkward geeky girl who gets killed with her head stuck in the toilet.
There are sad moments, too. "Little Big Soul" tells the story of Robin's friendship with Conny and her daughter, Lisa, and the beautiful song that resulted from it.
Robin gives us food-for-thought concerning foreign exchange students and their impact on culture. She also tells us about naked saunas in Germany.
And that's just a small taste of the huge slice of life that Robin serves up to you. In the end, you're left with a smile on your face and the hope that Ms. Goldsby will grace us with many more stories in the years to come.
Rebecca Kyle, May 2011