The Magazine

Alicia's Keys

The dangerous combination of women and pianos.

Jan 4, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 16 • By JOE QUEENAN
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Concertgoers live in fear of the official, choreographed "lull" during an otherwise miraculous performance. No one wants to be in the room when Keith croaks "Happy" and "Slipping Away" in the middle of the Stones' show while Mick takes a breather. Hard-core jazz aficionados--a group in whose number I have been proud to include myself ever since I learned to spell "aficionado" and stopped referring to myself as a "jazz buff"--would leave the room when the aging Duke Ellington launched into the saccharine, emaciated, Lawrence Welkean, just-plain-awful "Satin Doll." Sinatra purists felt the same way when Ol' Blue Eyes would slow down his show to do "My Way," a tune the chairman of the board himself eventually came to despise once he realized it would be sung eulogistically at every hard-driving dentist's funeral and every purchasing manager's cremation until the end of time. My breaking point has always been when the seemingly harmless chantoozey, poised innocuously behind the microphone, starts making her way toward the piano. That's my cue to get the hell out.

Not long ago I had an opportunity to see the remarkable young artist Taylor Swift at Madison Square Garden. It was a very fine show indeed; but as it wended its way toward the big wind-up, the lithe, likable Swift suddenly put down her guitar and started to mosey over to the piano. That's when I hightailed it right out of there. The next day, I read in the papers that, after manning her battle station, the precocious 19-year-old, sporting emotional scars beyond her years, sang her own vengeful anthem "You're Not Sorry," followed by Justin Timberlake's equally vindictive "What Goes Around .  .  . Comes Around." But I didn't need anybody to tell me that. I could hear it coming a mile away.

Joe Queenan is the author, most recently,of Closing Time: A Memoir.