Elvis. The Bee Gees. Madonna. Music biopics do box office numbers and there are a lot of them on the way, but Piano Man, the upcoming Billy Joel movie, promises to be a little different for one big reason: Billy Joel is not involved and has not granted permission for the movie to use his music, his likeness or even his name.
The movie is being written and directed by Adam Ripp. He’s the son of Archie Ripp, who produced Joel’s first solo album Cold Spring Harbor. That album was a critical and commercial failure, and Joel blamed Ripp for fumbling the job. Joel would leave Ripp’s label for Colombia, where he became a sensation with 1973’s “Piano Man.”
There could be an interesting story there, although the legal tap dancing that will be required to do it well without having access to the Piano Man himself could, let’s say, provide a creative challenge. The movie will follow Joel’s early years, “from being discovered by his first manager Irwin Mazur at age 16, to playing in a Long Island cover band in the 1960s, to his breakout performance in 1972 that captured the attention of Clive Davis.”
It does have the rights to Mazur’s life, for what that’s worth.
As many people on the internet noted, this is all extremely reminiscent of a long running 30 Rock bit where Jenna gets cast in a Janis Joplin biopic stuck in a similar legal situation as The Piano Man. On the show, the movie eventually goes forward after writers agree to call their main character Jackie Jormp-Jomp.
Variety says the movie’s music is “yet to be determined.”