Jerry Lewis Great balls of fireApparently Jerry Lewis once reportedly set fire to a piano after one of his concerts in protest of being upstaged by Chuck Berry. Since my musical revolution started around the time Van Hagar was climbing the charts, you can watch the following historically accurate documentaries to obtain more information of the following individuals: Top Gun for Jerry Lewis, and Back to the Future (part 1 only) for Chuck Berry (though I must admit that his cousin, Marvin Berry, was more the focus).

A piano burning has become one of those famous military pilot traditions that, I would bet, few know the roots of.  What’s more unique than burning a piano?  Usually the second question that follows in my mind: I wonder how much that cost and who’s footing the bill?  A quick internet search reveals Grand Pianos (the big concert ones) start at $3000 and proceed on up to Lamborghini-class prices.  Holy shit! I guess that’s why 80% of the piano burnings I’ve witnessed use the upright, more compact pianos.  Those typically range from about $500 to $10,000… unless you’re this family trying to offload their family heirloom on PianoBuyer.com:

Buying a Piano?

Wow, you must hate your family for a $100 price point on that family-generations o’ beauty!

Piano KeysYe olde romantic rendition of the piano burning tradition started in the great country of Great Britain, maybe a decade prior to the purchase of that family heirloom above, during Double-U Double-U Two.  Runways have “piano keys” at the threshold (like where the arrows are pointing at the left).  When you overflew these piano keys after coming back from a big mish (mission), the Brits would deem it that you made it home safe.  But if you never made it back… they would drink to you in the Mess Hall while leaving a glass of beer or Scotch on the piano, along with a beloved belonging from your locker, and play the piano for you since you never got to (by flying over the piano keys one last time).  After the ceremony, the boys would burn that belonging in your honor.

The story goes like this: one day a pilot, one that would commonly play the piano at Mess functions, didn’t make it back.  So the blokes (Queen’s English for “people”) put the standard glass of beer on the piano, but none of his belongings… the piano was the belonging that everyone remembered him by.  The boys got a little drunk, and one of them ignited the piano.  And the rest is, well, history.  In the Royal Air Force, it is engrained tradition to burn a piano for a pilot that has one less landing than take-off.

That’s the romantic version.  Of course, in my research I saw something that said the piano player would run his hand down the keys of the piano (you know, like you did when you were a kid and thought you were actually playing the piano) to signify dudes that made it back, but would burn the piano if that opportunity was never presented.  And lastly, there’s probably the realist’s version of the matter (which tends to be my common territory of thinking): a bunch of British pilots got drunk while mourning the loss of their buddy, and one of them got a little rambunctious and randomly set fire to the piano (you see, the “piano keys” on the threshold are supposedly a modern design and didn’t even exist back in WW2)… it was so cool and captivating that it was hence made a tradition from that day forward.

Regardless, it’s a fitting, albeit potentially expensive, tradition.

Piano Burn

Thank you Khan, for making this happen…

Here’s to you, Gaza… and all the Bro’s that have gone before you…

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  • Michael Winslow

    … I never knew.