Movies | March 10, 2022 5:21 pm

Someone Thought It’d Be a Good Idea to Make a Billy Joel Biopic Without the Rights to His Likeness, Name or Music

"Piano Man," which has been greenlit by Jaigantic Studios, will not include any songs by its titular piano man

Billy Joel performs at Allegiant Stadium on February 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A new biopic about Billy Joel is being made by Jaigantic Studios without Joel's likeness, name or music. It's called "Piano Man."
Billy Joel performs at Allegiant Stadium on February 26, 2022 in Las Vegas.
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It’s been nearly 50 years since Billy Joel broke out with his massively popular album Piano Man, so it makes sense that someone finally got around to making a movie about Long Island’s favorite son. But Jaigantic Studios’ forthcoming Joel biopic is moving on (and moving out) without the rights to the legendary musician’s name, likeness or music.

Piano Man, which Jaigantic recently greenlit, will be written and directed by Adam Ripp. According to Variety, “The biopic will follow Joel’s early years — from being discovered by Irwin Mazur, who managed the band The Hassles that Joel joined as a teenager, to his breakout performance in 1972 that captured the attention of Clive Davis.”

Joel has made it clear he wants nothing to do with the project and has refused to grant Ripp the rights to his life story or music. (Ripp is the son of Artie Ripp, who produced Joel’s 1971 debut album Cold Spring Harbor and famously botched the mastering, causing Joel’s voice to sound unnaturally high and leading to a falling-out between the two.) To get around this seemingly insurmountable hurdle, the film has instead optioned the rights to Mazur’s life story and will presumably be told from his perspective.

 “Billy Joel has been a part of my life since my father signed him to his record label when I was 4 years old; his music is ingrained in my DNA and it’s been a dream of mine as a filmmaker to explore and celebrate the untold story of how Billy Joel became the Piano Man,” Ripp said in a statement announcing the film.

Of course, a Billy Joel movie that ends in 1972, a year before his first commercial success and half a decade before he would release The Stranger, obviously won’t be able to tell the complete story of his life and career. Why even bother, then? There have been several other films about famous musicians that have pressed on despite being unable to secure the rights to their subjects’ music, and all have flopped spectacularly. (The most recent example is 2020’s Stardust, which starred Johnny Flynn as David Bowie but did not include any of Bowie’s original music.) It’s impossible to properly depict an artist’s talent without allowing us to actually hear their music, and hard not to see any effort to do so as a desperate cash-grab.