The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson Arts and Culture: Music Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Wining Boy: "See, you think it's all fun being a recording star. Got to carrying that piano around and man did I get slow. […] You look up one day and you hate the whiskey, and you hate the women, and you hate the piano. But that's all you got." (1.2.102)
First of all, Wining Boy is not really a recording star. He had like one record and had tried to live off that reputation ever since. To him, music and pianos have come to represent a life he seems to regret. However, throughout the play we see him continue to drink, gamble, and play the piano anyway – it seems like it's all he knows how to do.
Wining Boy: (Singing) "I am a rambling gambling man/[…] I had my ups and downs in life/And bitter times I saw/But I never knew what misery was/Till I lit on old Arkansas." (1.2.126)
In our section on the theme of "Memory and the Past," we talk about how both Wining Boy and Doaker act as griots, or storytellers from the African tradition. It was the griot's job to preserve a community's heritage through story and song. When Wining Boy sings this song he's passing on the history of the hard life and fast times that many African Americans faced in the South. When Wilson includes this blues song in the play, it's much more than a musical interlude, it's a document an important part of African-American history.
Doaker: (Singing) "Gonna leave Jackson Mississippi/and go to Memphis/and double back to Jackson […]"
Doaker opens up the second act of the play singing this song. Here again Wilson includes another important American song form – the railroad song. Doaker has spent his life working on the railroads and these sorts of songs are chronicles of that experience.