Many people might be familiar with a Billy Joel song where he sings about the lights going out on Broadway. I’ve listened to this song many times and never realized the actual name of that song is Miami 2017. Prior to seeing Billy Joel in concert again recently, I began to wonder why a song that was all about New York and Broadway had the title of a city in Florida.
New York City In The 70’s
I began digging and found that in 1975 Billy Joel was actually living in Los Angeles and New York City was in rough shape. New York City was overrun with murder, looting, and actually on the verge of bankruptcy. It was so bad that even President Gerald Ford refused to bail out the city should it go bankrupt.
Ford never actually told New York City to “Drop Dead,” but once the paper printed the headline, it stuck with people.
With all this going on, Billy Joel decided to write a fictional song describing what it would be like living through an apocalypse in New York. While none of the things mentioned in the song actually happened, it paints a picture of what it could be like if things got so bad, that the city just fell apart. Being a born and raised New Yorker and now living in LA, Billy Joel packed up this things and moved back to New York having said;
“If New York’s going to go down the tubes, I’m going to go back to New York”
Destruction With A Rock Beat
For such an upbeat song, the lyrics speak of collapse, chaos, & destruction.
“They held a concert out in Brooklyn, to watch the island bridges blow”
Presumably talking about the explosion of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
“They burned the chuches up in Harlem
Like in the Spanish civil war
The flames were ev’rywhere
But no one really cared
It always burned up there before”
While the song is fictional, at the time of the financial crisis in the 1970’s there was an overwhelming problem with burning buildings in Harlem, the South Bronx, and many other New York neighborhoods. The New York Post wrote their take on the issue in this article.
“They said that Queens could stay, they blew the Bronx away and sank Manhattan out at sea”
I guess after all this, there’s only three bouroughs.
Fiction or Reality?
After the terorist events of September 11th 2001, Billy Joel performed this song, which includes the line, “I watched the mighty skyline fall,” at a benefit concert and made the statement;
“When I wrote that song 25 years ago, I thought it was going to be a science fiction song, I never thought it would really happen, but unlike the end of that song, we ain’t goin’ anywhere!”
After hurricane Sandy, in several benefit concerts he changed some of the lyrics to reflect some of the storm damage done in New York & New Jersey.
The storm came on beyond the Palisades, out in the Rockaway’s the ocean’s overflowed. They turned our power down, Staten Island drowned, but we went right on with the show. Queens got washed away, below Jamaica Bay and sank Manhattan out at sea.
Wait…So Then Why Miami 2017?
Well, Billy Joel figured many people from New York retire in Florida. So the whole song is written from the viewpoint of someone in the year 2017 explaining to their grandchildren what it was like living through the “downfall of New York City.” So the next time you listen to this Billy Joel hit, imagine what the world would be like if all that really happened.
If you would like to listen to one of my favorite live versions of this song, check out song #1 from his album Songs In the Attic Here or download it here.
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