David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 320: Billy Joel (Miami 2017)

January 23, 2024

If you're a musician wanting to write a song about the future, it might be best to not date it . . . literally. Unless you go way out, like Zager and Evans with "In The Year 2525," you and your song are likely to collide for your destiny. With advances in health technology, it's just a little more difficult to know how far out you can safely go.

When Billy Joel's 1976 album, Turnstiles, first came out, closing with the haunting "Miami 2017," a song about an apocalyptic future where New York is destroyed and "we all live in Florida," 2017 seemed so far away. Forty-one years until "the lights go out on Broadway," "the Empire State laid low," "they blew the Bronx away and sank Manhattan out to sea." Depending upon your view of New York, some of these prophecies may not have been, I hate to say it, that bad. After all, Joel himself, reflected much of the view of New Yorkers from the rest of the country: obnoxious, brazen, big-mouthed, cocky. Heck, the cover of Turnstiles, featuring Joel in what-became-typical-attire of dress shirt with loose tie, and an assortment of New Yorkers at a subway turnstile, left many of us even further from the "New York State Of Mind" that was at the heart of the album. I hated looking at the prissy mother (the original Karen?) and child right behind Joel on the cover.

Regardless, "Miami 2017" is one of the best album closers ever, somehow bringing some musical normalcy to an album that had dabbled in reggae with "All You Want To Do Is Dance," Sinatra-esque crooning for "New York State Of Mind" and whatever-label-fits-for-the-electronic-piano-immersed "James." Kind of crazy to look to the song about impending apocalypse as the normalizing song, but with Joel's jaunty piano buttressed with key and tempo changes aligning with the journalistic vision of a decaying society, it works.

Released right before Joel's breakout The Stranger, I am not sure many of us would know Turnstiles, let alone the tour-de-force that is "Miami 2017," if not for the hot streak Joel got on with The Stranger. In fact, it was only after the string of hits that came from his trio of late 1970s albums, The Stranger, 52nd Street, and Glass Houses, causing him to pull "Miami 2017" from storage for the live "Songs In The Attic" release that most of America heard the song. With that live version, he was five years closer to his dystopian 2017 vision. It still seemed so far away, and thus easily believable and forgettable at the same time.

The song remained, for lack of better terms, rather dormant, until 2001 (helped by Billy himself being rather dormant after 1993's River of Dreams), when the 9/11 attacks that had many of us "watch the mighty skyline fall" made his live performance of "Miami 2017" that year for the Concert For New York City an obvious choice. However, we were still 16 years out from the actual year. Maybe the bleak prognostication seemed more likely, despite the unified power of Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, and Lorne Michaels.

Then, Joel resurrects it (he is probably playing it on tours through all the years; I don't doubt that) for New Year's Eve, 2016, from Miami right as the clock switched to New Year's Day (I don't know if, like his narrator, and most typical New Yorkers, he had decided to retire to south Florida). And, voila, we no longer have a future to anticipate with the song. In many ways, his relative significance had ended. New York wasn't nearly as bad as he predicted. However, he might have missed his chance to turn the telescope around to look at Miami in 2017.

Within a couple of weeks from his New Year's Day performance, South Florida's most famous orange(-haired) citizen, Donald Trump, has become President. Trump, like most Floridians, was a transported New Yorker, like most who had "all bought Cadillacs and left there long ago." More importantly, Trump had gotten to the presidency for the most part on his pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a need built upon his belief that a foreign "mafia took over Mexico." For most of the sane, the end of the world was truly coming.

See, here's the thing, Billy. You looked at the wrong part of the county to anticipate the four horses of the Apocalypse. Dave Barry had been telling us for years: it was Florida Man1 all along, but you couldn't see beyond your Northeast bias. What a New York thing to do.

1I would be horribly remiss not to inform readers that "Florida Man" is a fantastic song by Blue Öyster Cult, off their comeback release, The Symbol Remains.

Billy Joel. "Miami 2017." Turnstiles. Columbia, 1976. Link here.

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Day 321: Ellen Foley "Stupid Girl"

See complete list here.