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Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) by Billy Joel

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They sent a carrier out from Norfolk
And picked the Yankees up for free Read full Lyrics
New York City skyline at dusk
Here's a genre you don't see talked about every day: science fiction in popular music. By definition, science fiction concerns itself with elements of the fantastic, or events of the future, or possibly both. It is set in the realm of what could be.

As any S.F. fan (and NEVER abbreviate it "sci-fi") can tell you, writing about the future usually consists of looking at a current state of events, and then extrapolating forward to think what might happen. So at a benefit concert in New York after the 9/11/2001 WTC attacks, Billy Joel said of his 1976 song "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)," "I wrote that song 25 years ago. I thought it was going to be a science fiction song; I never thought it would happen. But unlike the end of that song, we ain't going anywhere!"

Interesting. Of course, the song and the actual 9/11 event are two completely different scenarios. "Miami 2017" has nothing to do with terrorism, or indeed any attack from outside forces. The song describes the whole skyline falling; 9/11, devastating though it was, was only about ten buildings (The Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and several buildings surrounding the Towers, most of them only damaged but still standing).

Instead, the song is extrapolating from 1976. The 1970s are widely regarded as New York City's darkest decade. The US economic stagnation hit New York hard, with stocks plummeting and investments scraping bottom. New York City neared bankruptcy. Amidst the many last-ditch efforts to refinance the city, Mayor Abraham Beame asked for a grant from the federal government. Then-president Gerald Ford flat-out refused it, an event which was reported by the New York Daily News with the famous headline: "Ford to City: Drop Dead!"
Empire State Building, New York City
One can imagine the unrest in the town the next morning, as one New Yorker after another bought a paper, read the top story, then crumpled newsprint in their fist while cursing Ford. So the tone of this song is also one of protest - "Miami 2017" is Billy Joel's answer to what would happen if Ford got his way.

Fortunately, the third least-popular president after Nixon and George W. Bush did not get his way, and New York prevailed with the aid of some loans and some generous philanthropists. New York weathered blackouts, riots, and more financial setbacks, but went on to thrive again.

As for this song, Joel was writing it from the point of view of one who had fled the apocalypse of New York and fled all the way to Miami, Florida. Miami, after all, is a nice enough place to retire. The song has many whimsical passages - the Mafia is driven to take their act south because New Yorkers crowded them out, so the Mafia is presumably hustling tequila and marijuana. There's also the concert in Brooklyn itself, defiantly going on even after the plug was pulled on the power. And, of course, there's the image of Manhattan being sank out to sea - perhaps they had to get out a hacksaw and cut along the ground, turning it loose so it floats out into the Atlantic in the general direction of France, maintaining a stately dignity even as it gurgles and bubbles to the ocean floor.

We don't see many science fiction stories set to pop music. Too bad; it's a fascinating sub-genre. Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) Songfacts
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Comments: 1

  • Bob from NycI worked at the World Trade Center, and fortunately survived both the 1993 bombing and 9/11. I find this song to be very poignant, especially after 9/11, because even though it was written 25 years earlier, many of the lyrics can be applied to the events of that terrible day.
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