It was a dreary day in Toledo today, 12 degrees and a light snow coming down as I made the drive home. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue, the Billy Joel CD my husband bought me for Christmas (along with Billy Joel concert tickets) flipped to “Allentown.”
It was one of my favorite songs growing up, probably because it was one of the first music videos that MTV played in heavy rotation. It had a cinematic flair to it – and it told a story, something that’s lacking in music videos today. (Yes, they still make music videos – go to Vevo.com.)
(Though I have to say that when I was seven years old, the dude dancing around in his underwear with a flaming baton in that video freaked me out a little bit. One of the funniest passages in the book “I Want My MTV” is Billy Joel discussing the video.)
But I listen to the song nearly 30 years later and it resonates with me on a different level, living in a Rust Belt city that’s gone through despair and is trying to re-discover its identity.
And I realize why it resonated with my parents, who grew up in western Pennsylvania – “Allentown” isn’t just about a town in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s the story of a town that once thrived on industry, on coal mining and working in the steel mills, in the plants and factories, of immigrants who wanted to provide a good life for their children, but a town that lost its identity with the changing economic and industrial times. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit, Youngstown, Erie – you can say that for just about any Rust Belt city. Especially Detroit – a place that was once vibrant and the hub of American manufacturing, but is now a shell of itself. And I hope that Billy Joel comes in and rocks “Allentown” when he’s at the Palace next month, because somehow that will resonate with Detroit, too.
Sidebar: Billy Joel sang one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner in 2007, before the Super Bowl.
I remember watching this and thinking, these guys are playing in the game of their lives – no better way to explain it than when the camera held for a few seconds on Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson.