We’re talking here in Allentown.

The following will seem stupid to everyone but my Twitter buddies Glenn and Jeremy, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Depending on where you get your information, you might have seen the Lehigh Valley in the news today.

Reuters sent a reporter (female) to talk to voters (also female) in Trexlertown, a (gender-neutral) suburb of Allentown, about Donald Trump. Trexlertown is the home and headquarters to a Fortune 500 global corporation, though you wouldn’t have known it from Reuters’ description of “former factory towns in the hills west of New York City.”

(Oh, yeah, I guess I gotta link to it. Here’s the story.)

This is not the first time in recent years that a national or international news organization has come to the Lehigh Valley in search of man-on-the-street commentary.

I attribute this to the idea that the Valley — maybe an hour-and-a-half from New York City — is the closest thing to flyover country you can visit from New York and still be back in time to file your story.

After all, if you want the voice of America, you’re not gonna get it on the streets of Manhattan. New York City is its own world, and people in the rest of the country won’t think it represents the national opinion even when it does.

And New Jersey is seen by much of the country as New York’s bedroom, so you can’t go talk to people there either.

But Pennsylvania — poor battered coal-dusted industry-jilted Pennsylvania — is another thing altogether. That’s where square-shouldered resilient people wait for the Pennsylvania they never found and the promises their teachers gave, as the union people crawl away and The Man throws the American flag in their face.

(Or so Billy Joel said, and he’s a trustworthy source. Everything in “We Didn’t Start The Fire” really happened, didn’t it?)

So, we’re the ideal destination for reporters seeking the Voice of America.

On Twitter this morning, my friends and I kicked around the idea of monetizing that. What if the Lehigh Valley’s next industry was providing commentary to New York-based reporters trawling the common people for the mood of America? What if we could tap into our natural resource — our battered-but-unbowed common-man image — and become 21st-century thought leaders, literally and figuratively?

The world needs opinions … well, it doesn’t really need them, but it sure seems hungry for them; just look at social media. The Lehigh Valley could become a net exporter of opinions — a carbon-free, smog-free industry, and endlessly renewable so long as we have a decent supply of throat lozenges.

All of which motivated me to rewrite “Allentown” — still the Lehigh Valley’s unofficial albatross-anthem — to reflect the glittering new possibilities.

“Allentown” is a great song, sure, but it’s all about things as they used to be. We need a song that heralds our future.

Here, then, are the (occasionally annotated) words to the Lehigh Valley’s new anthem. If you wanna sing along, click here.

Well, we’re talking here in Allentown
And they’re writing our opinions down
We can tell you what the nation feels
Give us vox pops
Ask us what’s real

And our parents lived on steel and coal
But our future lies in stories and polls
We’re a working journo’s dream retreat
Scrapple and farms
And men on the street

And we’re talking here in Allentown

And our feet are firmly on the ground
And we’ve got so very much to sa-a-a-ayyy…


Well, we used to have some factories here
And that ought to make your narrative clear
Everybody here’s down on their luck
Turn a blind eye
to our McMansions and trucks

Though our new diplomas hang on the wall
You need pay them no attention at all
Tell your viewers that we still make steel
Don’t make ’em think
Just make ’em feel

And we’re talking here in Allentown

And all that you can hear is the sound
Of reporters every single day-ay-ay-ay….

Just take the Holland and expense all the tolls
Sketch out a story of blue collars and coal
We’ll all be waiting 90 minutes away
For you to take the pulse of the U.S.A….
Ay, ay, ay

Well, we’re talking here in Allentown
And it’s time that you were New York-bound
Have a nice trip back on Seventy-Eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eigh-eight
And we’re talking here in Allentown.

Going into the lodges for exotic massages.

Sunday night finds me on YouTube, listening once again to Billy Joel’s snotty “Los Angelenos.

It’s one of the few BJ tunes I didn’t hear growing up, since my parents’ near-complete Joel collection did not include either of the albums on which it appears (1974’s Streetlife Serenade and 1981’s live Songs From The Attic.)

If I had to listen to any one of BJ’s musical takedowns, I’d probably choose this one. It’s wicked catchy, especially the bridge (“Hiding up in the mountains / Laying low in the canyons / Going nowhere on the streets with the Spanish names.”) And who doesn’t enjoy a shot at shallow, narcissistic southern Californians?

I went into the ARSA database of local radio-play charts to see if the song — not released as a single — had hooked any programming directors the way it hooked me.

And sure enough, there’s one chart from 40 years ago this month, listing “Los Angelenos” as an up-and-coming airplay hit …

in San Francisco.

Apparently, no one enjoys a shot at shallow, narcissistic southern Californians more than their northern neighbors.

I knew I liked San Francisco.

Sing me a song.

One of the local papers is asking readers to send in their memories of a semi-legendary Billy Joel gig in the Lehigh Valley that happened 40 years ago this month.

I’m not gonna link to the news item, so you’ll have to trust me on the backstory:

Beej played the tiny Roxy Theater on Main Street in Northampton, Pa., in late November 1973.

(KISS played there before they were stars too. The place shows second-run movies now. It’s maybe a 10-minute jog from my house.)

Even though the pride of Hicksville hadn’t had a hit yet, and had just released the Piano Man album a few weeks before, supposedly everyone in the house sang along with all the tunes.

It was one of those shows that maybe 300 actually attended, but 3,000 later claimed to have been there.

Any time I see a mainstream media outlet try to crowd-source a story like this, it brings out the prankster in me.

I mean, any story you can tell with a straight face has a chance to get into print, because who’s going to correct you?

I’m not actually gonna send these in … but if I had no shame, here are six of the “memories” I would be tempted to share.

“He sat down at the piano and started singing this weird song about American history. He got as far as Apollo 11 and Woodstock and then stopped playing. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘we left that one off the album. It was no great shakes.’ “

“He stopped in the middle of the show and gave a 15-minute jump-rope demonstration. His drummer and bass player were holding each end of the rope. He was pretty damn good, actually. Years later I saw him at the Spectrum and I kept yelling, ‘BILLY! WHERE’S THE JUMP ROPE?’ Maybe he did it in the second set, I dunno. The bouncers threw me out.”

“He must have played for three hours. We were all going wild! I’ve never seen such energy. Best of all was his sax player — this big black guy who looked like a football player. I can still hear Billy calling to him: ‘Hey, Big Man! Are you loose?’ “

“Anyone who claims to have listened to the band at that show is lying. It was a Saturday and Penn State was playing Michigan State. Half of us had transistor radios, and every time Penn State scored the whole place would erupt in clapping and cheering. Billy Joel? He coulda been playing ‘La Marseillaise’ with palm-farts and no one would have known the difference.”

“That was the caramel show. Right from the first song he started obsessively eating caramels. He had two in his mouth at once the entire show. He was drooling all over his shirt. A couple of my friends got up and left. That was really weird. I’ve never seen anyone else do that.”

“I got totally smeared on three hits of LSD, and when Billy came out, he had a dragon’s head and a goat’s body. I spent the entire show writhing on the floor, beseeching the gods for forgiveness. The music sounded pretty good from there. They always had a good sound system at the Roxy. That much, I remember.”

Going nowhere on the streets with the Spanish names.

News item: The Los Angeles Dodgers take advantage of a roster shuffle by the Boston Red Sox, acquiring big-name players Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford in a blockbuster trade.

This news surprised the baseball world, but was not tremendously shocking to classic rock fans, who already knew that Los Angelenos all come from somewhere.

The pouty snarl on Beej’s face at about 0:16 in is priceless. Rock n’ roll is a tough business, but he’s gonna put all those transplanted Topekans in their place, you betcha.

(He could take a lesson from his drummer, Liberty DeVitto, who is ten times the rock n’ roll animal BJ is without even trying. Check him out near the end, making fun of his boss’ pretty piano playing.)

Encore performances: Say goodbye to Hollywood.

In the comments to my previous post, my dad said he’d never expect to see a Billy Joel album review on this blog. (I have a long history of being the only person in my family who hates Billy Joel.)

Well, it’s the old man’s birthday. And I just happen to have a Billy Joel album review sitting in my back pocket. I wrote it for my old blog, for a feature called Off The Shelf, in which I would take down records I hadn’t listen to in years and give them a fresh listen.

This review isn’t very good … but neither is the record. Happy birthday, anyway.

When I was a kid, everyone else in my family loved Billy Joel; so I felt it my duty to loathe his music with a passion.
I wasn’t sure which made me squirm harder — the mushy ballads, or the self-conscious “rocker” moments when Billy would put on his hard face and say something tough.

Amidst the fear and loathing, though, there was always one album I had a soft spot for:
“Turnstiles,” Billy’s fourth album, released in 1976.

I guess the album’s major lyrical theme — changes; arrivals and departures; hello and goodbye — resonated with me when I was a pre-teen and teenager, and prone to thinking about such things.
I liked the album cover, too. BJ’s other covers ranged from pretentious to flat-out scary, but the subterranean shot on the cover of “Turnstiles” had a certain mundane grit that spoke to me.

Ironically, the album I liked most was Joel’s least commercially successful effort (excluding his misbegotten solo debut “Cold Spring Harbor.”)
Joel’s two prior albums had each reached the Top 50 on the album chart and produced a Top 40 single. But “Turnstiles” failed to crack the Top 100 albums or produce a hit single.
Neither the LP nor any of its eight songs shows up on a single survey in the online ARSA database of local radio surveys.

(Edit: “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” appears to have been re-released in 1981 and shows up on a couple of surveys.)

But it was always my “favorite” Billy Joel album.
For that reason, and really for no other, it’s the first album I took out for the Off The Shelf feature.
What’s it sound like to me now?

Side One kicks off with a winner: “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” which sets out the album’s Big Statement over a baion beat respectfully lifted from Phil Spector:
“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes / I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”
Beej sings with all the full-lunged Ronnie Spector mojo he can muster. His handpicked band (making its first appearance on record) can’t quite conjure up the Wall of Sound, but they do OK for long-haired bunch from Long Guy Land.
I’m not thrilled with the ending — fading out on the baion so suddenly is kind of a weak choice — but really, I can’t find much fault with this one.

Oh, and before we move on, let’s not overlook the opening line, which sets the scene nicely: “Bobby’s driving through the city tonight / Through the lights / In a hot new rent-a-car.”
I like the rent-a-car touch; makes it clear that this song will not be populated with young Springsteen-style outcasts clutching their hard-won pink slips, but with characters who are older, more jaded, financially richer but perhaps poorer in spirit.

Anyway, the parade continues with “Summer, Highland Falls,” a song known to casual BJ fans everywhere as “Sadness or Euphoria” because of the payoff line at the end of each verse.
Joel’s rolling piano sets up a song of adolescent romantic angst (waitaminnit, I thought we were getting twentysomethings in hot rental cars!) that would go marvelously in one of those drama shows aimed at teenagers, like “Dawson’s Creek” or “One Tree Hill” or something.
(“So we’ll argue and we’ll compromise / And realize that nothing’s ever changed / For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same.”)
If the first song was a hat tip to Spector (Phil and Ronnie), this tune is predigested Paul Simon at his most sensitive, set over piano arpeggios instead of acoustic guitar.

Of course, it’s still better than …

… track three, “All You Wanna Do Is Dance.”
In which BJ castigates a young woman whose sole crime seems to be retrograde musical taste.
(“Oh baby, I think you are lost in the ’70s / Oh baby, the music she ain’t what she used to be.”)
All of which is set over a hinky quasi-reggae groove that doesn’t, featuring a vaguely calliope-ish organ solo that I bet even BJ has trouble listening to now.

Suffice it to say that the accusation “Oh baby, you want to crawl back into yesterday” is rather an odd thrust for a man who only two songs ago was positively busting out the ouija board to get closer to Phil Spector.

Leaving that misfire behind, Side One closes with the album’s sole single, “New York State of Mind,” in which the callow young piano-pounder from Hicksville decides he’s going to meet Hoagy Carmichael and Ray Charles on their own turf — and damn near succeeds.
For my money, this is as heartfelt, memorable and well-observed (love the detail in “the New York Times / the Daily News”) a love letter to New York as any rock songwriter has ever come up with.
It’s also a nice antidote when you’ve had a bit too much of Bono singing about New York as if he owned the place, or Lou Reed muttering things like, “I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag with Latin written on it that says, ‘It’s hard to give a shit these days.’ ”
(Those NYC songwriters, as we’ll see in a minute, tend to lean a little too heavy on the cynicism.)

Four on one side, four on the other, and so we flip to hear “James,” a song addressed to a dutiful son (“so relied upon / Everybody knows how hard you try”) overloaded with family demands and expectations.
It’s cut from the same musical cloth as the later “Just The Way You Are,” with a gentle melody and chiming electric piano.
Joel could have turned this into another acrid character assassination in the manner of “Captain Jack;” but to his credit, he sounds sympathetic to his friend, as though they were meeting to vent over coffee.

Or perhaps I am biased because I root for James … but that’s another story.
Good song, anyway.

From the easy listening, we burst into the most electrifying two minutes on the record: “Prelude/Angry Young Man.”
(Love the echt-’70s title. The instrumental prelude of a ’70s rock song always gets its own title, like Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” or Steve Miller’s “Space Intro/Fly Like An Eagle.” I wonder if Beej ever mixed it up onstage and played “Prelude” leading into “New York State of Mind”? Or “Fly Like An Eagle,” for that matter?)

Anyway, the Long Island Wrecking Crew gets two minutes to show off its rock’n’roll chops, complete with pick slides and just the right amount of Hammond organ; and if you close your eyes, it’s not hard to imagine them in the summer of 1976, blowing the roof off a theater near you.

“Angry Young Man,” meanwhile, features BJ spouting rapid-fire lyrics about what sounds like an aspiring Symbionese Liberation Army member perpetually stuck in his folks’ basement — the anti-James, more or less.
It’s all a bit broad-side-of-a-barn-door, of course.
But unlike some other characters in BJ’s world, the Angry Young Man richly deserves a cynical kick in the ass.
Especially given that by 1976, anyone still clinging to Sixties-style Angry Young Mandom was (as the hip kids nowadays like to say) DOING IT WRONG.

Nice plangent bridge, too: “I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage / I found that just surviving was a noble fight.”
Unfortunately, this would not prove to be autobiographical: The real-life BJ would continue to do snotty, juvenile things, like calling out critics from the stage, for some years to come.

On the seventh song, “I’ve Loved These Days,” we revisit the rich but spiritually bankrupt characters who showed up at the beginning of the album. The narrator of this song probably attended the party to which Bobby was driving his rent-a-car.

There’s more than a whiff of F. Scott Fitzgerald to this one.
(Yeah, I said that. Meant it, too.)
Strings of pearls, caviar, foreign cars and fine cocaine add up to a morning-after dead end, as real in 1976 Hollywood as it was fifty years before.

Suddenly, the reference in 1973’s “Captain Jack” to “they just found your father in the swimming pool” reminds me of George Wilson lumbering out of the bushes toward Gatsby.
I’d better stop now.
(Hey, East Egg was on Long Island, wasn’t it?)

On the heels of that lament, the album closes on a singularly weird note with “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway.)”
We are left to wonder what the point is, as Joel closes Side One by exalting New York and closes Side Two by destroying it.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of “King of the World,” the vision of nuclear apocalypse that ends Steely Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy” album, except without even the minimal edge or chill Becker or Fagen were able to conjure.
Joel’s vision, by comparison, plays like a bad, mega-million-dollar summer blockbuster movie; I cast Megan Fox as the female lead.

(BJ has apparently explained the concept vaguely as “a science fiction song.” Of course, the song gained renewed notice following the Sept. 11 attacks, when everyone was too numb to remember that it’s just fundamentally … inexplicable. What if Van Morrison had ended “Astral Weeks” by having Godjira rise from the ocean and devour Belfast?)

We never find out what happens to Staten Island — does it annex itself to Jersey and slip under the radar?
But we do get the obligatory Big Apple cynicism in Joel’s observations of New Yorkers too callous to notice the destruction of their own city because it always burned and crumbled before.
Uh, yeah. Kinda like what happened on 9/11, BJ?
Cynicism is cheap; and in this case, it’s counterfeit coin.

The album also ends on the line “… to keep the memory alive.”
Having spent so much time listening to songs about changes, goodbyes and relocations, we are left grasping at the past as the lights come up.
Something of a thematic misfire, if you ask me.

Given that lineup of tracks, it’s probably no great surprise that 1977’s much stronger “The Stranger,” not this, was the album that made Billy Joel a megastar.
This one still has a little bit of nostalgic appeal, though.
Change for the Rockaway Line, anyone?