The first time I heard Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land off his River of Dreams album, I was seventeen years old. It was very early in the morning on my way to football practice the summer before my senior year of high school. It struck a chord in me that his song about one of the loves of his life was so “un-illuminated.” He really does not paint a pretty picture of Long Island with his lyrics. Backed up by very heavy drums and an almost unfinished synthesizer, it was the first song on the new album I had been waiting four years to hear. I didn’t exactly understand why he would choose to kick off four years of silence with such an angry song about an object of his affection.
A few months later was I able to hear him play that song live at the Nassau Coliseum on New Year’s Eve 1993. Billy kicked off the concert that night with it. It sounded amazing. His songs always sound better live. But still, I did not understand the dark images he was portraying to his audience. That was over 16 years ago.
I have been an avid Billy Joel fan since as far back as I can remember. On my 8thbirthday my parents gave me the greatest gift I have ever received - tickets to his concert on my birthday. Since then I have consumed his music, much to the ribbing of my friends, family and co-workers. I probably have 30+ Gigs of just his music on my portable hard drive. Even though I ate his music and memorized all the words, it was not until my early twenties that I shed my cocoon and fully understood his lyrics. I finally realized that they were not just words to go in rhythm with his piano. He was actually saying something. Still to this day, probably the greatest thing any fan of a band or musician can say is that, it feels like he is speaking directly to me.
I bring up this song for this post for a reason. I heard it today for the first time in a while, and it made me think about all the times I’ve listened to it before. In my opinion, as a whole, Long Island is still the same place Billy Joel was screaming about almost 17 years ago. Really to me, not much has changed. The skies over the Island are is still clouded with uncertainty. Go through the lyrics with me, they could just have very easily been written yesterday.
I’ve seen those big machines come rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex, and we will make a sacrifice
Now we’re gonna get the big business
Now we’re gonna get the real thing
Everybody’s all excited about it
We have turned into a society of gluttonous, combative “consumer-holics”, sliced up into a million demographics by the mainstream media and government agencies for their own profiteering. The “blue suits and bankers” have taken us down a slippery road of economic turmoil our country hasn’t seen in 70 years. Our financial system epitomizes the “Needs of the Few Are Greater Than the Needs of the Many” idealism which has become prevalent in our society. And I’m ashamed to say, I was probably leading the gluttonous charge on a few nights, as we all have at some point or another I’m sure. New York’s government is Ineptitude’s Poster Boy. Everyone wants their way, just because it is their way, and nothing gets accomplished. Hopefully Billy Joel’s song Miami 2017: Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway does not go down in the annals of history as a prophecy.
There ain’t much work out here in our consumer power base
No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space
This morning’s paper says our neighbor’s in a cocaine bust
Lots more to read about Lolita and suburban lust
Now we’re gonna get the whole story
Now we’re gonna be in prime time
Everybody’s all excited about it
You just have to change the line about the Lolita (Amy Fisher) for any of the Dina Lohans that have tried to make themselves famous through the tasteless medium of Fake Reality TV.
I see these children with their boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we’re to blame for their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night, this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there’s cable now in Zombietown
Now we’re gonna get the closed circuit
Now we’re gonna get the Top 40
Now we’re gonna get the sports franchise
Now we’re gonna get the major attractions
Billy grew up on the streets of Long Island. His parents were divorced. He knows what it is like to be an easily influenced, Long Island youth. Just listen to his song Captain Jack. That should speak volumes. There is nothing to do at night if you are underage on Long Island. Nothing but movie theaters and street corners to mold these young minds if you wanted to venture away from the TV or internet for a few hours. Kids don’t even play outside in the street anymore. I think my friends and I were the last age group of kids that played outside without the need to be setup on a “Play Date.” We would leave our houses at 10:30am and didn’t return until 10pm. There were always 8-15 kids playing the popular seasonal sport out on the street in front of someone’s house…not anymore. When he wrote this song, his daughter was still young…young enough for him to be concerned with what it would be like for her growing up on the Long Island he was observing. And all these years later, much doesn’t seem to have changed. Maybe that is why Billy Joel has not written an album of new material since the last one almost 17 years ago. Maybe he is tired of being the voice of Long Island, only to have his message fall on the deaf ears of people who are blinded by his “Rock Star” status and are only interested in the photo op.
The Refrain and ending of Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land goes like this…
Who remembers when it all began
Out here in no man’s land
Before the whole world was in our hands
Out here in no man’s land
Before the banners and the marching bands
Out here in no man’s land
Low supply and high demand
Here in no man’s land
That’s a good question. Who remembers when it all began? Well, I certainly don’t. My parents were still a few years from being born when Long Island became the first suburb of America after World War II. The members of ‘Our Greatest Generation’ that are still with us, will not be around for too much longer. Take the time to ask one next time you are in their company. But I’m sure it was a time that was filled with endless possibilities in their eyes. Before all the Pomp and Circumstance and giant shiny carrots, this was No Man’s Land, vast sprawls of potato fields surrounded by bright blue water. Having just faced down the greatest evil the world had ever known, that generation of Long Islanders reached for the stars and landed humans on the moon among many other great achievements.
When I heard Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land today, for the first time since I was fully able to comprehend what he was talking about, I do not share his opinion of a dark and “un-illuminated” Long Island. Yes, shades of gray still cover the Long Island skyline, but in all its turmoil, it has created a Long Island filled with endless possibilities. It has made some Long Islanders start to think outside the box. They believe in their hearts that there has to be a better way to do things then the way we have been going about our business. There is a select group of individuals and organizations that in their own way have started to shine their lights through the darkness to lead Long Island into a bright and sustainable future.
These individuals and organizations are vital to Long Island if we are going to pick ourselves up and lead the charge into the 21st Century. Their work already has been instrumental in the progress Long Island has made into a greener economy. To me, Green = Smart. It’s also the first movement to promote the “Needs of the Many Are Greater Than the Needs of the Few” idealism that must become our mantra if we are to be an example for the rest of the country to follow. It is the first movement that is taking a look at what we have become, the damage we are on pace to dump on our children’s laps, and the first to realize that somewhere along the line, we are going to have to pay the price.
I would like to let everyone else know what I have seen over the last few years that has given me hope, hope that we are not really like the MTV-style society that we have become. This is the next Greatest Generation of Long Islanders who are poised to lead our region down the path to sustainability and be a model for the rest of the country and future generations of Long Islanders to follow.
Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone - Steve is the Founder and President ofThe Babylon Project, and he helped create the Town of Babylon’s nationally recognized Long Island Green Homes Program.
Town of Babylon’s Sammy Chu - Board member for the Long Island Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC-LI) - He also helped create Town of Babylon’s nationally recognized Long Island Green Homes Program.
Vince Capogna and the USGBC-LI Executive Board - Vince Capogna, President, and the U.S. Green Building Council Long Island Chapter’s Executive Board have been instrumental in leading the charge in the green building industry on Long Island. The USGBC LEED rating system is the premiere green building rating system in the country. The purpose of the Long Island Chapter of the US Green Building Council is to mirror and advance the core purpose of the US Green Building Council locally. It’s also to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.
Sarah Lansdale, Executive Director of Sustainable Long Island - Sarah Lansdale was selected as Sustainable Long Island’s second Executive Director in September 2004. Under her leadership, the organization has engaged thousands of community leaders and elected officials to rethink, rebuild and renew communities across Long Island, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of investment, hundreds of units of housing, and dozens of new businesses.
Sarah serves on the Board of Directors of the Women Economic Developers, was appointed by the Governor to sit on the MTA Sustainability Commission, and was appointed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to the Suffolk County Planning Commission. She co-produced an Emmy-nominated documentary Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island. Sarah is a 2006 graduate of the Energeia Partnership and was honored as a Community Leader by the 100 Black Men of Long Island and most recently by the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko - Supervisor Lesko, in only a short term in office, has become a champion for the future of Long Island and The Town of Brookhaven by creating The Town of Brookhaven Comprehensive Plan 2030 and just recently his launch of the “Blight into Light” initiative.
LIPA CEO Kevin Law - Here are just some of the amazing things Kevin has accomplished at the help of Long Island’s Power Authority.
· LIPA CHIEF KEVIN LAW, TO UNVEIL NEW FEDERAL PLAN TO ALLOW LIPA TO REFINANCE BILLIONS IN DEBT – WOULD SAVE LI’ERS HUNDREDS ON THEIR ELECTRIC BILLS AND LOWER THEM BY 5 PERCENT
· LIPA Applies for over $17 Million in Stimulus Funding For Renewable Energy Projects
· LIPA and Smithtown Schools Announce Largest School Solar Project on Long Island
· LIPA Proposes 2010 Operating & Capital Budget Which Stabilizes Rates in Volatile Energy Market and Expands Investment in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
· LIPA Increases Funding for Renewables and Creates New Solar Thermal Program
· LIPA CEO Kevin Law Announces $12.5 Million Award for Rte 110 “Smart Energy Corridor”
· LIPA Approves the Largest Solar Energy Project in New York State
RELI - Renewable Energy Long Island - RELI is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization promoting clean, sustainable energy use and generation for Long Island. RELI seeks public participation in energy policy decisions to encourage energy efficiency, use of renewable energy sources, and protection of our environment, economy, and public health.
Ted Reiff, Founder/President of The ReUse People of America - The ReUse People (TRP) are relatively new to the Long Island Community and not many people have heard of TRP or Ted Reiff. His not-for-profit organization is the leading building deconstruction and building material reuse organization in the United States. Through their efforts, The ReUse People have diverted over 260,000 tons of valuable construction and demolition waste from fragile overburdened landfills back into our economy. He will teach us how our old buildings are a valuable resource for other Long Islanders. With Long Island’s having only 3 working landfills, Ted Reiff and The ReUse People will be a vital cog in the wheel that will shape the future of Long Island.
KIOLI - Keep It On Long Island - KIOLI is a catch phrase. It is an acronym to be more exact. It is a philosophy and a movement. It stands for Keep It On Long Island, but it means many things.
It means keeping our money here where it cannot be manipulated by treacherous Wall Street investments. It pleads with consumers to spend money in local businesses that are owned by local residents, businesses founded by investments made by Long Islanders that result in profits staying here and circulating through our economy. It is a movement that dreams of providing our children with affordable housing alternatives and productive, skilled employment. It is a notion whose time has come, and kioli.org is where it resides.
Now I can see what these organizations and individuals are accomplishing, but that is only because I am looking. Their work has not cleared out all the darkness. There is still a long way to go. That will not happen until the rest of Long Island can start to see who the leaders of Long Island really are. I believe that if Billy Joel could see what I see, it would inspire him to break 17 years of silence and write a less ominous album of songs about the land we all love, our home, Long Island.