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Old 07-12-2010, 05:11 PM
 
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I recently spent a brief amount of time in Allentown on the way back from further north, having only known about it due to the Billy Joel song. I went and listened to the song again and realized how interesting it's story is.

Is the song accurate? How do people in Allentown/Bethlehem feel about it? I understand its about the mill closures of the late 70s/early 80s, it is a very (depressing) and interesting story and I'd like to hear more from people who have experience with the area.
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Old 07-12-2010, 06:47 PM
 
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From what I've read, the song is referencing Bethlehem but it didn't rhyme as well as Allentown. There were no steel mills in Allentown. I'm not really sure what made Allentown fall apart but Bethlehem recreate itself and it would be interesting to hear any opinions.
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Old 07-12-2010, 07:20 PM
 
Location: Silver Spring, MD/Washington DC
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If you ask me, the reasons why Bethlehem has done better than Allentown are A) a larger college presence and B) Bethlehem has always had people living in its downtown area north of the river (Bethlehem Steel didn't really have a strong presence in Bethlehem's actual downtown) while Allentown's downtown area was very business-focused. (Having said the previous comment, Mack Trucks didn't have a major presence in downtown Allentown either, but Hess's and Leh's certainly did.)

People from the Lehigh Valley didn't much care for the negative connotation of the song, though Billy Joel meant well (the song was meant to be sympathetic in nature; I believe he actually spent time in the Lehigh Valley and liked the area). Like many areas that had a strong manufacturing presence, the Lehigh Valley or more specifically Allentown and Bethlehem did have rough patches in the late 1970s/early 1980s. But growing up in the Lehigh Valley in the 1980s, I never perceived the area as economically depressed or anything remotely like that; actually it was a reasonably well-off area that like a lot of other places had some white flight from the cities and relatively well-off suburbs. IMO, the Lehigh Valley's rough patch was relatively mild and short and probably was over by the late 1980s. The area has always had pretty strong connections to Philadelphia and to a lesser degree New York, but in the last 10-15 years those connections, especially to New York, have really strengthened. The proximity and increased association with Megalopolis has helped the area economically and helped it avoid a prolonged downturn that places further from Megalopolis in central and western PA (like Altoona, Johnstown, and a good chunk of the Pittsburgh area) have suffered for the last 30+ years or so.
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Old 07-20-2010, 05:23 PM
 
Location: Kennett Square, PA
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LOVE that song! I, too, believe he meant to be sympathetic with what he perceived as the loss of the Great American Dream (WW2 generation trying to establish a successful economic base, etc.,). I often did wonder why it was termed "Allentown" when Bethlehem Steel was the big magnet. Thanks for clearing that up, Toobusy. The tune has a haunting melody; very Americana, IMO.
The song is really a microcosm for the collapse of our manufacturing base. We, here in SE PA, lost Scott Paper, a huge employer for generations, and have taken huge hits from Boeing over the years as well.
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Old 07-20-2010, 05:34 PM
 
Location: Chicago
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The song was originally going to be about Levittown NY (where he grew up) and how there's nothing there, but he couldn't really turn it into a compelling story -- I guess that goes to show how much nothing there is in Levittown. So he switched it to Allentown instead.
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Old 07-20-2010, 07:05 PM
 
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His song was relevant if you were a lower middle class steelworker type in the 1980s. Most of those people are either dead or in their 60s/70s/80s now. I think the younger generations have moved beyond that "stereotype" especially with the influx of NY/NJ folks.
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Old 07-20-2010, 07:19 PM
 
Location: Chicago
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You seem to forget that some of those steelworkers were only in their 20s and 30s back then (or even in their late teens) and are only in their 40s and 50s now. And in fact, it's really that generation the song was about, because they were the generation that really had the rug pulled out from under them. The generations before them were either already retired or could see the retirement light at the end of the tunnel and got out comparatively unharmed. Those who had just entered the workforce back then were the ones for whom the promise of "finish high school, get a good job, show up every day for 30 years and you'll be taken care of for life" was not delivered upon.
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Old 07-21-2010, 05:02 PM
 
Location: SouthEastern PeeAye
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The part about "they've taken all the coal from the ground" is not accurate. The closest coal mining was in the Tamaqua and Nesquehoning areas (Carbon County), about 40-45 miles to the northwest. But a world away in terms of access across a mountain range, and also in terms of demographics and socio-economics. Allentown never was considered a coal mining town, even in past history.
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Old 07-22-2010, 06:38 AM
 
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I don't know, I think everyone my age (50) probably thought the same way about a career, no matter what their occupation. My husband is an engineer and got a job with GE. We both thought that would be where he would stay until he retired. The division he was in was sold and merged and moved to California. A similar thing happened to his friend who worked for DuPont. Their fathers, OTOH, worked for the same company their whole lives. The new norm is that you work for someplace until you are laid off or something better comes along.

The Billy Joel song was catchy and sad but it didn't really tell a unique story and ironically, was not even about Allentown!
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Old 07-23-2010, 05:16 PM
 
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I think it's a great song! It told a story about a time, not Allentown specifically. It sang of the end of the "working man", the end of anything being manufactured or made in America. It basically told of the end of the "American dream" that was prevelant for so many decades before. I personally love the song. I also think the people of the Lehigh Valley should feel honored that their little area was forvever imortalized in song, even if the subject matter was sad and pretty much the ending of an era.
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