The song, which was released in 1976, is set in a future where New York is gone and the last inhabitants have moved elsewhere. While Joel has often described it as a “science fiction” story that he didn’t expect to have any reflection in real life, the track’s spirit has been used to express solidarity in troubled times.
You can watch the performance below.
Speaking in 2013, Joel explained that he was affected by the moment New York City asked the federal government for an emergency loan, but was refused. “I was living in L.A. at the time, and everyone in L.A. was like, ‘Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, New York City’s gonna go down the tube,'” he recalled.
“These weren’t native Californians. A lot of these were, like, ex-New Yorkers. … I’m picturing New York, the apocalypse … the skyline tumbling down … this horrendous conflagration happening in New York City.” He then imagined himself, having retired to Florida, telling his grandchildren how he’d “seen the lights go out on Broadway.”
The Rise Up New York telethon, hosted by Tina Fey, was organized by the Robin Hood foundation and iHeartRadio, with the aim of “supporting the nonprofit organizations on the frontlines.” The foundation has distributed more than $20 million to date.
Before Joel’s performance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told viewers that “the virus is under retreat. The number of hospitalizations is down, the infection rate is down and all the arrows are pointed in the right direction. … It’s been hard and we are not done yet, but we’ve faced adversity before – in 9/11, with Superstorm Sandy – and we don’t just build back. We build back better than before.”