• Elise Chandler

Behind the Lyrics - "We Didn't Start the Fire"



Welcome back! I appreciate, dear readers, your patience and understanding in waiting for another write-up from me. I am a firm believer in only writing in something you truly believe in, and sometimes, I need to wait for inspiration to hit. I hope all of your song-writing is going stellar!  Onward! I'll be honest; this upcoming election here in America has me thinking about social justice issues. Social Justice is a big part of who I am, but I would argue it is a huge part of who artists as a whole are. As I teach my students, Art is a beautiful way to conquer oppression.  Now, no matter which side you fall on - I think we can all agree that we want the world to be a better place. We just have different views on how to get there. With all of this being said, I'm encouraging you to take some of the frustration, anxiety, and stress that you feel and channel it into a song.  The next few weeks, I'll be focusing on songs that did exactly this. They weren't always as forthcoming as "We Didn't Start the Fire" -- our focus for today. But, they still held people's attention and gave them HOPE. That's the beauty of art. It reminds us that while things are hard, it can and will get better if we keep pushing forward. With all that being said -- let's look at our focus for today: 

"We Didn't Start the Fire" -- Billy Joel 

"Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye" Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron Dien Bien Phu falls, "Rock Around the Clock" Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai" Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, "Stranger in a Strange Land" Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion "Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan "Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore

We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire But when we are gone Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it We didn't start the fire It was always burning Since the world's been turning We didn't start the fire No we didn't light it But we tried to fight it"

What works with this song is a few things:  1. The music. It is hopeful. It is peppy. Even though the topic is a little sad, the tone of the music reminds people that "No, we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it."  2. All the allusions. An allusion is a reference to something. For example, if I say, "Luke, I am your Father." You all are shouting at your computer screen right now -- STAR WARS! I never said it was Star Wars right out, but you knew. People like to feel knowledgable. This song allows them to note how many world issues they know about. AND if they don't know some, you can bet that they'll know by the one-hundredth time they have listened to it. This is because when learning lyrics, we desire to know. Also, we share the art with others who can add their own knowledge to it. How cool!  Finally, the line "No, we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it." It ends the song powerfully. It assumes listeners again are intelligent and want to do something to make the world a better place. That's powerful.  So, this week, listen out for some things going on in the world. Do any of them strike your musical Muse? How many allusions do you hear? Have fun writing. Until next time. 

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ALL THINGS ALT. ALWAYS.