April 15, 2007

Raise your hand if you had to do a school project on Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”


It’s yet another rainy and cold day here in our nation’s capital, which translates into canceled Wiffleball games, copious amounts of green tea, avoiding the torrential downpour and flooding streets, and, god help me, watching Billy Joel music videos on YouTube.

You’re soooo hardcore, Billy

This all started when, out of pure boredom, Mike and I started comparing the famous people who we share our birthdays with. I, sadly, have the same birthday (May 9) as former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the esteemed musical artist and Russophile, Billy Joel. I wonder if everyone born on May 9 has a slight obsession with Russia, due to it also being Den’ Pobedy. Billy, though, seems to put out really sappy Cold War ballads (i.e., “Leningrad”) whereas I tend to pursue useless, and very expensive, academic degrees. I don’t know which is worse, but he does have a lot more money in his bank account than I do.

Anyways, Mike and I discovered that, while in middle school, we both had to do class projects on his famous 1989 song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Even before this sixth grade project, I was quite familiar with this song, as my Dad was (still is?) a huge Billy Joel fan and would often play his tapes in the car (that, along with Toto and Meat Loaf and Boston and Tom Petty and ohmygod I can’t believe I left my Walkman and Pearl Jam tape at home, I’m going to start banging my head against the window now).

The actual “project” consisted of our world history teacher playing the song over and over and over to the point where we had all memorized the lyrics and loved shouting “JFK BLOWN AWAY, WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO SAY?” in the hopes that our principal, a Catholic nun, would walk by at that very moment. I don’t remember actually learning anything with this particular assignment, but I did make a kick ass poster by cutting up a few volumes of National Geographic and presenting it to my class:

“This is a photo of some Soviet soldiers. Billy Joel talks about the Soviets in his song.”

“Very good, Lindsay.”

“And this is a photo of a guy in China being run over by a tank.”

“Uh, yes, that is Tienanmen Square.”

“Uh-huh. And here is Coke and Pepsi and a space shuttle.”

“Great, great. Very good.”

I’m pretty sure I got an A on that assignment, even though I obviously spent more time cutting up magazines and gluing photos of Mickey Mantle and crack cocaine to a poster board than I did researching the actual subjects he was singing about. Whatev.

The song has annoyed me ever since, though, because I really effin’ hated the whiney chorus:

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

Well, OK, Billy, maybe you have a point in that your generation (the Baby Boomers) didn’t start the fire, but then again I don’t think you put much effort into fighting it, as you claim you “tried” to do. Rather, you and your cohorts just stood around the fire, occasionally dousing it in gasoline while clad in tie-dye and Birkenstocks, dropping acid, and then writing songs about how you played no role whatsoever in the problems plaguing the world, which apparently include the bloody Cola Wars of the 1980s. Hippies.

For those of you who were lucky enough not to have to do a project on this song, here are the lyrics and music video:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to purge this song from my memory by listening to Something Corporate and Rage Against the Machine. Coachella in 12 days, ooooh yeah.