'We Didn't Start The Fire'

Not according to Billy Joel, we didn’t; we “inherited it”.

Billy Joel (taken Sept 2009 by David Shankbone)

Billy Joel (taken Sept 2009 by David Shankbone)

We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is from his 1989 album, ‘Storm Front’. I loved this song from the moment I heard it; actually, I love the whole album.

Billy Joel's album, 'Storm Front'

To be honest, I haven’t listened to it for a long while until this morning. There’s a girl doing work experience at the stables where Liam works and her name is Alexa, which reminded me of another song from this album, ‘The Downeaster Alexa’. And that’s why I chose the album for our morning drive.

We Didn’t Start the Fire’ has been criticised because it doesn’t delve deep or provide any context other than being a list of celebrities and events from 1949 (the year Joel was born) to 1989, when the album was released. In an interview in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Nov 1989), Joel explained that the song is “not meant to sound preachy… What I’m trying to get across is that we didn’t start this stuff, we inherited it.” Which is a fair point; the ‘fire’, the problems that are mentioned in the song, started before he and his generation were born.

Obviously, not every historical event or icon or public figure from 1949-1989 is mentioned. Why would they be? Billy Joel is a musician, and his song isn’t a history lesson. But I think it does a good job in piquing interest; it certainly did for me, spurring me to find out more.

Personally, I like the way the lyrics flow, almost like a child’s rhyme, and I like the tune.

I’ve decided to include the lyrics; if you want to know more, you can find references to everything mentioned HERE.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny 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
Maciano, 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, Khrushchev
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, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather homicide, Children of Thalidomide

Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia
Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U-2, 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
Moon shot, 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
It will still burn on and on…

Fantastic Friday - Wear Sunscreen

Today’s post is, once again, thanks to Youtube. While watching one of my favourite videos, I was intrigued by this little gem that appeared on the side. I’d never heard of ‘The Sunscreen Song’ so, of course, had to look it up.

The original piece was written by Chicago Tribune columnist, Mary Schmich, back in June 1997.

Mary Schmich

She wrote it as a hypothetical graduation speech; here’s her explanation in her own words:
Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there’s no reason we can’t entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

In her speech, she gives different pieces of advice and warnings on how to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations, all the while insisting on the wearing of sunscreen. (Here's the full version.)

In 1998/99, Baz Luhrmann decided to use it, with Schmich’s permission, in his spoken word song, ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’. Instead of opening it with the ‘class of ‘97’, Luhrmann’s version opens with the words, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of ‘99’. The spoken words are done by Lee Perry, an Australian voice actor, while the backing is the choral version of ‘Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)’ sung by Rozalla, from Luhrmann’s film ‘Romeo + Juliet’; the chorus, from the same song, is sung by Quindon Tarver.

Strangely, Schmich’s words have a habit of being misattributed. When this essay first went viral, it was mistakenly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. Schmich’s quote – ‘Do one thing every day that scares you’ (which are part of this essay) – has been wrongly credited to Eleanor Roosevelt.

There are so many versions of this song on Youtube but this is my personal favourite; hope you enjoy it too.

Piano Guys at the Royal Albert Hall

We enjoyed last year’s Piano Guys concert so much we went again this year. Added bonus – it was at the Royal Albert Hall. Their popularity is in no doubt – the evening performance had sold out so they put on a matinee performance as well; I think that sold out too.

The Piano Guys Concert Programme, which is also the cover of their album 'Uncharted'

The Piano Guys Concert Programme, which is also the cover of their album 'Uncharted'

Albert Memorial with the Royal Albert Hall on the left

Albert Memorial with the Royal Albert Hall on the left

They started with ‘Batman Evolution’; I was a happy bunny! Just 2 guys on stage with piano and cello – magic. Watching the sheer pleasure Jon Schmidt (piano) and Steven Sharp Nelson (cello) get from playing music is, in my opinion, quite a moving experience. In fact, by the end of the second piece, ‘Let It Go’, Liam was in tears. For certain numbers, they were accompanied by the video visuals on the screen behind them, which enhanced the pieces.

Piano and cello

They played a couple of solo pieces. The studio version of ‘Beethoven’s 5 Secrets’ features the cello with the backing of an orchestra of youngsters. For the live version that he played, Steven was joined on stage by about 8 young violinists from a local music school. When we applauded, he made sure the focus was all on them.

When Jon played his solo piano version of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, he asked us to excuse him as he removed his ear pieces so he could fully enjoy the acoustics in the hall. Seeing the joy on his face as he played moved me to tears.

These guys were born to play live; they know how to entertain. Apart from the music, there’s so much banter, it felt like we were spending a relaxing afternoon with them in their own home, instead of a crowded concert hall.

Before the intermission, Al van der Beek joined them on stage for ‘It’s Gonna Be Okay’; he's the vocalist, and the song is one of my go-to songs whenever I need a mood lift. We sang along with some rousing audience participation.

Then they were joined by their fourth member, Paul Anderson, who’s responsible for their stunning videos, and all four of them performed the exuberant ‘Ants Marching/Ode To Joy’ around the piano.

(L-R) Jon, Al, Paul and Steven

(L-R) Jon, Al, Paul and Steven

Apart from the banter, there were some light-hearted insults between Jon and Steven, a friendly rivalry between piano and cello. Jon showed off his prowess by playing the piano upside down, at one point using his feet, even hitting notes with his forearm – there were no duff notes; everything sounded perfect! For his part, Steven plays his cello like a guitar, uses a talkbox with it, slaps it and hits it for percussions sounds – basically coming across like a one-man band.

Programme playlist

The concert was brilliant with each piece beautifully played. Although I don’t think any one piece stood out over the others, I will give special mention to the last one they played, ‘Fight Song/Amazing Grace’. Steven introduced it by talking about his father whom he clearly admires. His father had brought the family up, more or less, as a single parent while he nursed his wife for 18 years; she had brain cancer. After she passed, he married again, and Steven praised his step mother, or ‘bonus mom’ as he called her. I can’t remember when, I think it was fairly recently but, sadly, she also died from cancer. Steven said he asked his father how he coped with that kind of loss; I can’t remember it verbatim but his father’s reply was something like, when what you’re going through becomes too much to bear, give it to grace. Steven was smiling as he said it, but he had tears in his eyes. And I wasn't the only in the audience in tears.

Although he didn’t say anything, I wonder if Jon was thinking of his daughter, Annie, who tragically died last year in a hiking accident; she was only 21.

On stage, during the last segment, they were joined by bagpipers; the first time Gordon and Liam have heard bagpipes 'live'. Here’s the video for ‘Fight Song/Amazing Grace’.

(As photography wasn’t allowed, the pictures in this post were taken from the programme.)