“Should this Man be Arrested?” is an on-going feature that examines the minds of various songwriters through their lyrics. As lyrics are always 100% literal translations of a songwriter’s thoughts, we believe we can use lyrical snippets to answer the following simple, yet crucial, question: should this man be arrested?
Billy Joel – popular songwriter known to some as a routine Vegas act, known to others as that guy who wrote “New York State of Mind”, but known to all as the Piano Man
“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 start it, but we tried to fight it.”
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” (from Storm Front)
Let’s look at the underlying assumptions of Mr. Joel’s statements. It must be presumed a fire was started. Joel seems to have been there, yet pleads over and over that he didn’t start it. In fact, he claims that “we” tried to fight it. So he had at least one other person with him. Now, the key here is the fact Mr. Joel is like a broken record in his denial of starting the fire. He states that “we didn’t start the fire” no less than eleven times. At some point, incessant denial becomes outright suspicious behavior. Billy Joel has reached this point.
The next point to address is where exactly the fire is located. Things get a bit tricky at that point. Upon a more in depth look through his lyrics, one will determine that Joel has clearly lost a few of his marbles. He throws in random historical people or events seemingly with no connection other than that they follow in chronological order. He’s like a history teacher gone AWOL.
A sample lyric:
“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!”
One can only imagine that this songwriter has gone stark-raving mad. In fact, he writes in the song that “I [he] can’t take it anymore”. The fire itself, which at first seems like a mystery, actually becomes clear with a look through the above lyrics. This the fire of humanity. As in, the metaphorical fire that started off all the evils in this world, from crack to homeless vets to even “Wheel of Fortune”.
This is some heavy stuff and I’m afraid Mr. Joel is in the middle of it.
Guilty. Not only does Billy present himself as a maniacal history buff, but he also denies starting the fire over and over and over again. I believe he not only started a fire, but he started THE fire. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. As a reasonable man, I’d give him a pass if he started it in Nebraska, but he doesn’t seem to have that defense.
The song itself reads like a confession. As if his guilt has finally outweighed him. In fact, it ends with the following statement: “But when we are gone, will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…?” He clearly feels sorry for starting us on this never-ending losing battle. Unfortunately, sorry doesn’t bring back JFK. Sorry doesn’t save the millions dying in Africa. You don’t get a cookie for being sorry Billy.
We can never undo what Billy Joel has done. But we can bring him to justice.