We Didn’t Start The Fire — Nineteen Years Later

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On the nineteenth anniversary of its release, Nerd World sat down with Billy Joel at his Sagaponack home to discuss the cultural impact of his classic song.
NERD WORLD: I just listened to the song again. It’s amazing how well it’s held up. All those things have still happened.
BILLY JOEL: Thanks, it’s a really special song to me. You know, if I hadn’t been a singer-songwriter, I probably would have been a history teacher.
NW: Well, the song certainly has a lot of history in it. Did you realize when you were writing it that it was just a big list of references, or did you stand back at the end and go, “Wow, it’s all just some stuff that happened. Weird.”
BJ: No, I pretty much intended that from the start.
NW: Why has Weird Al Yankovic never done a parody of “We Didn’t Start The Fire”?
BJ: I really don’t know. He did a version of “Piano Man” about Spider-Man, which I thought was quite clever. It was flattering, really.
NW: But it’s so perfect for Weird Al. “Steve Couldn’t Start The Chrysler” or “Pizza Didn’t Hamburger The French Fries.”
BJ: The lyrics for that second one don’t really track.
NW: (SINGING) “PIZZA DIDN’T HAMBURGER THE FRENCH FRIES, LASAGNA’S ALMOST BURNING, SINCE THE SCHWARMA’S TURNING!”
BJ: Next question.
NW: Here’s a quote from Boston WBZ-TV4′s version of “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” which was about Boston sports in the 1980s: “CELTICS BRUINS SOX AND PATS / TO ALL THE FANS WE TIP OUR HATS” Which version is better, yours or WBZ-TV4′S?
BJ: Well, I did it first, so they could never be better. It’s my song. At best, they could just imitate it.
NW: But what if you really liked Boston sports? Then what?
BJ: Boston WBZ-TV4′s, I guess.
NW: Let’s get deeper into the song. You mention both the “Cola Wars” and “Children of Thalidomide.” Are those two things, malformed children and competing sugar drinks, equally bad?
BJ: It isn’t that all these events are “bad,” I was trying to make the point that history has always been fraught with turmoil and you can’t blame–
NW: Got it. Cola Wars worse than Thalidomide. What’s worse, “Peyton Place” or “Trouble in the Congo”?
BJ: It’s “Belgians it the Congo.” Belgians.
NW: I’m pretty sure it’s not.
BJ: Look, this has been great. But you should probably go.
NW: Okay, fine. Hey, what’s that in your garage? Oily rags? Gas cans? Road flares?
BJ: It’s nothing. Just forget about it. Hey, do you want to hear me sing “Uptown Girl”?
NW: Oh my God. It all adds up. You did start the fire. YOU DID START THE FIRE.
BJ: I’m afraid I can’t allow you to leave.
NW: It wasn’t always burning since the world’s been turning. It was you. It was always you. Hey — what are you doing with that– (THROAT SLIT BY GOLD RECORD NOISES) You… started.. it…
BJ: (SINGING TO SELF) “LASAGNA’S ALMOST BURNING, SINCE THE SCHWARMA’S TURNING, TURNING, TURNING…”