“We Didn’t Start the Fire”


Yeah, this song is pretty reviled.  Billy Joel tries to summarize four decades of history in roughly four minutes.  As an accurate portrayal of the complexities and contradictions of the second half of the twentieth century, it fails miserably.  (The 1970s especially get the short shrift, summarized with “Watergate, Punk Rock.”  Yeah, that’s it.)  As a catchy trip down memory lane for Baby Boomers, it does okay.  I’ve always kind of liked it.  Some of Joel’s choices of historical events are interesting; they reveal much more about what events and people mattered to him than anything else.  (I’m a little curious about why the “Starkweather homicide” stuck out to him.)

The video is notable for a weirdly cast Marlee Matlin as the teenage daughter and some cool period sets and decorations.  And while the history isn’t perfect, he at least gets the timeline correct.

Why am I bringing up history?  Because today was my first day volunteering at the Historical Society of Long Beach.  It was fun.  I learned a little about their cataloguing system and got to chat with some visitors.  (It was a nice, if unseasonably warm, day and I know people were out enjoying the weather.)  I spent the afternoon surrounded by some of Long Beach’s lovely architectural history in the form of a number of houses designed by Miner Smith.  Hurry down there if you want to see that exhibit, because it’s coming down after next Friday.

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