“Burn On”

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Ready for a little history lesson?  No?  Too bad.

In 1969, just a few weeks before we landed on the moon, the Cuyahoga river in Ohio caught fire.  This was not, apparently, the first time the Cuyahoga caught fire.  There was a much more damaging fire in 1952, and fires on this particular body of water date back as far as the 1600s (thanks Wikipedia).  It sounds like a contradiction in terms, the ultimate oxymoron, burning water.  To be fair, it wasn’t exactly the water that caught fire.  It was all the pollution in the water.  Everybody knew it was disgustingly polluted, but little had been done to change it.  This was the Rust Belt, the industrial heart of America at the height of its economic and manufacturing powers.  People calling for clean up and regulation were considered a bunch of looney hippies at this point.

Then Time magazine reported on the Cuyahoga river fire in 1969, and brought this environmental atrocity to national attention.  And that attention led to, among other things, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  There was a movement to clean up the river, to clean up all rivers and lakes and oceans.  While I am proud that this movement continues today, it makes me a little sad that it does still continue.  Don’t you think by now we could have figured out how to keep this disgusting crap out of our water?  Not as long as corporations are considered people, I suppose.

Randy Newman wrote a tragically lovely song about the incident, which appeared on his 1972 masterpiece Sail Away and was later used as the opening theme to Major League, a very funny movie about the Cleveland Indians.  There really isn’t much to say about it, since it speaks for itself very nicely.  Newman is one of the finest, funniest, most acerbic and articulate songwriters there is.  Long may his creative fires burn.

Be kind to the water out there, boys and girls.  Be kind to all the animals and plants.  Do as little harm as you possibly can.  And someday, maybe, songs like this will be nothing but amusing historical artifacts.