Billy Joel Exposes Me
Recently I heard Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” again. It had been quite some time since I had listened to it. I struggled singing along, but I hit my stride around Sally Ride (for real– I didn’t pick that because it rhymed).
Anyway, when I heard “Childen of Thalidomide”, I realized I wouldn’t have known what that was in 1989 when Billy Joel first released this song. In fact, I don’t think I had any conscious knowledge of thalidomide until 11 years later when I read a Discover magazine article on the drug.
So I thought it would be neat to look at the full lyrics of the song and color-code all the items I learned about in the two decades after its release. So I got me the lyrics, started reading, and my activity backfired something awful! Instead of revealing how much I have learned since Billy Joel released the song, I uncovered that I’m still pretty clueless.
It’s humbling, but below is my color-coded lyrics list (verses only). Blue indicates stuff I think I learned about after the song was popular. Red indicates stuff that I just learned today via Wikipedia’s list of the historical references in the song.
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie 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
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
Josef 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
Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, Bridge On The River Kwai
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California Baseball,
Starkwether, Homicide, Children of Thalidomide
Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia
Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo
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
J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say
Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, 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
With “Malcolm X”, I may have heard of him in 1989, but I really did not have a full understanding of the man until I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which by the way– everyone should read.
“Begin”— Ha! This whole time I though Joel meant that Ronald Reagan’s term was beginning.
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