Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" was released in 1989. This means I was either still living in Brooklyn, or I was about to leave home for the first time in my life to go away to college in the great state of Indiana.
Being raised in Brooklyn, I had a relatively heavy accent (that I've since lost) where my "t"s were often pronounced as "d"s (nuts) and I didn't pronounce the "r" in words that ended in "er".
Kinda like a Boston accent, but slightly less annoying…
("Whose cah we gonna take?")
I also talked with my hands quite a bit, and parted my hair down the middle like a real fucking guido, even though both my parents were recently off the boat from Ireland… I looked and sounded like a complete idiot.
Anyhoo, when I first heard the song "We Didn't Start The Fire", I didn't really like it… I still don't. But I had an unnerving desire to learn the words because I've always enjoyed history and the song's historical references were infectious to sing along to… Also, this particular tune was in HEAVY radio rotation in the tri-state area and beyond, so it was unavoidable.
And when the line Billy shouted at the end of the song's 8th 2-line stanza- "TROUBLE IN THE SEWAHS!", I just assumed Billy (being a native New Yawkah also) was referring to some historical problem that somebody at some point in history had in their sewer systems.
The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902 immediately leaped to my young mind.
For those not familiar with The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902, right before the turn of the 20th Century, the French government had control over a group of colonies in Southeast Asia that included what is now Vietnam. And the French set out to install a more modern infrastructure in the area… Particularly in the capital city of Hanoi… Including, notably, a toilet in every house.
The French colonial government laid more than nine miles of sewage pipe beneath Hanoi but also inadvertently created nine miles of a cool dark rodent paradise, where the rats could breed without fear of predators. And when they got hungry, the rats had direct access to the city’s ritziest homes via a subterranean superhighway.
So Billy's 1989 lyric gave me an immediate flashback to the thought of using a Vietnamese toilet in 1902 and having a plague-infested Hanoi rat nibble at my balls.
Fast forward over 30 years, and I start doing this series of podcasts on the lyrics from "We Didn't Start The Fire". And after reading the lyrics for the first time ever, I realized I spent the last 3 decades mishearing the much more logical fact that Billy was referring to The Suez Canal- That 120 miles long stretch connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean by way of the Red Sea, that allowed goods to be shipped from Europe to Asia and back more directly… You see, on October 29, 1956, Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, and it was a mess worthy of mention in a list song that listed political and cultural events that took place between 1949 and 1989.
What a fucking idiot I was.
And that is my point… There are a ton of references (118 to be precise) within this stupid little song that perhaps you've misheard or not understood for the past 30 years, so I am breaking them ALL down over the next 3 episodes of Twisted History.
Episode 1 is already out (video attached), while Episodes 2 and 3 will follow in the next two weeks.
Give it a watch (or listen) and you may be surprised just how fucking stupid you are also.
Take a report.
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