the world is going up in flames. we didn’t start the fire, though

we didn’t start the fire by billy joel and the world is going up in flames by charles bradley, released nearly 20 years apart, both use the metaphor of the world on fire/burning to represent humanity’s problems but there is a clear difference in perspective.

the world is going up in flames is told from the streets of brooklyn. images in the video bring to mind apathy, homelessness, a detached police force, prison & racism.

the first line says

the world is going up in flames and no one wanna take the blame

flame can be thought of as a singular representation of fire. in flames is equivalent to on fire.

a flame

blame means that no one is willing (has the desire) to take responsibility for the world being on fire.

charles bradley gotta be a better day
gotta be a better world

the rest of the first verse says

don’t tell me how to live my life when u never felt the pain

pain is suffering, agony.

additionally the song ends with positive lyrics and a call for change that includes examples of the reduction gotta which is a reduction of have got to or has got to and is a synonym for must

gotta be a better world
gotta make it baby
gotta make it right

this fire behind me was already burning when i got here

we didn’t start the fire takes a more pragmatic position.

the images in the video are presented via the evolution of an american middle class kitchen and the lyrics are a rundown (review) of events that took place from 1949-1989 that support the idea that the fire has been burning forever. the chorus claims

we didn’t start the fire. it was always burning since the world was turning
we didn’t start the fire. no we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.

and later adds

when we are gone it will still burn on and on

in other words, joel is resigned to the fact that the fire was here before us and despite our efforts it will continue after we are gone.

this english practice extra comments on the relevance of these lyrics to the current state of social unrest in the u.s. and around the world that has resulted from the brutal, inhuman killing of george floyd.

additional vocabulary in the video includes though (and doe), own, throw under the bus, put out, hose, however and come out. there are 2nd conditional and 3rd conditional examples as well.

do u have other questions about the lyrics to the world (is going up in flames) or we didn’t start the fire? what are your feelings about the protests against racism and police brutality? share your thoughts under leave a reply


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