Music Video of the Day: We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel (1989, dir. Chris Blum)

Since I did Pearl Jam’s Do the Evolution yesterday, I thought I’d go back about 10 years to when Billy Joel did something similar. His music video didn’t focus on the worst of humanity, but more like a condensed version of The Wonder Years if it spanned many decades. As the decades fly by, it has Billy Joel in the very fake house looking like he couldn’t care less as he plays with drumsticks or a slinky while the people around him are oblivious to him being there. A very “been there, done that” attitude to what is new to the people in the house. Also, a person waiting for what they know is coming. The titular fire that will leave the house burnt.

I’m sure it was no mistake that they had Joel dressed as the man in black throughout this video. That of course being a reference to Johnny Cash’s song Man in Black. It’s probably why when we get the portions that are devoted to Billy alone at a table with a fire behind him, there is often a disturbing picture behind that fire that stands in contrast to the events inside the house.

I love how at the end, it flashes back over the decades, and the studio that was the house is left exposed just as Mom looks over at Billy for the first time now that she has caught up to his time. We are left with a final shot of the couple from the beginning leaving the house as they entered, just before Joel, sitting at the table, suddenly disappears. Yes, I’m sure the couple is a reference to Brenda and Eddie from Billy Joel’s song Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. In a way, you could call this music video a companion piece to that song.

I’m not sure if the music video is a positive or negative look towards the future. It comes across to me as reminder that a destructive force is always at our backs. It’s not necessarily destroying humanity as a whole, but it does destroy the world as we know it with each passing year as it does the house the people inside thought would never change when they were in the moment. It’s also a force that burns down the walls dividing fantasy from the reality of that room Joel sits inside at a table, or does it?

This is one of those music videos where we not only know the director, but some more people who worked on it. I was kind of hoping to avoid him for a little bit since it’s such a cliche to mention him this early. Unfortunately, he was one of the producers on this music video. That person being prolific music video, feature film, and TV director Russell Mulcahy. You could argue that he invented what we know as the fully-formed music video. He was making them back in the 1970s and even directed Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles that kicked off MTV back in 1981. I’m sure we’ll see him again.

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