Depending on the source, the “paper in fire” that John Mellencamp sings about in this song either refers to the dreams of those looking to get out of living below the poverty line or a verse in the Bible in which Hell is called “paper in fire.” One thing that everyone agrees on is that the line “we keep no check on our appetites” is a reference to Hud, which is one of Mellencamp’s favorite movies.
The video was shot outside of a house on a dirt road near Savannah, Georgia. Mellencamp wanted to highlight the poverty that many Americans were living under. This video was also shot at a time when Mellencamp was still trying to escape from the “Johnny Cougar” persona that was forced on him early on in his career. (In fact, at the time this song was recorded, he was still officially known as John Cougar Mellencamp.)