Sunday, October 05, 2008

Perhaps That Fire Should Be Extinguished

A slight variation for the song of the week: exploring one song in the form of its original version and two recent covers. “I’m on Fire” was first released as the fourth single from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., but I’d not heard the song until I downloaded Electrelane’s 2006 cover. Being neither a Springsteen fan nor especially familiar with Electrelane’s sound, I had no idea their track was a cover, but then I heard the original while riding in my friend’s truck some months back. A quick reenactment:
“Who is this?”

“Springsteen.”

“Bruce Springsteen covered Electrelane?” I asked, before I realized the inherent silliness in that question.
If you’re not familiar, check out the video — a YouTuber, but posted by Sony BMG, with embedding disabled by request. If you don’t mind a live and therefore sonically inferior version of the song, here’s a video of Springsteen performing the song at a 1985 concert in Paris. (Forewarning: He monologues at the beginning. It’s not so great.)



Just recently, I downloaded a second cover of “I’m on Fire,” this one by Bat For Lashes — or, as Aly aptly but not-so-subtly calls her, Batshit Crazy For Lashes. It was only with her version, which plays much more slowly than the Springsteen and Electrelane versions, that I realized how very fucked up the song is, catchy though it may be.

Here are the lyrics:
Hey little girl, is your daddy home?
Did he go away and leave you all alone?
I got a bad desire
I’m on fire

Tell me now, baby, is he good to you?
Can he do to you the things that I do?
I can take you higher
I’m on fire

Sometimes its like someone took a knife, baby,
Edgy and dull, and cut a six-inch valley
Through the middle of my soul

At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire
A good little pop song, as long as you don’t choose to interpret the sentence “I’m on fire” with “I’m a pedophile.” Some do. No doubt that Springsteen didn’t intend for the song to sound this way, but after having heard it sung repeatedly in the past few months, I have to admit that the lyrics “Hey little girl, is you daddy home? / Did he go away and leave you all alone?” smack of a very wrong sort of perviness. It all gets worse when you think about the speaker giving the object of his affections something to make her “higher” and then waking up in bed, feeling awful, possibly because he realizes how wrong his feelings are. I’m not the only one to make this connection. The Wikipedia entry for “I’m on Fire” basically says this much in the “interpretation” section. I’m not sure whether I feel better or worse than other people have performed this reading of the song.

I guess I chose to wrote about “I’m on Fire” this week to show that a great, well-known and oft-covered song can darker implications than a superficial listen-through might indicate. I think it’s funny when people don’t really consider their words and consequently have them interpreted in ways they didn’t intend. And then its even funnier when other people repeat those words, bad implications and all.

Here’s a video of Electrelane’s cover, which I think is my favorite version.



And here’s Bat For Lashes doing it.



One additional problem with the song, specifically with the Bat For Lashes cover: the gender switch. Those opening pervy lyrics get slightly altered to “Hey little boy, is you momma home? / Did she go away and leave you all alone?” It’s quite strange, when you think about it, and a little shallow. For anyone who knew the song previously to this version, this slight lyrical substitution seems pointless. Was Bat For Lashes frontwoman Natasha Khan worried that people would hear her addressing a female object of affection and think she’s a lesbian? Should that be something she should even concern her, since she dresses, sings and acts like some kind of whackjob space princess and these tendencies might go a lot further in eliciting a negative reaction from people? And even if she decided to change the songs addressee from a girl to a boy, why did she also have to change this person’s parent from a father to a mother? I mean, she didn’t change the “baby” in the second verse to “masculine baby,” which would have made about as much sense.

As a point of comparison, Tori Amos’s cover doesn’t switched anyone’s gender, and Tori Amos is not a whackjob space princess.

For those who’d like to give these various versions a few spins and come up with their own interpretation, here’s where to download Springsteen’s original (on iTunes and on Amazon.com), the Electrelane cover (on iTunes and on Amazon.com), and the Bat For Lashes cover (on iTunes and on Amazon.com).

Previous songs of the week:

6 comments:

  1. I'm a big fan of the Chromatics cover too -- http://www.myspace.com/chromaticsmusics

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  2. I heard that song on the radio today,and it made me think of this post.

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  3. Woo hoo! I hope you listened to the lyrics and felt a little uncomfortable. Which version was it?

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  4. His own version. His voice gives the lyrics a little something extra in the way of creepy.

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  5. Anonymous7:18 PM

    I heard this song growing up, never saw the video and for ten years I never knew the singer or looked up the meaning because I knew I can't get past what I hear in the song. I don't know what the song was really intended to be about but ever since I was 12 when I hear those opening lines my stomach roles because of the very things you point out.

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  6. I love this song since I discovered the Bat For Lashes's version. I don't think she was scared of opinion's people about wether she's a lesbian or not.
    I think she switched the genders because she's simply straight, because she had to feel love while she was singing the song, to feel it more intensely, to make it hers.
    Plus, I don't know why the "whackjob space princess" expression has any relation with your topic. She has her own universe. If you really love music, man, don't judge music by judging a style. This isn't the kind of argument that I personnaly found relevant.

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