I was driving earlier in the week (as I do), when Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire came on. No doubt about it, it is a damned sexy song. Or at least I think so. The pull of his voice, the longing, the utter desire in the lyrics and the background hum and the beat of the drums. And for just a moment, I didn’t feel like a trilifan, mom-mobile driver, with my three car seats in the back and my Starbucks iced tea in the cup holder in the front and Pete Seeger’s American Folk Songs For Children on permanent repeat.
Then I got to thinking how even though I know an awful lot about music (theory, composition, etc.), and am kind of obsessed with particular kinds (for those of you who follow my Twitter account, you’d know that I actually considered naming one of my kids Thelonious), it’s really difficult to incorporate that knowledge into novel writing because not everyone might have heard the song I reference, and even if they have, it might not resonate with them the same way it has with me because music is so subjective and extremely personal.
Then I thought: Hey, I should do a feature on my blog about sexy songs! And I can give a link so that people can actually hear the music! Yes!
So click on the song title below (for discussion purposes, I’m going to ignore the visual of the music video), have a listen, and then allow me to present the first ever installment of Sexy Song Saturday, featuring the song that launched it all:
I’m on Fire
Performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
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 it’s 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 my sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire
Okay, so if you look at the lyrics alone, it’s pretty straight up – guy wants girl, guy can’t have girl because girl is with someone else. But if you look deeper (and if you listen to the way he’s singing it), it’s insidiously dark.
And, like most great songs, this one isn’t just about the lyrics. It’s the music, too, and the way the words fit with the notes. The song begins with the melody from a synthesizer playing legato in the background, and over it, the pizzicato sound of the guitar, which I think evokes the engine of a train, moving over the tracks. This theme is echoed throughout the piece, and repeats at the end. The drums are a steady tick-a-tick in the background (train, again, I think). With this in mind, let’s examine the lyrics.
This guy – I’ll refer to him as He – is talking at her, but not to her. Maybe in a daydream? And from the first few lines, he kind of sets it up – Hey, little girl is your daddy home, did he go and leave you all alone?
He’d never leave her all alone. Not like that. Because he can do things to her that the man she’s with now can’t. He can take her higher (I think we can guess what this means!). And he’s inflamed just thinking about it. This is sexy. Especially because his voice is all rough and hoarse and just aching with need. He’s bad, the desire is bad – and he knows it. Also sexy.
Then, the next two stanzas bring home the fact that he’s obsessing about being with her and how much it’s killing him that he can’t. At first he uses a simile – It’s like someone took a knife… to describe the way he’s feeling. He’s hurting, emotionally. But it’s not just the emotional; no, he’s in real, physical pain, as we see from the next phrase, At night I wake up with my sheets soaking wet / And a freight train running through the middle of my head. That “freight train” is a great metaphor because it echoes the thrum of the rhythm of the song, and the way he sings the words. In fact, from the line Someone took a knife, baby… to running through the middle of my head, the lyrics come fast and furious. Like he’s just trying to spit them out, except it’s Springsteen singing, so he’s very smooth about it.
Then he gets to this line: Only you can cool my desire. And there’s this really poignant pause between Only you and can cool my desire. And the words slow down as he says [Oh] I’m on fire, and then repeats it again. This I’m on fire line is a doozy. It’s not like he’s on fire. He is on fire. He needs her to slake his love – physical and/or emotional – and that’s the crux of it. He’s going to die if he doesn’t have her. He’s going to go up in flames. And his voice sounds broken here, like he’s trying very hard to keep a check on his emotions. I can’t underscore how sexy this is.
Another thing that’s interesting is that he kind of barrels through most of the lyrics in this song, making only a few pauses – like in the line Only you can cool my desire. His passion is full-steam ahead, even if he can’t have what he wants. The last few lines of the song aren’t lyrics at all. Just him going “whoo hoo” – kind of like the long sound of a train whistle in the still of the night. Or a lone wolf in a canyon, howling at the moon.
And there you have it. My first ever Sexy Song Saturday with Springsteen’s I’m on Fire – a very sexy song. We’ll see how this feature evolves, but in the meantime, feel free to let me know your favorite sexy song in the comments. It might just be featured in my next installment.