Song of the Day #1,202: ‘I’m On Fire’ – Bruce Springsteen

‘I’m On Fire,’ Bruce Springsteen’s classic, slow-burning track from the Born in the U.S.A. album, is a perfect example of effective metaphor in song. He’s not really on fire, you see!

Springsteen uses an even niftier metaphor late in the (way too short) song when he describes waking up with “a freight train running through the middle of [his] head.” Wonderful imagery. Between that and the 6-inch valley in the middle of his skull carved out with a dull knife, I’d venture to say this relationship could be harmful to his health.

Looking at the album cover to Born in the U.S.A., I recalled the controversy surrounding the suggestion that it depicted Springsteen urinating on the American flag. I’m not sure why on earth he’d want to do such a thing, but I can see why some people saw it that way.

I also noticed for the first time how closely this song resembles The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take.’ They basically share a rhythm section. Interestingly, while Springsteen’s album came out a full year after Synchronicity, ‘I’m On Fire’ was recorded two years before that, so both songs were conceived and executed in a vacuum.

I Googled the song titles to see where else the connection had been made and found a clip of Lady Antebellum performing them as a medley in concert.

Hey little girl is your daddy home
Did he go and leave you all alone
I got a bad desire
Ooh ooh ooh
I’m on fire

Tell me now baby is he good to you
Can he do to you the things that I do
Oh no
I can take you higher
Ooh ooh ooh
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 skull

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
Ooh ooh ooh
I’m on fire

Ooh ooh ooh
I’m on fire

Ooh ooh ooh
I’m on fire

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,202: ‘I’m On Fire’ – Bruce Springsteen

  1. Dana says:

    Are these lyrics really a good example of metaphor? I understand that he is not literally on fire, but I always viewed the phrase here as an expression of having an elevated heart rate, temperature, burning down below, etc…because he is so craving this woman. Certainly, it is an exaggeration to say he is “on fire,” but is it metaphor? I will, of course, defer to the English majors and teachers amongst our group to weigh in on this one:)

    And by the way, while I don’t want to step on your posts for the next few days of this theme week, since you are featuring Bruce today, I am concerned that you may not feature what may be his best use of metaphor–“Tunnel of Love.” If you are going to feature that song this week, my apologies, but if you are not, I submit that “Tunnel of Love” is a far better example of metaphor than today’s song.

    As for the comparison between this song and ‘Every Breath You Take,” I never really heard the similarity before and it’s cool that you picked that up. Obviously, Bruce’s song has a faster pace, but when you slow it down, as Lady Antebellum did, the similarity is obvious.

    And as for the cover photo, I somehow never heard about that controversy, nor did I ever think that he was urinating on the American flag. Has Bruce ever commented on that? I doubt that was the intention of the photo. I always just assumed he was trying to show off his sexy butt, particularly since this album saw a new muscular and sexy Bruce showing off his moves in the “Dancing in the Dark” video.

  2. Clay says:

    Good point about ‘Tunnel of Love.’ I didn’t think about that one and yes, it’s a great example.

    Bruce has said that he certainly didn’t intend to suggest he was urinating on the flag. That was just the best butt shot.

  3. pegclifton says:

    Leave it to someone to make something out of nothing (probably from the tea party); anyway nice butt shot, and good examples of metaphors.

  4. Amy says:

    I agree with Dana that “Tunnel of Love” is a far better example of metaphor in a Springsteen song, and one of my favorite examples (and favorite songs). As for the figure of speech, Springsteen is using here – you’re both right. Technically, it is a metaphor, as Springsteen is not literally on fire, and neither does the word have a denotation that suggests extreme desire. That said, using derivations of heat to quantify sexual desire is so common as to render such references trite. The fire with which he burns for this hot woman is figurative, but it is not nearly as good a metaphor as the “tunnel of love” he will enter with her a few years later.

  5. Alex says:

    I’m never one to watch these youtube video things, but that Lady Antebellum clip was pretty cool.

  6. Amy says:

    That was pretty cool, Alex. 🙂

  7. pegclifton says:

    wow, that is really cool, Alex. So is Lady Antebellum a man? Very sexy guy and just love his interpretation of those songs.

  8. Dana says:

    It’s a group consisting of a man and woman.

  9. Clay says:

    A man and two women, actually.

  10. Alex says:

    No Clay, a woman and two men. I don’t care for most of their songs, but that singer is mesmerizing.

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