Showing posts with label Symbolism of Fire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Symbolism of Fire. Show all posts

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Fire — “If we go back far enough,” Freud wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents, “we find that the first acts of civilization were the use of tools, the gaining of control over fire and the construction of dwellings. Among these, the control over fire stands out as a quite extraordinary and unexampled achievement. . . .” He theorized that the first human (male) to renounce his desire to put out a fire by micturating, “was able to carry it off with him and subdue it to his own use. By damping down the fire of his own sexual excitation, he had tamed the natural force of fire.” In other words, the first major step toward human civilization was the renunciation of instinct. Woman was put in charge of fire—the hearth—because her anatomy made it impossible to put out a fire with the phallic equivalent of a fire hose. As if to link fire and the phallus in an explicitly Freudian way, Jean-Jacques Annaud, in his film Quest For Fire (1981), included a scene a which a female performs fellatio on one of her male companions, presumably for the first time in history (although the ur-fellatrix, unlike Eve, eludes the historical record).

Hence fire is essential to civilization, and yet is also capable of destroying it: it is both fascinating and terrifying—the fire that signals the apocalypse. In the popular imagination fire is most often associated with erotic passion (“c’mon baby light my fire” Jim Morrison implores in the famous song), but when is fire more closely associated with fire in the eschatological sense—the conflagration that signals damnation, the end of the world? The Meat Puppets’ “Lake Of Fire” is once such song; Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” (“Satan’s sitting there, He’s smiling/Watches those flames get higher and higher”) is another, the distant precursor of which is the Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Afraid To Die.” Bob Seger’s “Fire Lake” is a song about fire in the Freudian sense, except rather than singing of the renunciation of instinct, the song celebrates its return (return of the repressed). Johnny Cash’s version of “Ring Of Fire” is famous, but Anita Carter’s version is better—passion, yes, but passion linked with self-destruction. Beautiful self-destruction, self-sacrifice, is also explored in Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You.” Setting aside the banality of songs about passion, there have been some very fine songs about fire. As opposed to those who say the world will end in ice, these songs say fire.

A Few Songs About Fire, Not Ice:
Anita Carter – Ring Of Fire
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Blue Oyster Cult – Burnin’ For You
Chrome – Firebomb
The Cramps – Sinners
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Fire
King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King/The Return of the Fire Witch/The Return of the Puppets
Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction
Meat Puppets – Lake of Fire
Michael Murphy – Wildfire
The Rolling Stones – Play With Fire
Bob Seger – Fire Lake
Talking Heads – Burning Down the House
James Taylor – Fire and Rain
The Marshall Tucker Band – Fire on the Mountain