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Fire, from "Light My Fire," a song by The Doors

Subthemes: Chemistry, Rust from Oxidation, Harm

In early 1967, “Light My Fire,” sung by The Doors, flared onto the rock scene. The sexual allusions blaze out. Metaphorically, fire flickers with excitement and danger, as do erotic liaisons. Have a listen. What else can we associate to this song about Fire?

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn’t get much higher

Come on, baby, light my fire
Come on, baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try, now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

[Chorus repeated]

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try, now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

[remaining verses omitted]

Chemistry: The Doors allude in their song to figurative burning, a double entendre for sexual desire. Fire itself is a sustained chain reaction that oxidizes a fuel, typically a hydrocarbon, to produce carbon dioxide, water, and heat. Energy is released when atoms restructure into carbon dioxide and water. From ThoughtCo, “Fire is hot because thermal energy (heat) is released when chemical bonds are broken and formed during a combustion reaction.”

When wood is exposed to heat, it doesn’t require oxygen to undergoes pyrolysis, which converts it to more flammable compounds, such as various gases, and these are what combust in wood fires. As fires burn, they produce soot (incomplete combustion), which heats up, producing thermal radiation. It is how fires warm their surroundings, such as fireplaces before old people nodding. This is also what gives flames their color.

Unlike flames, embers glow because the matter is hot enough to emit incandescent light (much like a stove burner), whereas flames emit light from ionized gases (like a fluorescent bulb). “The colour of fire and its temperature are directly linked; red flames are cooler, blue flames are hotter. Acetylene and pure oxygen burns blue, at over [6,100 °F] – the hottest temperature readily achievable with fuel and flame. That’s hot enough to melt tungsten, which has the highest melting point of any element.” Every substance burns at a sufficiently high temperature. Paper ignites at 451 °F; cigarettes at 750-1,300 °F, candles reach 1,800 °F, and blowtorches are even hotter, at 2,400 °F. From the song, even tenderness can be tinder (smoking in bed?).

Rust from Oxidation: Urgency dominates in this song; no long wooing or slow surrender for this young stud! He believes “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if you don’t use it, it will rust.” Metals with iron also rust and lose durability over time if they suffer from that slow burn. Corrosionpedia tells us that “Rust forms as iron oxidizes. … During the rusting process, the oxygen atoms from the atmosphere … react with the iron to form iron oxide.” Rust can be merely unsightly, or it can have catastrophic effects if it sufficiently weakens what it attacks. Rusting can eventually thin the iron alloy (even steel, but not copper or bronze, because they have too little iron) until it fails or becomes unsuitable for its original purpose.

rusting car

Harm: “Don’t play with fire” is sound advice for humans, and that doesn’t mean sunburn. According to Wikipedia, transportation fires include those on trains (in 2000 an Austrian funicular burned and killed 155 people), ships (in 1987 blazes on the Doña Paz in the Philippines claimed an estimated 4,000 lives); and buses (in 2018 52 passengers burned to death in Kazakhstan). Each year from 2014 to 2016, an estimated 171,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in the United States, resulting in an annual average of 345 deaths; 1,300 injuries; and $1.1 billion in property loss.

Before cooking in fireplaces fell out of favor, many women died when their billowing dresses caught fire. Even now, residential and commercial fires killed 3,709 in 2019, and injured 16,600 more. Indirectly, particulate pollution from fires has been estimated to have killed more than 33,500 a year worldwide. If we include a broader range of “fire”, we might include ignition of gunpowder and weaponry such as mortars and howitzers. Then too, bombs and napalm cause horrific fires and burns. What Prometheus so dearly brought to humans has enable widespread good, but it also has unleashed tragedies.

 

Nothing sophisticated about the lyrics or sexual pleading in this song by The Doors. “My hormones are afire, girl, …” The man urging more arousal at night doesn’t literally want combustion, he craves her bust and the rest of her body lest a vital organ symbolically rust. He thinks nothing about any harm that might result.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Fire, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other rock songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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