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We Didn’t Start the Fire Pinterest board: The backstory

If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know I’m hooked on Pinterest. And while my latest board, "We Didn’t Start the Fire" might seem like one of my usual creations, it’s not. It’s a little more than that.

Back in 1989, when the song first came out, my dad and I worked on a project I’ve never forgotten.

It was my high school journalism class with Mr. Miller. Incidentally, he’s the reason I chose to pursue a journalism career. But anyway, he gave us quite the assignment. We were to take a song and create a video around it. That might be easy if you’re MTV, but for a 16-year-old kid with a less-than-steady hand this was a daunting task.

I don’t remember who’s idea it was, but our first attempt was “On Top of Old Spaghetti.” It’s similar but don’t confuse it with “On Top of Old Smokey.” Spaghetti goes like this:

On top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed

On the surface, this was the perfect video. We even had my mom sneezing in the background. There was a meatball made of something and spaghetti made of yarn. It made a journey from the plate to the floor and rolled away.

But something happened. I can’t recall exactly, but my guess is that I thought the other kids would make fun of the finished project (kids making fun of me was a constant concern in those days). Oh and it was going to be presented to an Arts fair at Ocean County College. That means played in front of a room and critiqued.

Yeah, maybe meatballs wasn’t the right direction.

Leave it to me find a suitable alternative. You guessed it. We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel.

My dad was up for it. It wasn’t going to be easy, but the idea required the following:

• The globe on my shelf
• A fire in the fireplace
• All 30-something volumes of the 1986 World Book Encyclopedia
• My dad’s big ol’ video camera
• A lot of time

And we did it. We sat in front of the fireplace spinning the globe everything the refrain came on. We rewinded and fast forwarded the cassette until it frayed. We opened the encyclopedias to each page, took a closeup of the photo that went with each lyric and we were good to go. When it was all said and done - I can’t remember how many days it took to create - it was no lost meatball. I was waiting for Billy Joel to invite to us to his house.

When the day came to go to Ocean County College to present the song, I waited until it was my turn. In the meantime, other students presented theirs. Honestly, I have no idea how they did such a good job. Some were really good. And wouldn’t you know I was the only one who used encyclopedias. The end where the refrain repeats “We didn’t start the fire … it was always burning since the world’s been turning …” I think we repeated it too many times. Lots of globe spinning. I remember one of the judges look at his fellow judge and make a less than friendly face.

I didn’t win any prizes at the festival. But I have one heck of a memory. Somewhere, I have the VHS tape but I don’t know exactly where. And when I got a Mac of my own in 1997, I recreated the project using that new thing called the Internet and iMovie. It wasn’t the same as sitting in front of that fireplace with the globe, but it was fun. And it was a cool story to tell my dad.

I really appreciated that time my dad and I spent on this project. We always got along well but there was something very special about this that has stayed with me through the years. And on the subject of staying with me, the lyrics to the song are kind of like the alphabet. I had to play it so many times all those years ago that I know every single word with or without music. I really wow people at parties.

As far as the current Pinterest project, one of Pinterest’s biggest flaws is killing me and that’s the inability to move images around. To create this, I took the entire song and deconstructed each piece. I then arranged it backwards because Pinterest displays things in the reverse order. When I was sure I had it right, I started. And then for no reason after a refresh, the photos move around.

I’m hooked on Pinterest, but it really needs a lot of work at the programming level. The iPhone app is horrendous. I’m hoping the fine folks are on top of the shortcomings and soon I’ll have the ability to move things around and really make the board, ummmm, sing.

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