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I'm On Fire

by

Bruce Springsteen



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Springsteen came up with this song in the studio during recording sessions in early 1982. He was playing around with a slow Johnny Cash rhythm which he put to some lyrics he had already written. The song was recorded in May, 1982, and originally intended for the Nebraska album, but it was not released until Born In The U.S.A. was finished in 1984. (thanks, Torbjorn - Trondheim, Norway)
Springsteen, pianist Roy Bittan, and drummer Max Weinberg recorded the first version of this song themselves because the rest of the band was taking a break when inspiration struck.
The song is about a man who wakes up with night sweats lusting for a woman - he feels like he's on fire when he suddenly awakes. Springsteen writes using the voice of many different characters, and they often have some kind of unpleasant ordeal to endure. The stark lyrics went well with the Johnny Cash-inspired rhythm, and didn't hurt the song commercially, as it made the Top-10 in both the US and UK.
This was the fourth of 7 US Top-10 singles on Born In The U.S.A..
In England, this was released as a double A-side with "Born In The U.S.A."
The lyrics leave a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, but the video lays out a pretty clear story: the singer is an auto mechanic who desires the upper class married woman who keeps bringing her car in to him for service. One night, he drops off her car, considers ringing her bell, then thinks better of it.

This was the first time Springsteen acted in a music video, and it had a similar theme to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" clip, where Christie Brinkley plays the socialite Joel's mechanic is after.

Springsteen was just getting comfortable with music videos, and with the clip's director John Sayles, who he worked with on "Born In The U.S.A." The music-less intro worked in part because the song is so short, so adding the dialogue made it about average video length. MTV is based in New York and was run by Rock radio veterans who thought very highly of Springsteen, so it wasn't too surprising when "I'm On Fire" won for Best Male Video at the second MTV Video Music Awards, held in 1985. It was just the second awards ceremony - "Uptown Girl" was nominated for the award the previous year, but lost to David Bowie's "China Girl."
In 2000, Johnny Cash, who inspired this song, covered it on Badlands: A tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.
Many radio stations stopped playing this after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. The image of fire was considered too sensitive.
Tori Amos covered this in May of 1996, and it appeared on VH1's Crossroads album in October of 1996. (thanks, Marissa-Elena - Montebello, CA)
The New Zealand Rock/Metal band Head Like A Hole (The band name derives from a Nine Inch Nails song) covered this in 1996. (thanks, smokey - Melbourne, Australia)
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen Artistfacts
More Bruce Springsteen songs
More songs that won MTV Video Music Awards
More songs where stuff is on fire
More songs about desire or longing

Comments (50):

Springsteen was not sining about pedophillia, dont be ridiculous. Why people take song lyrics as literal meanings is beyond me.

"Hey little girl is your daddy home, did he go away and leave you all alone." - When hes talking about "Daddy" he means "sugar daddy". "Tell me now baby is he good to you
Can he do to you the things that I do." Aka, does he "do" you like i can or will "do" you. So this blue collar worker sees this beautiful high class woman who walks into his shop and desires her.

Simple as that.
- chris, Toronto, ON
I always thought it was a reference to the novel Lolita. Btw, music videos often do not follow the actual song meaning.
- Jeff, Greeley, CO
The liner notes say 'cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul' but it sure sounds like 'skull' to me.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
I don't think BS would be stupid enough to have pedophilia in mind, but he likely did have adultery in mind.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
Umm, how twisted are some people? Yeah, Bruce is actually gonna write a song about being a pedophile?? WTF? References to "little girl" and "daddy" have been used in songs for ages and have nothing to do with lusting for 10 year girls!! Give your head a shake people! Look at this old Dean Martin lyric...
I went to call my baby
When she got to the phone
I kinda had a little feeling
My baby was not alone
She said "Daddy, I'm busy
Call some other time"
- Paul, Toronto, ON
what is your source for the johnny cash tune info?
- Jack, Washington, DC, DC
I always thought this sounded like a Johnny Cash song.As I read some of the comments,I see I wasn't the only one.Best line:"@ night I wake up with the sheets soakin' wet with a freight train runnin' thru the middle of my head."Good stuff.
- dane, Green Cove Springs Fla., FL
I always though the song was about Bruce having a past relationship with the rich woman who drops her car off. She essentially upgraded herself from Bruce to a rich man who could give her more possessions than Bruce the mechanic. But even though she upgraded, their relationship did not end badly as she still drives crosstown to have her car looked at by Bruce. When he drops her car off and realizes the new life she lives he doesn't take it to heart and seems content.
- Steve, Eagan, MN
Some of the comments here are quite extraordinary. Springsteen imagining what it's like to be a pedophile? Unbelievable! When this came out in the 1980s no one I knew thought this song was about anything else than a man who was passionate about a woman unavailable to him because of her relationship with another man. Perhaps the "grammar" of popular music has changed over the years.
The video released with song featured Bruce as a car mechanic. An attractive woman leaves her car to be repaired. The mechanic offers to take the car to her home after he has worked on it. The mechanic arrives at her home in the "Hills". Parks the car, goes to ring the door bell, hesitates, pushes the keys through the mailbox, smiles ruefully and sets off to walk home.
Really, no one thought this song was about anything else. But then the mass media were not obsessed with pedophilia in the way they are now and no one would have written an obvious song about it that's for sure. They would have been arrested!
- Jay, London, United Kingdom
I remember his routine of bringing a young girl up from the audience and singing "Dancing in the Dark" to her. I have a feeling things wouldn't have gone as well if he had sung this one instead.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
Honzin - You may not know this since you're from the Czech Rep, but ever since the early days of American rock n roll, songwriters have often referred to full grown women as "little girls" and their lovers or husbands as "daddy's." It's not to be taken literally. And "bad desire" can either mean, I shouldn't feel this way about you because you're married or "bad" could be referring to the intensity of his desire - you know, "I want you so bad." And the last line you ask about is clearly referring to his prowess as a lover compared to her husband. This is one of the sexiest songs known to man and the music video says everything! Take a look and try to wipe out any bizarre ideas of this being about a pedophile - it most certainly is not!
- Mindy, Eugene, OR
I think this is a great song, and I heard it on the rock station, and now I can't stop listening to it... I've listened to it 6 times already in a row!
- Catherine, Chattanooga, TN
He is not talking about a child in this song. He is talking about his lust for the woman that he wants to be with and can't. In his song 'Darlington County' he says "little girl you're so young and pretty, walk with me and you can have you're way." I don't think that he means an adolescent girl in this one either. The sexual tension is what make people think that.
- Sarah, Virginia Beach, VA
WHAT is WRONG with you people!?!?!?! The people posting comments that this song is about a pedophile, are completely insane. cant anyone just enjoy music anymore without looking for deep dark disgusting HIDDEN MEANINGS?? PULEEEZE!!! Bruce springsteen a pedophile. you have GOT to be joking.
- Lisa, Eveleth, MN
Come on people Bruce was singing this song through the eyes of a pedophile, or a child killer.
Daddy means Daddy(not sugar daddy) little girl means just that, bad disire(sexual)and i'm on fire(a want /rage).
In his twisted mind he thinks his love is right for her (she is not his first)
The third verus refers to the fact he was sexually abused at some point.
The fourth verus is simply saying the want returns and taking another child eases the pain(the want).
SICK SONG VERY WELL SUNG, but shows people just listen and do not process what enters their mind.
The video has nothing to do with the song it is only that a video.
- ANDY, Belfast, United Kingdom
This Bruce song was a direct result of Bruce listening to BOC's "Burnin' for You". See-"Burnin' for You"
- Jake, Talahassee, MT
I think "little girl, is your daddy home, did he go and leave you all alone" is more of a comment on the woman, in that she seems to be lost like a 'little girl'..whether its her father or husband its a lack of love that this woman or little girl is receiving. At the beginning of the video you hear a fellow machanic comment on how the woman is here to see bruce again. Shes not getting what she needs...the rest of the song i think is self explainatory...thats my take on it
- john, toronto, ON
Gee, Bruce must be so sick of people misjudging him... also for whom English's not his mother tongue (see above): what about thinking before judging? Actually i would suggest opening a debate about zoophilia everytime a woman's called a chick :-)
- Laura, Bern, Switzerland
I really think that Bruce was singing this song through the eyes of a pedophile. "Hey little girl, is your daddy home? Did he go and leave you all alone?... I got a bad desire." He frequently does this in his writing. For example, In Nebraska, The River, and The Rising (Just to name a few) he takes on the role of someone completely different role. Pure genius.
- Rebecca, Milwaukee, WI
Not only that, but the music brings you into the guys mind. I love this freakin song!!!
- Jezebel, Lincoln, MO
What's so "disturbing" about lust?
- Eric, Maastricht
When I first heard this, I did actually think of Springsteen and some ten year old little white girl...however, I followed the lyrics, applied it to the theme of the album, and realised how great of a song it it. He uses this sort of description to depict the pain he feels for the woman. The knife in his soul is metaphorical for his love for the woman. And, she does have a nice set of legs. And, Manuel, get help you pervert.
- Gene, San Diego, CA
Hmmmm "sexual tension" Hmmmmmmm
- pete, nowra, Australia
This song is great to listen to while driving through the country at night.
- Josh, Melbourne, Australia
This is one of the most drop-dead sexiest songs ever! It has a quiet simplicity that makes the sexual tension even stronger... Excellent song!
- Carmen, Hermosillo, Mexico
This song is very clearly not about pedophilia. If it is about anything specific, then it's about a young woman who is unhappy in her marriage to an older man and has recently begun having an affair with a man who is presumably closer to her own age. In my mind, terms like "little girl" and "daddy" serve to emphasize the narrator's perception of the woman as innocent.
I think that 'Lying Eyes' by The Eagles tells a similar story. What I find interesting about 'I'm on Fire' is that the story is told from the lover's perspective. We hear about him waking up in the middle of the night with desire whereas normally with this kind of story you would just hear about the woman's guilt and her husband's devastation.
- Amy, Pittsburgh, PA
It's pretty obvious that "daddy" is a term to mean husband/boyfriend, possibly even "sugar daddy" type thing - older man and younger woman. In the same regard; "little girl" is like calling someone "baby"

The Beatles sang a song called "Hello Little Girl" in the early 60's. Were they pedophiles too? How about The Doors on "Alabama Song"... "Oh show me the way to the next little girl..." I'm sure Morrison wasn't molesting young children. And OH NOO! Not Steve Perry & Journey! Even they have been bad! They have a song titled "Little Girl" about breaking the girl's heart.

It's so not about pedophilia.
- Nina, Bronx, NY
I can't understand why you are so all upset over this song. You should have checked this song out before you made any judgements whatsoever!! Like for instande, did you check out the song on YouTube???
Watch it and your questions are answered!

And before you make any judgements about someone being a rapist, pedophile or whatever, get your facts right before calling ANYONE any of these names!
I know for one that Bruce Springsteen is NOT!!!!

AN Irish Bruce Springsteen fan!

Here is the link to "I'm on Fire" ion youtube!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo1npZWR5qk
- Armaghitis, County Armagh, Ireland
Manuel... in every song in this world when a singer sing "baby" is that per definition a toddler to you then, or is that a word used by both men and women as a normal nickname on eachother. And if a guy says to his girlfriend/wife or whatever "come to daddy"...that's my interpretation of the song and the video also show that when she gives him the keyes and he comes over to her house where she probably has a man of her own, "her daddy". Maybe about adulery but who actually needs to interpret a song to the bones.. just enjoy it! Words are not be taken out of context and if so then we all are per your definition pedophiles.
- Sara, sUNDSVALL, Sweden
I think the song refers more to wanting to be with a woman who's already in a relationship...he (the "daddy") isn't there...thus, the speaker can 'take her higher.'
- Joe, Grove City, OH
yeah, I pretty much love this song....and I have to disagree about the pediphile....its not a bad idea, but, after wanting a girl I couldn't have so bad it keep me up at night? I have to say...its prolly about that..lol
- Matt, west springfield, MA
Are you guys kidding me? A song about a pediphile? These lyrics are not lyrics that are to be taken literally. Is a freight train really running through his head? No. Is he really talking about a little girl? No. He's talking about a woman that he wants to be with and either can or cannot be with her. I think this is by far the sexiest song he's ever done. His voice is so smooth in this one. I love it!
- Sherry, Belleville, IL
Moby used to play this song live, all alone with guitar. Unfortunately...
- Leon, Hilversum, Netherlands
Bob Rivers (twistedtunes.com) did a wonderful parody of this titled "I Perspire." It's obviously a tribute to Springsteen's concert performances and starts:
At night I do my shows;
With my shirt soakin' wet;
Standin' two feet deep;
In a pool of smelly sweat...
- Steven, Sunnyvale, CA
Does anyone know who the girl in the video is? She's got a great set of legs!
- Roel, Cleveland, OH
Hello! Wake up and smell the statutory rape people! This is about a man trying to put his "6 inch knife" in a place where it doesn't belong. Only because Bruce Springsteen is regarded as a musical God, can he get away with this.

The reason that he wakes up all wet is self-explanatory and he has a "freight train" going through his mind b/c he's worried about getting busted.

The video was obviously made for damage control so the Zeus of music wouldn't come crashing down. This is a thunderbolt to be avoided.
- Manuel, San Francisco, CA
This is one of my favorite songs, it reminds me alot of things that have happend in my past.
- Suzanne, White rock, Canada
In the good old days of record players (before CDs and MP3s) you could put disks on at the wrong speed. An LP could be played at 45 rpm, instead of 33.33 rpm, and some decks even had a 78 rpm setting. If you turn up the speed on this track, Bruce magically becomes Dolly Parton! Try it; I swear it's true!
- Stu, Fife, Scotland
Ironically, Johnny Cash recorded a version of this song for Springsteen tribute album "Badlands." Check it out.
- James, Enid, OK
you forgot one group, steve--the group that likes and appreciates ALL of springsteen's music.
- victoria, gaithersburg, MD
This song rocks! I love how Bruce can take a break from old anthem writing days and write a Johnny Cash song. Go Bruce! This song is very underrated, it is not on my "essentials" CD. The video: Bruce is a mechanic and this beautiful women comes in to his shop. He thinks of her nonstop, and eventually goes to her house. He gets very close to the doorbell, but just cannot ring it, and walks away. I might be wrong, I haven't seen the video in about a year, but I know these are the basics. Sorry for spoiling it, for those who haven't seen it.
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
I think Bruce has at least two distinct groups of fans. One group loves the Born in the USA cd because of all the hits. I'm definitely not in that group. Bruce, in my opinion is very mediocre at pop. There are only three keepers on Born in the USA, the title track, No Surrender, and Bobby Jean. Count me in the group of fans that like the songs where Bruce is singing like there is no tomorrow (Backstreets, Jungleland, Born to Run, etc.) Anyone agree?
- Steve, Fenton, MO
Well, little girl is a term of endearment. Springstein was certainly not the one to invent the practice of calling your lover "baby" or "girl". And women have called men their daddies for some time. (Notorious BIG and "Big Poppa") Right or wrong, its a cultural norm.
- Kelli, Cedar Rapids, IA
If it is not about pedophilie, then, could someone explain what means 'little girl and daddy, bad desire, can he do to you the things that I do'. I guess this is an obvious reference to sexual experience with a very young girl. I normally donĀ“t call adult women little girls. What is in the video?
- Honzin, Prague, Czech Republic
Why is this great track not on the album 'Greatest Hits' from 1995? The album is called 'Greatest Hits' and not 'The best of' of something like that. Do they (= CBS/Sony) fear that people won't buy Born in the USA on CD (and replace vinyl)? That's what I don't like about 'greatest hits albums'.
- Guido, Holland, Netherlands
Used by playwright Lanford Wilson in his play "Burn This." The characters sing the tune to signify their desires.
- craig, madison, WI
I haven't seen the filmclip. I also thought it was a kind of pedophile reference. How does the clip explain the song?
- Emmeline, Sydney, Australia
When I first heard this, I thought it was about a pediphile. Then I saw the video and it made sence.
- Kyle, Belleville, Canada
For years I thought this was a cover of a Johnny Cash tune, now I know my ear wasn't lying!
- MOnty, Omaha, NE
I'm so stupid. I actually believed this was about his sexual experience with a little girl and that is why the lyrics were disturbing.
- Jade, Chippewa Falls, WI
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