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I first started thinking of a year-end recap version of We Didn’t Start The Fire in mid-June– and as most of these things go, my early drafts were weak and without much form or focus. That’s why I enlisted the help of the best writer I know– my dad, Roger Weber. I ran the concept past him in mid-October, and that’s when we started throwing ideas around. I live in Chicago, but he and my mom are back in Detroit- so there were a lot of long skype sessions knocking around ideas.
The lyrics were mostly done by early December, although we were tweaking words all the way up til the day before we recorded the vocals. Then the editing began, which consumed every evening and weekend day for about two weeks.
Choosing the topics for the video was a challenge itself, since there’s such an overabundance of celebrity gossip– which kind of proves the point we were trying to make in the video. We started with the obvious stuff everybody was sick of hearing about– Kim and Kanye, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber. None of it is actually worthwhile information, but people love consuming it. It’s like the twinkies of news.
But then we started doing some digging and realized that the amount of celebrity fluff in 2013 alone would have easily filled multiple versions of this song. There’s so much to go on that we could feasibly do this kind of thing every couple of months. To narrow it down, we selected a mix of the biggest “stories” of the year, as well as people who got a lot of face time– and then we rounded it out with the “oh, who gives a sh*t?” factoids, like how Heidi Montag swapped out her F-cup implants for C-cups. Although that can be said about any of this. Including this video, I guess.
We started with pages and pages of topics, and the original Billy Joel lyrics often dictated how we’d word things. For example, I wanted to include the movie Sharknado, because it got a ton of attention this year. It would be tempting to put it in where the original song says “Edsel is a no-go”, simply because it rhymes. It was my dad’s brilliant idea to reword it as “Shark Weather Homicides”, and put it in place of “Starkweather homicides”.
Other lyrics offered themselves up quite conveniently. In the original song, Billy Joel mentions “Liston Beats Patterson”. Coincidentally, one of the big tabloid stories of this year was Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson being on and off again, but Kristen Stewart still wanted to be with him, blah blah blah…. Anyway, “Kristen Loves Pattinson” was such a perfect substitute, purely by chance.
The writing took a lot of time– the day after Thanksgiving, my dad and I went to the library to look through tabloids to get more ideas. We were sitting there surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, but instead of enlightening ourselves, we were talking about Kelly Clarkson’s wedding. Any onlooker would thing it was a the world’s weirdest father/son bonding moment.
My friend Kevin Leblanc, who’s immensely musically talented, provided the lead vocals, which wound up being the easiest point of the production. He nailed each and every take, so the only challenge there was choosing which take would make the final cut.
The editing was the most exhausting part of all for me– it’s such a thankless, isolating task. I was glued to the computer for days, downloading hundreds and hundreds of clips and images, and then assembling all of it together. It took way longer than I thought it would. Now that it’s done, I’ll finally get a decent night’s sleep.
On most of my projects, I can never hear the song I’m editing ever again because I hear it thousands of times during the edit. But oddly, Billy Joel must be an exception, because We Didn’t Start The Fire is such a great song.