Ern Didn’t Start the Fire!

Ern has moved into 1951.  It is now time to own up to the fact that ErnBlog will not complete this project by summer’s end.  Billy Joel wrote and produced this song in 1989, in conjunction with his 40th birthday.  ErnBlog has thus far reached the stage when Billy was 2 years old!  Perhaps the end of 2012 would be a more reasonable completion estimate for this ErnBlog Series!


In early 1989, Billy Joel was talking to a younger friend about the prospects of turning forty.  The younger friend remarked that “Nothing happened in the fifties!” when Billy was a kid.  Joel’s response was this song, the theme of which suggesting that “The Fire” of social change, political unrest, corporate greed, drug abuse, and a new disease epidemic that “Was Burning” in the late 1980’s was the result of continual matches being added during the beginning part of Billy’s life.

1951 indeed has been repeatedly referred to me through the beginning of my own life by my Italian grandfather – Dom – a Marine positioned in South Korea that year. 

Dom on Christmas 2007

Dom has recollected on more than one occasion about General Douglas MacArthur being denied permission to “cross the Yalu River” and invade North Korea by US President Harry Truman, the very first person referenced in Billy Joel’s song.  It is at this point in the song that Billy reiterates earlier images first identified in his intial two verses for 1949-50, first with:

1) ROSENBERGS, Julius and Ethel: Jewish-American immigrants from the Soviet Union who were found guilty of sharing military secrets with the Russians.  US Senator Joe McCarthy (previously referenced) was instrumental in uncovering communist activities transpiring in America at that time.

2) The H-BOMB, or Hydrogen Bomb, denotanes when the splitting of a hydrogen atom is triggered over or directly on opposition territory.  Once again, this ties directly to Truman, who authorized and executed the less-specific splitting of “atoms” over Japanese islands Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 – concluding World War II. 

3) SUGAR RAY Robinson was Boxing’s Welterweight Champion of the World from 1946-1951 and later hoisted the Middleweight Championship on 4 different occasions throughout the 1950’s.


 Boxing Champ – Sugar Ray Robinson (Source:


The topic of Boxing leads us back to Dom again.  It has been, on more than one occasion, that Dom would sit in a booth at East Boston’s classic pizza joint SanTarpio’s, reflecting on the wall’s pictures of the boxers gone by.  Sugar Ray Robinson has been classified by Dom and several other boxing experts as “The Greatest Pound-for-Pound fighter who ever lived”.  In other words, according to Dom, if you could pick any boxer, in any weight class, against any competition, in any conditions (most fights were outside in blistering heat in Dom’s day); Sugar Ray would be the guy.

Perhaps Sugar Ray’s dominance of professional boxing over a twenty-year period is best exemplified by his closing 1951 record of 128-1-2 with 84 knockouts (KOs).  At that point in time, his only defeat had been suffered at the hands of Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta in 1951, a ten-round rematch between the two warriors.  Jake LaMotta was later depicted by Robert DeNiro in the early 1980s classic sports movie “Raging Bull”. 

Sugar Ray Robinson would conclude his historic boxing legacy with an overall record of 173-19-6 with 2 No-Contests, totaling 200 career bouts fought.  He knocked-out an opponent 108 times, including a 1947 knock-out of Jimmy Doyle that resulted in that opponent’s death.  On the eve of the fight, Sugar Ray had a nightmare that one of his punches had killed Doyle.  Still feeling uncomfortable with the dream in the hours leading up the match, Robinson decided not to fight.  However, the priest on hand in the locker room convinced Sugar Ray that a dream should not dictate reality; and the Champ ultimately entered the ring.  This decision would haunt Robinson for the rest of his life. 

Arguably the most successful boxer in history, Robinson would ironically die pennyless in 1989, the same year that Billy Joel’s song hit Number One on Billboard.  Joe Louis was another former champion of that time (a heavyweight) to die in poverty. 

I have a Question for Dom about Sugar Ray:

Sugar Ray Robinson was only knocked out ONCE in his entire 200-fight boxing career.  WHO did it, WHERE, and WHEN?”     



The de facto border between North and South Korea.  The Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 was signed there, ending the Korean War.  However, because North and South Korea still have not reconciled their differences and because the government systems of the two nations are so diametrically opposed, the name Panmunjom has become synonomous for the Remaining Cold War as currently constituted in 2012.

One more quote from Dom that I remember as a nine-year-old watching the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988:

“I remember walking through there (pointing to the television) … and it was all bombed out.  Little Korean kids would walk up to us and ask for food and water.  We didn’t have much, but what we had, we would give them.”

2 thoughts on “Ern Didn’t Start the Fire!

  1. ernie-thanks–sugar’s only time knocked out i believe was in france (off hand don’t recall fighter) but that was only out all night having a blast BUT return match goodbye–no doubt sugar in ANYTIME THE GREATEST. on second thought fight was stopped in fight with joey maxim in 13 0r 14 round because of over 100degrees heat–also joey was a light heavy-this was a champion fight–sugar saw winning when stopped

    • Your second guess is correct, Papa. Joey Maxim knocked out Sugar Ray in blistering heat at Yankee Stadium in the final rounds in 1952.

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