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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sunday Jukebox: Eternal Flame by the Bangles



I have always been fascinated by flames. And no, I don't mean that in the sense that I love starting fires, because I am definitely not that kind of guy.

I mean I've always been drawn to places that have the nice warm, comforting glow of a flame nearby. Whether it be lit candles, a warm fireplace or a bonfire, there's just something so cozy, warm, and I suppose even romantic about getting close to that beautiful orange glow.

Well, as close as one can get without setting their clothes ablaze and making you practice the stop, drop, and roll lesson you learned all about in elementary school from the firemen who visited the school during safety assemblies.

The point I'm trying to make is that under the right conditions and circumstances, a single flame can be quite comforting to watch and behold. In some cases, it can bring back memories of a former person, or remember a tragic event, and having the flame there can bring some peace of mind to those who gaze upon it.

Have you ever heard of something called an 'eternal flame'? It's a flame that is lit that burns day and night for an indefinite period of time. It's origins are both cultural and religious in nature. It is a religious aspect of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where the Menorah would burn continually. The practice began when Moses oversaw the construction of the original menorah for the Israeli Tabernacle. The concept was also assimilated from Persian religions Zoroastrianism and later used into other Abrahamic religions as well.

During the earliest years that eternal flames came into existence, they were fueled by wood or olive oil, but in recent years, propane or natural gas is used. Some eternal flames exist in nature as well.

The reason for eternal flames are largely for memorial purposes...either to remember a historical event with major significance, or to honour a public figure who passed away.

There are several eternal flames that are currently lit all over the world, all for various reasons. Some of the more famous ones include...

  • One lit in memory of John F. Kennedy, lit on November 25, 1963 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on the day of his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Several eternal flames are lit in various locations in memory of those lost on September 11, 2001. These locations include New York, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • One lit in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia
  • One lit in memory of Elvis Presley at his gravesite in Memphis, Tennessee
  • The Centennial flame celebrating Canada's 100th birthday in 1967 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • One lit underneath the Arc du Triomphe in Paris, France in 1921 in memory of those who lost their lives in World War I.
  • One lit in Sarajevo in memory of those who lost their lives in World War II.
  • Two eternal flames are set up in Saint Petersburg, Russia in memory of those who perished in both the Bolshevik Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad.

Some other eternal flames have been lit until the day something historic happens, and once it does, the flame will be extinguished. One such example is in the city of London, Ontario, Canada, where the eternal flame is called the Flame Of Hope. The flame is lit at 442 Adelaide Street, where Sir Frederic Banting did research that lead to the discovery of human insulin. The flame will be extinguished the moment a permanent cure for diabetes is found.

And some former eternal flames have already been extinguished. When Estonia gained independence following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the eternal flame in that city went out. And in 1997, a group of students attending Oral Roberts University extinguished the eternal flame on campus as part of a prank...a prank that got them severe punishment.

So, that is your history lesson on the eternal flame. I promise I won't bore you too much with too many of these...it was just a nice little introduction to today's blog post on a different kind of 'Eternal Flame'.

An eternal flame that was 'lit' in 1988 and released as one of the first singles of 1989.



ARTIST: The Bangles
SONG: Eternal Flame
ALBUM: Everything
DATE RELEASED: January 20, 1989
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #1 for 1 week



Eternal Flame was released in early 1989, and hit the top of the charts on April Fools Day, 1989, the band's second #1 hit since 1986's 'Walk Like An Egyptian'. The song was really one of the only ballads done by all girl group The Bangles, and immediately became one of their best known hits. The group was made up of Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson, and Michael Steele.

To say that this song was a huge hit was actually kind of an understatement when you consider just how many compilation albums this song appeared in. I guarantee you that if you go to a record store, or the music section at a Walmart or Target location and browse through the 1980s compilation albums, you'll likely find 'Eternal Flame' on at least half of the albums alone. I actually have four different copies of Eternal Flame thanks to the song appearing on four different compilations that I own!

Of course, the song originally was released on The Bangles 1988 album, Everything. When Everything was released, it was released with the lead-off single, 'In Your Room', which was a decent effort. That song reached #5 on the charts in late 1988. But when it came time for the album's second song to be released, the song Eternal Flame was chosen.



The song itself was actually inspired by a couple of eternal flames, one of which I listed above. Inspired by the eternal flame at the gravesite of Elvis Presley when the Bangles visited Graceland, as well as one that was lit at a synagogue in Palm Springs visited by the writer of the song's lyrics, Billy Steinberg. Steinberg recalls Susanna Hoffs talking about the flame at Graceland which was meant to serve as a shrine to Elvis, and immediate after hearing Hoffs describe the flame as being an 'eternal flame', the memories came flooding back to Steinberg. He thought back to when he was living in Palm Springs and attending the synagogue as a child. During Sunday school classes, the teacher would take the group of children on a walk through the sanctuary where they saw a little red light inside. It was explained to the class that the red light was what they called an 'eternal flame'.

The name stuck, the song recorded and released, and it immediately became a huge hit. The sound was a big departure for the Bangles, who were previously known for having a hard, edgy sound in their previous releases. Billy Steinberg described the song as being one that sounded like what might have came to be had 'The Beatles met The Byrds'. And here's a bit of trivia for all of you regarding this song. When it was recorded, Susanna Hoffs sang the song completely in the nude!

Eternal Flame became one of the Bangles biggest hits. Sadly, it also was one of the Bangles last hits. Shortly after Eternal Flame was released, the band went its separate ways with Susanna Hoffs going on a solo career, although the band did get back together in the late 1990s, and a new album was released on September 27, 2011 entitled Sweetheart Of The Sun. And Eternal Flame has been covered by a few artists over the years, with British pop group Atomic Kitten having released their own version in the 2000s (though I personally prefer the original. Judge for yourself though).

Of course, there is more than one meaning to the phrase 'eternal flame'. I've already talked about the literal meaning of the phrase.

But what about the emotional meaning?



Listen very closely to the lyrics of the song. Obviously, Susanna Hoffs is singing about being in love with someone but somehow feels a little bit insecure in the relationship. She clearly loves him, and wants to be with him, but is unsure if he feels the same way about her. She knows that she belongs with him, but she wants to know if he feels the same.

Is she only dreaming, or is their relationship burning an eternal flame?

She mentions in the bridge of the song that whenever he says her name, the sun shines through the rain, and her pain is eased. She no longer feels lonely whenever he's near her, and she loves the feeling of that so much that she doesn't want to lose it.

Which I guess could explain the questioning that she has throughout the song.

And you know, I do understand this. Despite the fact that my romantic history hasn't really been all that memorable (not that you needed to know that per se, just bringing it up because it ties into the conversation), I can see where she's coming from. Sometimes if a person hasn't been on the dating scene for a while, or has been through one loser after another, they may feel as though they are doomed to a life of celebacy, or at the very least, loneliness. I guess the reason why I feel the singer may be questioning the validity of the 'eternal flame' burning inside both of them may be because it really has been the first time she's ever experienced such feelings, and with one false move, that flame could be extinguished faster than those students at Oral Roberts University did with their own flame.

I don't think there's any of us out there who are necessarily 100 per cent secure with their feelings when they first enter a relationship. Those feelings grow over time as they do in any sort of relationship. In many ways, it's up to the people themselves to keep those home fires burning, and it is up to them to keep their flame eternally burning.

Kind of like real life eternal flames. In order to keep them burning, it takes effort, hard work, and maybe even a little bit of luck to keep the winds of change, the bitter coldness...and even a few hooligans away!



4 comments:

  1. I really liked this blog, Matthew. It could even have been divided into two. The little history lesson is very interesting. I did not know about the extinguishing ones (cure for diabetes). In the Catholic church there is also an eternal flame.

    The part about the Bangles was very nice, too. lol, at the personal information part. You have a great sense of humor. :o)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you! I try to keep this blog as light-hearted as I can. If a little bit of humour comes up in that, all the better!

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  3. I first heard this song when I was going to get the body of my deceased mom from the hospital. For me it meant the eternal bond that will be between her and me. This was October 12, 1991. In 1992 I became pregnant and the song used to be on the radio all the time and I had a baby girl. Now 22 years after that baby girl..now a woman is pregnant and I heard the song twice on the radio this week. We learned last night she is having a girl.This song is very dear to me as it signifies that eternal bond between the generations in a family....

    ReplyDelete
  4. I first heard this song when I was going to get the body of my deceased mom from the hospital. For me it meant the eternal bond that will be between her and me. This was October 12, 1991. In 1992 I became pregnant and the song used to be on the radio all the time and I had a baby girl. Now 22 years after that baby girl..now a woman is pregnant and I heard the song twice on the radio this week. We learned last night she is having a girl.This song is very dear to me as it signifies that eternal bond between the generations in a family....

    ReplyDelete