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History In Music- ‘Burn On” -Randy Newman. “Burn On” is a song from Randy Newman’s best album “Sail On” which came out in 1972. The song deals with an infamous event which is still mentioned when the city of Cleveland, Ohio is mentioned. In June 1969 the Cuyahoga River which that runs though Cleveland was so polluted [studies at the time named it one of the most polluted rivers in the United States}  that it actually caught on fire. There had been other river fires on the Cuyahoga but the one that drew attention was the June 1969 fire when it was covered by Time Magazine. Time described the river as a river ‘that oozes rather than flows” and a river where a person “does not drown but decays.”  This event along with several other ecological disasters helped to spur the environmental movement in the early 70’s. Of course who would write a song about this- but a wisenheimer like Randy Newman. R.E.M. would later contribute a song about  it- “Cuyahoga.”

I will note I have lived my entire life in the orbit of Pittsburgh- and we enjoy laughing at Cleveland- especially the failures of the Browns over the last twenty year [ at least on paper it looks like the Browns are on the upswing- I have quit calling them the Clowns} but living my living 2 1/2- 3 hours from Cleveland I have been there at least a hundred times I’d guess- going to baseball games at that old Mistake By The Lake-and the new ballpark which I still call Jacobs Field – Cleveland has a bad reputation – and like most cities it has problems but I have always enjoyed my visits there- other than the winter weather its not that bad of a place.

The photo above is not from the 1969 fire- no known photos exist from that fire but from the 1952 fire on the Cuyahoga River.



  1. The only time I’ve gotne near Cleveland was to Sandusky, Cedar Point, one time to R&R Hall of Fame when it first opened, and then went south through Cincinatti, to Mammoth Cave in KY (that was quite an experience for a claustrophobic person!) and then to Henderson, KY where my friend now lives. Randy Newman, no comment.

    • One day I went to a baseball game in Detroit- and got to Cleveland for their night game.. Never been to Mammoth Cave- I don’t like being closed in either…

    • When you get down into the deepest, darkest part of the cave, they turn off all of the lights. They also offer “crawling tours” where you crawl for long distances through the caves. NO THANK YOU!

    • I have been in caves and caverns but there is no way I could do the crawling tour i need some space… the caves i’ve been in i didn’t feel closed in but the crawling no thanks here too!

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