One of my friends moved in this week, which is very exciting. It’s going great so far. I’ve gone from a very bad living situation to an extremely good one, and we’ve already started to open up to each other about the important things, like what we consider the best theme song to an 80s movie. This wasn’t a debate, for the record, as we both agreed it was “St. Elmo’s Fire” as soon as the topic was raised.
The song hit all of our requirements: it says the title of the movie in the lyrics, and it goes unbelievably hard.
If you haven’t seen St. Elmo’s Fire, that’s fine, because it’s not very good. The song has nothing to do with the movie, and neither has much to do with the weather phenomenon St. Elmo’s Fire, which is some kind of lightning thing.
I know about St. Elmo’s Fire — by which I mean the movie, song, and weather phenomenon of the same name — because some friends and I formed an 80s movie club in high school after realizing that none of us had seen any of the Brat Pack movies that seemed so influential. I volunteered to host the St. Elmo’s Fire meetup because I thought, correctly, that this would be a hilarious theme for a party, and I committed to the theme very hard because doing so is my entire personality. I dressed as the titular Elmo.
Anyway, my roommate and I listened to “St. Elmo’s Fire,” as one does, and then he asked me if I was aware of the updated version. Reader, I was not.
So he played it for me. “See if you can figure out who it’s about,” he said. My immediate thought, before he even hit play, was Princess Diana, as if every song that gets re-recorded needs to be about Princess Diana. I was wrong, obviously. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is no “Candle in the Wind.” It’s way better.
I can’t say that I ever actually listened to the lyrics of “St. Elmo’s Fire” aside from its epic chorus, and it’s hard to parse John Parr’s gruff vocals anyway. But I strained my ears to interpret this new version.
You know I’m out there
Down on one knee
And you’re tryin’ to break free
“Is it Jesus?” I asked, assuming that John Parr had gone through some late-in-life religious awakening. That would make sense. But the answer was not Jesus. (It was sort of Jesus.)
Gonna be a man in motion
All I need’s my Broncos team
Take me where my future’s lyin’
Tim Tebow’s Fire!
I would not have guessed Tim Tebow. I can’t imagine that anyone would.
This version raises a lot of questions. Why, what the fuck, et cetera. We assumed that the man was simply a big football fan, but then I looked into it and John Parr isn’t even American. He’s British. Oy! What’s all this, then?
In an interview with NPR, Parr explained that this started out as a request from the NFL, which makes sense, and it was not thought through at all, which also makes sense. “I’ve been living in America for the last seven months, doing shows for the American military, for the troops and their family,” he explained. “And they asked me if — and so I did — I want to pitch a song for ‘Monday Night Football.’ So I wrote a song for the vacant slot for that, went up to ESPN to pitch the song. And they said to me: Have you got your guitar? Would you go on set and play ‘St. Elmo’s Fire?’ Which I did. And just as they were going to roll the cameras, they said: You couldn’t call it ‘Tim Tebow’s Fire,’ could you? So I did it just for fun way back then.”
Okay, cool, that would be a funny story if it was something he just did on the fly one time. But it was not! Parr added, “But then, as I’ve, you know, seen Tim play and seen the man he is, I thought maybe he deserves better than this because, obviously, that song is written about another athlete.” Parr was referring to Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen, who was at the time of the song’s writing embarking on his “Man In Motion” tour to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and the need for accessible public spaces for those with disabilities. When tasked with the job of writing a theme song for St. Elmo’s Fire back in 1985, he and his writing partner David Foster couldn’t find inspiration until they saw a news segment about Hansen’s journey. “And likewise,” Parr said in 2012, “I saw it with Tim. You know, it’s the same thing. It’s about one man kind of against the world.”
Full offense to Tim Tebow, but Rick Hansen travelled almost 25,000 miles across 34 countries by wheelchair to help a marginalized group of people and Tim Tebow is just good at football. I’m not trying to womansplain John Parr’s own song to him, but Hansen and Tebow are not the same.
I could try to parse this, but I don’t have to. I was struck by one part of the NPR interview in particular.
NPR: Now, John, coming from where you’re coming from as an Englishman, are you really an American football fan?
PARR: I wasn’t. I mean, we Brits don’t get NFL and NASCAR, but living in America these past seven months, I’ve really, really enjoyed getting into it. And I can see — really see the attraction.
BLOCK: Are you a fan of Tim Tebow and the Broncos?
PARR: I’m a fan, generally, of him. I mean, it’s funny. I’ve not seen many Broncos games. I'm definitely a Tim Tebow fan because of two things. I think he’s a complete maverick, and he believes in something. I mean, everybody doesn't share his religious belief, but I think we live in a world where people have lost faith in anything. And I just like it that here is a man that believes in something, his teammates believe in him. And it just inspired me.
Interesting. The man was not a fan of American football. Even after writing “Tim Tebow’s Fire,” he said that he hadn’t seen many Broncos games. He referred to “NFL and NASCAR” together, as if they’re one sport. I have a strong suspicion that what happened here is pretty simple: John Parr is an opportunist. He realized that his manly inspirational songs were popular with conservative Boomers, so he rewrote his most well-known hit to cash in on an intersection of their interests: a Christian quarterback, classic rock, and nostalgia for the 80s.
Am I disappointed? Yes. Surprised? I guess not, as I didn’t even know the name of the guy who sang “St. Elmo’s Fire” before this conversation. Also, I do think it would be funny if more classic soundtrack cuts were re-recorded to be about Tim Tebow specifically. I have some suggestions:
- “Don’t you forget about Tim
(Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim!)”
- “He’s a maniac, maniac on the field
He just scored and then got down to pray and kneeled”
- “I’ve had the game of my life —
And I owe it all to Tim”
- “Highway to the endzone!”
- “He’s the best around!
Nothing’s gonna keep Tim Tebow down”
- “It’s the eye of the bronco
It’s the thrill of the game
Rising up to the challenge of our rival!
And our main man Tim Tebow
Brings us all some acclaim
And he’s watching it all with the eye…. of the bronco”
- “And I-I-I
will always love Tiiiiiiiiiim!”
Say what you will about John Parr (as I just did). The man’s music is inspirational.