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The Elements: Fire

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You might have heard of a song called "The Elements: Fire" or as some people call it, "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" and simply "Fire".

For those of you who don't know, "Fire" is an instrumental song on an unreleased album by The Beach Boys titled 'Smile'. The song was intended to part of a suite of songs called "The Elements", with each song based on an element of classic mythology, like earth, air, water and so forth.

According to Brian Wilson, the song was going to be a long, eerie whine which would start out small and slowly build into a giant conflagration of sound that would create vivid pictures of raging infernos in the mind of the listener. The song was inspired by two events.

The first was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which was allegedly started by a cow owned by a Mrs. Catherine O'Leary that accidentally kicked over a lantern while she was milking it. The fire then slowly built into a gigantic, raging inferno that was responsible for hundreds of deaths and the destruction of almost all of the city of Chicago.

The second event was Brian Wilson's second experiment with the drug LSD. Instead of the spiritual experience he was hoping for, his LSD trip served up a "horror movie" that began with the sound of sirens from nearby fire trucks. Brian imagined being consumed by flames and dying.

In his own words: "...I was bathed in flames, dying, dying, and then the screen inside my brain went blank. I visualized myself drifting back in time. Getting smaller and younger."

Brian relived arguments he'd had with his father. He continued to drift back in time. "I continued getting smaller. I was a baby. An infant. Then I was inside the womb. An egg. And then, finally, I was gone. I didn't exist."

Did Brian Wilson lose his ego during this experience? Was this ego-death? Only Brian knows for sure. But in any case it seems likely that such questions must have entered Brian's mind at this point.

Looking back on the song, Brian Wilson made this peculiar statement, "The chords were weird, sick, not the straight eight. I ran the miniorchestra through twenty-four takes before I was satisfied. Still, during each version, I thought, oh God, I'm flipping out to have written such stuff. The weirdest was the crash and crackle of instruments smoldering for the final time. Listening to the playback, I began to feel unnerved by the music, strange and eerie. I liked the music. But it scared me."

According to Brian, "It created a disturbing picture that mirrored the screams that had filled my head and plagued my sleep for years."

Brian continued, "On the way home, I remarked, 'You know, I think that music just might scare a whole lot of people.' No one was more scared than I was. The following day I learned that a building next door to the studio had burned down the night of the recording session. Several days later, I was told that since the session an unusual number of fires had broken out in Los Angeles. It was exactly as I feared. Instead of positive spiritual music, I'd tapped into a dark source, an extremely powerful fire music that emitted bad vibrations, which I decided were too dangerous to release into the world."

A heavily modified version of the song was released in 2004 as part of a solo album release of 'Smile'.

A recording of the original version of "Fire" has never been found, perhaps for the best.

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