“I’m On Fire” isn’t a difficult song to understand. A handful of words, it’s the embodiment of desire.
The music backs this up, exaggerating the desire of the words with a simple guitar riff, an easy beat and constant synthesizer (one of the few Born in the USA songs where the synths don’t annoy me).
The music sounds like it can break out into something more, something louder, something bigger, at any second. But it never happens. It stays restrained.
But can the song mean more than what we hear on the album?
Of course it can.
Bruce himself proved that briefly during the ’80s when he would perform “I’m on Fire” live with the E Street Band. At shows, he’d expand on the theme of sexual desire in the song to encompass all desire — especially that of a family that doesn’t have much. As the song slowly started up, he’d tell a story about himself as a young man, restless and aimless, and his father, restless and stuck, and how their separate desires to have more would clash.
The story Bruce would tell would vary from show to show. Here’s one: