Billboard ranks “Firework” as Katy Perry’s best-selling single, with millions of downloads since its 2010 release. The self-empowerment tune “skyrocketed” to #1 on Billboard’s Top 100 at the time and ranked in the top five on twenty other charts worldwide. “Firework” also “sparked” an award-winning music video, and Katy has since performed the anthem live at two presidential inaugurations and during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Searching Wikipedia for “firework”, therefore, it comes as no surprise to be asked, “Do you mean the song or the low-explosive pyrotechnic device?” Today, I choose the latter.
For the first time in countless July 4th celebrations I can’t speak to having seen a single overhead firework display this year. No giant “willows” with their graceful descending trails of sparks; no “peonies” where those same trails radiate in straight lines from the center; and no “horsetails” (my favorite) where each trail bursts a second time, followed by a crackling, glittering shower of fire. Also, no “grand finale” where it looks like the entire sky is splitting open to some fiery furnace beyond.
From the vantage point of our house, we used to count on the fireworks show from the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy. That show has been canceled for the last ten years because of budget cutbacks. We also used to bring blankets to the shore of a nearby lake, where we were treated to a “small-town” fireworks display funded by donations from the public. Today, that display has been swallowed up by a bigger all-day “Festival on the Fourth”, where you pay for parking and walk a mile or two just to secure a spot on the lake several hours ahead of the fireworks. Even so, we thought we’d see bits and bursts from one of the other nine shows scattered around nearby Colorado Springs. Nope, not so much as a snap, crackle, or pop.
Fireworks are nostalgic for me, with two distinct memories from childhood. The first, in the 1970s, brings me back to the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles. Back then the only commercial displays seemed to be over the ocean. My parents would grab a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and several blankets, and the whole family would find a place on the beach where for several hours, we’d eat and play as twilight became dark, in anticipation of the late, late fireworks show from the end of the nearby pier.
The second memory, a decade later, also brings me to the Pacific Ocean but to a beach further south near San Diego, where we’d shoot off our own fireworks (from the “Safe and Sane” boxed collections my dad brought home every year), followed by an overhead display from the nearby county fair. Every childhood July 4th was the same: food, fun, and fireworks; lots and lots of fireworks.
In 1976 – America’s bicentennial year – the firework display in New York City included an unforgettable “waterfall” effect off one of the bridges. This year, that same July 4th display (sponsored by Macy’s) ballooned to a two-hour televised extravaganza with over 2,000 blasts and effects per minute. I’d say Macy’s department stores and their profit margins are doing just fine, wouldn’t you?
I shouldn’t be surprised to learn fireworks were invented by the Chinese (well over a thousand years ago) but here’s a less-obvious bit of floral fire trivia: Disney is the largest consumer of fireworks in the world. It used to be – back when their single amusement park was California’s “Disneyland” – you’d only catch a Disney firework show on summer evenings (directly above Cinderella’s castle), and only if you stayed until just before the park closed. Today you’ll find displays at any one of the twelve Disney parks, in any month of the year. For the record, only the U.S. Department of Defense purchases more explosive devices than Disney.
There’s more firework trivia, of course. The very first iterations were empty bamboo shoots, creating a mild popping sound when ignited because of natural air pockets. Seeking more pyrotechnics, the Chinese added explosive chemicals to the shoots to create firecrackers”. Eventually they figured out how to launch and propel their creations, and the overhead fireworks display was born, in an impressive rainbow of chemical colors. But take note; you won’t see a blue firework very often. Blue requires an infusion of copper at just the right temperature, and the “cool” color tends to get lost next to the “hotter” reds and yellows.
I’m still puzzled why I didn’t hear so much as a “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM” aftershock (to quote Katy Perry) of a firework display this year. Maybe most of my fellow Coloradoans kept the bursts and blasts to the ground instead, from what they purchased at the local firework stand. Those of you living in New Jersey, Massachusetts, or Delaware can’t relate because consumer fireworks are illegal in your states. Not so much as a sparkler in your hand. (Which may be a good thing since sparklers can heat up to 2000 ºF) So you probably did what I did this year – simply watch a recap of the Washington D.C. grand finale on your smartphone. It was the only floral fire I could find.