I’m rather pleased with myself, which doesn’t happen very often. I managed to keep this blog going with its weekly post for the last 2 weeks despite the temptation of the various delights Turkey has to offer. Cell phone turned off, staying off the internet (except for updating this blog)…aaah! bliss. But now I’m back. I brought back some music from there which hopefully will form the content of another post – that’s for later.
A chance remark from a fellow tourist while we were surveying the magnificent ruins of Ephesus a couple of weeks back had me reaching out for ‘Diesel and Dust’, one of my favourite albums by the Aussie band Midnight Oil. It was the early ‘90s when MTV had just reached our shores – in the opinion of some, seeping in like a corroding effluent. But I loved the channel because unlike its unrecognisable form now, MTV did play music back then. The earliest image of Midnight Oil embedded in my memory is of a bald, incredibly tall Peter Garrett and his band belting out ‘Dream World’ with manic energy. The careening music and simple yet chilling chorus (End…Fall…) eloquently capture the theme of a ‘dream world just about to end’. It was then it struck me why I love ‘Diesel and Dust’, which bears this song, so much. When I first heard it on its release in 1988, it was an album ahead of its time – the sound and energy was unlike anything I was hearing in the ‘80s. Years later when I saw videos of some of those songs, they fitted in perfectly with the music scene of the ‘90s.
Through its long – about 30 years, first as Farm and then as Midnight Oil – history, the band had espoused the cause of the downtrodden and the dispossessed and taken on what they strongly believed to be irresponsible exploiters as evident on the haunting ‘Arctic World’ (anyone remember their set in front of the Exxon HQ in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill?). ‘Diesel and Dust’ carries the recurrent theme of the exploitation of the aborigines and their point of view as on the stunning ‘The Dead Heart’. And nowhere is the cause of reparation more explicitly stated than on ‘Beds Are Burning’:
The time has come, To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent, To pay our share
The time has come, A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them, Let’s give it back
Carrying such strong conviction and willingness to take on the powerful requires a lot of inspiration. I wonder if ‘Sometimes’ was a song written and performed to give themselves a boost whenever their spirits flagged.
Sometimes you’re beaten to the call
Sometimes you’re taken to the wall
But you don’t give in
It’s not surprising the distinct voice of Garrett went on to strike a note in the halls of politics, though not as stridently perhaps. As MP and minister, he has continued to court controversy, accused by some of having sold out. I don’t follow Australian politics but I do care about what Midnight Oil did on this superb album. Over the years before and after this album Midnight Oil created many strong albums and songs, but to me, ‘Diesel and Dust’ remains their finest. Somehow the others don’t quite measure up.