Thursday, August 27, 2009
Oyills! Oyills! Oyills!
As a teenager in the 80's, growing up at Generic High in Melbourne's middle-eastern suburbs, I loved Midnight Oil. They were the first band I artistically devoured. I remember sitting around with Lewd Bob at the time, me with my Oils fanatacism, him with his keen interest in The Police, sharing our music interests for hours and hours (when we weren't playing footy or cricket in the street).
"10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1" came out in 1982 - I was in Year 8, and by mid Year 9 I knew every word to every song, plus all the words to all the songs in their entire back catalogue where I found some songs that to this day I would put up near the top Australian Songs of all time ('Stand In Line' from the album 'Head Injuries' in particular). The thing is, though I knew the words, I didn't really, you know, take them in, as such. I was singing and dancing enthusiastically to songs about Maralinga, US imperialism, Afghanistan, homelessness, alienation, commodification... but jeez, I was 15 years old, what did I care? It was the energy and the music I tapped into, not the message. I saw them live a couple of times at their peak, and they were fucking AWESOME. Rock? You bet.
Red Sails In The Sunset came out in about my Year 11, and it was saying what just about every other rock band was saying at the time - we were all going to die in a nuclear war. Kurt Cobain said something along those lines when Nirvana hit. I paraphrase Kurt: "I grew up believing I was going to die in a nuclear war, because that's what every song and film seemed to be saying." I agree with Kurt in that some (not all, but some) of the Gen X nihilism came from that mass-art messaging that was proliferated in the mid 80's. But, at about the same time Red Sails came out, I was starting to move into different musical circles. I liked the album, but my sister had got me into The Doors, friends had steered me into the direction of Nick Cave and I had found Jesus and Mary Chain by myself. Suddenly, my focus was inward, not outward, and the Oils became a delightful reminisce of my early teenage years rather than a serious artistic interest.
But the delightful reminisce still resonates today, and as such, I cannot help but jump to this man's defence:
I am getting sick of the 'sellout' calls coming from the left, the right, the centre, the south, the abstract plain... everyone wants to call him a sellout.
I have this to say: Firstly, whether or not the songs did anything, at least he bothered to sing about the issues in the first place. He is in a position to 'sell out' because he, unlike his naysayers, actually did something to elevate himself(joined a rock band).
Secondly, has he really sold out? I don't think so. He's joined the democratic process. Unlike the sooks at Socialist Alliance, for instance, or the angry bogans who claim to be ostracised, or the wealthy yuppies who rest on their own nestbeds worrying about not much more than the figures, or the chattering classes who drink chardonnay at Leunig book launches, or the... oh you know who I mean... everyone with an opinion or a complaint who really does nothing about it... unlike all of them, he did something. First, he was in a band, now, he's in Parliament.
Yesterday, Peter Garrett approved a thing called The Gorgon Project, which is liquefied gas project originating on Barrow Island (though it sounds like a Dr. Evil armageddon-type world destruction plan).
"Sell out" they cry. But, fuck off. That's soft. It's so easy to yell that. "Sell out!" It's like Pavlov's dog. You see Garrett's bald head walk into a room and cry "sell out!"
But, when we read further into it, we see that his approval came only when the mining companies agreed to 28 environmental conditions, many of which referred to the safety of some of the island's fauna, such as the flatback turtle.
Yeah, it's still a fucked up mining company that will pollute the air. Yeah, it would be nicer if we didn't use gas at all. But, 6000 jobs are being created, and the flatback turtle will be safe from the probing genitals of crazed mining executives.
Herein lies my argument: By protecting the flatback turtle, Garrett is doing as much as he can. The alternative is that a less scrupulous government would give a mining company carte-blanche to do as they please as long as it generates wealth for the elite few. Garrett, by bringing to the table 28 environmental conditions, is at least doing something.
That is not selling out. It's compromising.
My defence of Garrett may have a lot to do with my teenage appreciation of his band, but, what the fuck. We grow old with our prejudices, and cling to them like kids with lollypops.
Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to play 'Powderworks' at full volume.
Flatback Turtle - safe, for now.
And here, my fvaourite Oils song: 'Stand In Line'.
"Malcolm Fraser: Get Fucked"... gold.
This version is fucking awesome as well: