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WHY MIDNIGHT OIL IS IMPORTANT TO THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.

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Design cover of Midnight Oil’s latest book by Michael Lawrence, 2017.

 

Midnight Oil matter in today’s world right now.

Why?

Because their songs reflect today’s issues – even though they were performing these same songs more than 20 years ago.

Just look at the state of the world right now.

Planet Earth heating up. Ice caps melting at a rapid rate. Hurricanes and natural disasters getting bigger and stronger. Effects of climate change staring us straight in the face.

And then there’s the Refugee crisis. Syria. ISIS. Paris. Belgium. London. Black Lives Matter. Nuclear missile testing. North Korea. Trump. Charlottesville. Myanmar.

And here in Aotearoa. Child Poverty. Homelessness. Unswimmable rivers. Gap between rich and poor widening. Hopsitals struggling to cope. Families living in cars and hotels.

Godszone ain’t so godly these days.

What the hell has happened to the World we live in ? How has NZ ended up with one of the worst rankings in the OECD countries for child poverty and mental health?

And don’t get me started on the NZ (Fox News) media.

Sometimes you just want to scream.

Midnight Oil screamed about these issues over 20 years ago.

When I’m locked in my room
I just want to scream
And I know what they mean.

( From the song ‘Only the strong‘ – Midnight Oil )

This tough, surf punk rock band from Sydney raged against the machine before there even was a band called Rage Against the Machine.

Their songs were not only powerful musically, their lyrics were politically loaded, raging against the discrimination of Aborigines, the corruption of corporations and commerce over the environment.

I’ve been a big fan of the Oils ever since I  first watched their great video “The Power & the Passion” one Sunday night on Radio With Pictures. I might have only been 9 at the time. Even back then I was intrigued by their sound and attitude – and listened to their albums over the 80s and 90s, and liked the fact they had a political edge to their music. Plus they just sounded great.

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Now, looking at the state of the world right now and here in New Zealand – Midnight Oil’s politically charged songs now mean more to me than ever before.

Read the lyrics to their song “Read About It” which was recorded back in 1982. The words reasonate just as much today in 2017. If not more so.

The rich getting richer
The poor get the picture
The bombs never hit you when you’re down so low

Some got pollution
Some revolution
There must be some solution but I just don’t know

The bosses want decisions
The workers need ambitions
There won’t be no collisions whey they move so slow

Nothing ever happens
Nothing really matters
No one ever tells me so what am I to know/ so what am I to know

I doubt whether Bill English or Steven Joyce ever listened to this band.

Maybe they should.

So, as I found my seat right at the top of Spark Arena and looked out at the crowd of mostly baby boomers in the mosh pit, I wondered would this band (now in their mid 60’s) could still rage with the same power and passion in a live setting like they did way back in 1990? (which was the first time I saw them live one hot summer evening at the Wellington Show Buildings).

They didn’t disappoint.

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With front man Peter Garrett leading the sound-assault with his trademark nervous energy – quickly moving, shaking and waving his arms in spastic-superman fashion, shaking off the political baggage when he was a Labour MP as well as his 64 years. Wearing a ‘You’re Fired’ Trump tee-shirt underneath his aboriginal print designed one, Garrett still sings and screams with the raw confidence and surf-punk swagger that made him such an iconic lead singer over 20 years ago.

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Add to that the thunderous beats from drummer Rob Hirst and bassist Bones Hillman providing the powerful rhythm section,  guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey rumbling and spitting off venomous riffs  –  this older Oils version still kicks major ass live – the sheer power and punk-rock intensity grabbing you relentlessly by the throat and not letting go.

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Starting off the concert with  the song ‘Redneck Wonderland’ (apparently this song tore a new ***hole in Memphis on their recent US Tour), by the third song the seated crowd was already standing up to dance, and for the rest of the night I felt like I was back in 1990. Back when they were a top rock band, at the top of its game.

I started to remember why I liked this band so much. Midnight Oil bloody stood for something, and made sure you bloody well knew it.

I admired them in 1990 when they performed in front of the Exxon Building in New York City to highlight the Valdez Oil disaster and make a stand for the environment.

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And I admired them even more when they played at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games – singing ‘Beds are Burning’ and wearing ‘Sorry’ tee shirts – embarassing then Prime Minister John Howard to highlight the Australian government’s refusal to apologise for the attrocities inflicted on Aborigines.

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With the Trump Administration dividing America today, it’s no wonder their recent tour to the USA has drawn record crowds at their concerts.

Even Garrett admits it in a Rolling Stone interview:

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Midnight Oil are just part a long line of musicians who sang about the social issues of the time.

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In the 1960’s a gentle looking fellow by the name of Bob Dylan sang protest songs that influenced a generation with songs  like ‘The Times They Are A Changin‘, and ‘The Hurricane’

In the early 1970s on his famous album ‘What’s Going On‘- Marvin Gaye sang of black civil rights, the war in Vietnam, and the state of America on one of my favourite soul tracks of all time ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)‘.

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From Bob Marley to Cat Stevens U2 to Sting,  Gil Scott Heron to John Lennon, Neil Young to Public Enemy, early UB40 to N.W.ABruce Springsteen to Tracy Chapman, Sex Pistols to The Clash, Living Colour to Rage Against The Machine, Roger WatersSpecial AKA to Peter Gabriel, (hell, even Phil Collins) to Little Steven Van Zandt’s great collaboration in 1985 called Artists United Against Apartheid  which also included Midnight Oil – these are only a few of the musicians who’ve sung about social issues, injustices and challenged the powers that be. And there’s plenty more.

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Even in New Zealand groups like Herbs back in the 80’s made a stand about the environment on Nuclear testing in the Pacific with songs ‘French Letter‘ and ‘Nuclear Waste‘ and Blam Blam Blam with their politically charged pop song ‘There Is No Depression in New Zealand‘ – a reaction to the 1981 Springbok Tour also sounds just as relevant today.

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I’m sure there’s many a protest singer/group now still advocating for the rights of the people, which we don’t see on mainstream media anymore, but today I’ve been currently listening to rapper Kendrick Lamar and his album’ To Pimp A Butterfly’ (which is brilliant), and there’s the always outspoken Roger Waters and his current ‘Us and Them’ Tour (which comes to NZ next year). And just last year members of Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill, Audioslave and Public Enemy joined forces to form the supergroup Prophets of Rage after last year’s US elections. (Their recent video ‘Living on the 110’ can easily be related to the homeless/ poverty situation right here in NZ). Great to see these guys fight the power over in America.

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Prophets of Rage

And so the Midnight Oil concert rumbled and raged on.

Playing through their classics (and pretty much my soundtrack of the 90s) my playlist of favourites still sounded great with the same amount of intensity and aggression : Power and the Passion, US Forces, Only the Strong, Dreamworld, Read  About It, Put Down That Weapon, Hercules, The Dead Heart, Beds are Burning, Short MemoryRiver Runs Red, When The Generals TalkTruganini, Blue Sky Mining, Stars of Warburton, Warakurna, Bullroarer, Forgotten Years, Now or Never Land, The Best of Both Worlds. They even managed to sing their kiwi-themed song ‘Shipyards of New Zealand‘ and a cover of the NZ pop classic ‘Counting The Beat‘ by the Swingers as well – much to the delight of the Kiwi crowd.

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It was great to see this Aussie hard rock band still sound like it can kick you up the ass, but also hit you on the head in daring you to be aware of the social and environmental issues that are affecting the world, with a hope that you may also take a stand.

It certainly seemed that way when Garrett changed tee shirts – replacing the Trump tee with one that had these words – setting down a challenge for the audience;

“TO SIN BY SILENCE WHEN WE SHOULD PROTEST MAKES COWARDS OUT OF MEN”

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He even talked about the need for us Kiwis and Aussies to stick together – which doesn’t seem to be the rhetoric coming from the current Aussie Government.

As Peter Garrett closed the concert with these words;

“Take care in this mad and crazy world where you do it better than most – until we rub noses again – goodnight.”

After two hours of relentless rock that was high in voltage and high on message – the power & the passion was still there. And that was great to see.

Midnight Oil matter because they sing that battle cry out for us – leading the protest charge by using the sound of thunderous rolling drums, rumbling guitars and a screaming voice that takes a stand.

Because in today’s mad and crazy world we all should be screaming and shouting, raging against the machine. Now more than ever.

END

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References: http://www.salon.com/2017/09/04/midnight-oil-tour/
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/inside-midnight-oils-triumphant-timely-return-w478911
Images: Courtesy of Rock Shop and Matt Henry Photography.

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2017 by and tagged , , , , , , .
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