Monday, January 28, 2008

Defending the Music XIV: The Bombs Never Hit You When You're Down So Low

Hitting the home stretch now, the last eight of twenty-one. I've saved my two all-time favourites for the back-end, and I've already done all the artists that I'd consider to be the least of the best. I did a few bands early on that sit amongst the absolute cream, but from here on out that's all there is. Stuff I really really love.

I figure that of the eight artists left I'll start with the two that I fell the least responsible for my own appreciation of. Two bands that friends pestered me into liking. And obviously they were right. I love both these groups. I'll tackle them chronologically.

The first one I have Jason and Paul to blame for, but it my first experience with the band was with a girl.

I hadn't even heard of Midnight Oil before Marquetta had a crush on me. Back in first year university, my only year in residence, a girl from a building across the quad had a big crush on me. It was kind of unfortunate really. She was cute and I'm betting that a few more years of maturing would have made her gorgeous in a sexy-librarian kind of way. She was cool and I really enjoyed hanging out with her - good thing as she knocked on my door practically every day. But she just wasn't 'my type.' One thing she was really great at was identifying music that I would like. She turned me towards a number of bands - one other of which is yet to come on this list - which were 'alternative' when that still meant something which have gone on to major mainstream success. One related thing that connected us (and this is going to date me) is that we were the only two people we knew with those new-fangled CD players.
One day Marquetta brought over 'Diesel & Dust.' "Listen to this. You'll like it." Damned if she wasn't right.
I didn't really pay a lot of attention to Midnight Oil for the next few years. I owned "Diesel & Dust" and listened to it, but it wasn't in high rotation.

Eventually I found myself playing music with other guys. Jason pushed for us to play "The Dead Heart." That 'de doo doo doo - doo de doo' intro and extro was a LOT of fun to play. We learned a lot about dynamics playing our way out of that song. It was one of our better numbers and we also worked on some other Midnight Oil songs. It soon became apparent to us just how good these guys were as musicians. They had a remarkable ability to make quite complex songs sound much simpler than they were.

By this time "Blue Sky Mining" had been released and I had added it to my regular playlist.

During one of the summers I spent house painting Paul was bound and determined to convert everyone who he painted with into rabid Oil fans. He owned all their albums and played them on the company ghetto-blaster every chance he had. His plan worked. By the end of the summer I too owned all the most significant Oil albums - as did several of my other co-workers. I'd also found a new favourite Midnight Oil song, which holds the title to this day. (For the record, the video almost comically fails to capture the power of the song.)

I was the right age to be easily inflamed by the politics of their music. I was in my activistic stage and they were the soundtrack to the injustices of the day.

I missed Another Roadside Attraction in '93 because I was on tour. In fact, I missed the A.R.A. tour all three times because I was on tour. Without fail I'd be in Winnipeg and they'd be in Saskatoon. Two nights later we'd be in Saskatoon and Winnipeg would be rocking out. Grrrr.

That tour was politically linked to the logging issues in the Clayoquot though the band was also touring in support of "Earth and Sun and Moon" which was for practical purposes their last big album. They already had a political issue that was killing them as a band...

They didn't have much to complain about during the Clinton administration. Or rather they thought it diluted their message to start picking at the minor indiscretions of the world's remaining super-power. Think what you like about that. I don't know that it's as righteous as I'd like to think Midnight Oil as being, but that was what they claimed eight years later when I did finally have a chance to see them live.

Midnight Oil in the Commodore Ballroom was the most awesome show I ever saw in that spectacular venue. Imagine the Lurch-like six and a half foot bald-headed Peter Garrett whirling and spastically dancing (There's plenty of examples for your imagination in the linked videos.) mere feet above your head.

They declared that night that there was something wrong in the world again (Hmmm... I wonder what?) and that they has something to say and thus they were back. Sadly it wouldn't last long. Six months later Peter Garrett finally did something he had threatened to do before their breakout "Diesel & Dust" - he quit the band and went into politics. Apparently he figured he could accomplish more in the Australian Parlaiment. He is now the Minister of Enviroment, Heritage and the Arts.

While I do wish for another chance to see them live, or a new album, I respect Peter Garrett's committment to walk the talk. There are a number of bands on this list with strong politics. Few were ever as strident and none put their money where their mouth is with this much fervence.

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