Some Things Aren’t Meant To Be, Some things Don’t Come For Free
Midnight Oil Great Circle World Tour 2017
May 23rd 2017, Paramount Theater, Denver, Colorado, USA
by Abel Ashes
September 10th 2018
I was a home-schooled truant, most likely to fail.
My boombox sung 10, 9, 8 and Red Sails.
Full Spectrum Dominance in strategic stages
Channeled tax dollars into step-dad’s wages.
Contracts at HELSTF, food in the fridge.
Three times to church to brainwash the kids.
There I was, driving around the concrete and dust-covered town of Alamogordo, New Mexico in my beat up 1999 two door Ford Explorer with a cracked windshield and blown out speakers blasting songs about Hiroshima for all of the rednecks and Airmen at the red-light to hear.
¨We won’t forget. We can’t forgive. Keep us radioactive free. Strike a bell in Hiroshima Park. You know that we can’t see in the dark.¨
¨This city of Blossom and Blood, this city suffered more than it should, these sidewalk silhouettes not washed away.¨
¨Oh I was talking to the people next door. They said they don’t want to die in no nuclear war.¨
This is where I grew up, surrounded by the history of the atomic bomb, the Trinity Site where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated nearby. This is where my love of Midnight Oil began, with the familiar sound of a creaking windmill on MTV and those three opening chords that announced so dramatically that ¨The time has come to say fair’s fair.¨
I grew up in the desert, close to the mountains and forest, near the Mescalero Apache Tribe, surrounded by rednecks, the history of Spanish conquistadors, Geronimo, Bill The Kid, the Buffalo Soldiers, Pancho Villa, Cold War secrets, Evangelical fundamentalists gleefully awaiting nuclear Armageddon, and those radioactive green glass globules from the atomic crater, known as Trinitite.
No wonder then, why I could so easily relate with songs about shaking tin roofs, boiling diesels, the Zulu and the Navajo, Ned Kelly, Maralinga, Pine Gap, Harrisburg, talking in tongues, a white law that could be wrong, and daydreaming about the outside world.
I had been exposing my wife Nesrine to The Oils since we first got to know each other on Facebook in 2011. She, being a citizen of Tunisia, was the reason I wound up back in the Redneck Wonderland called Otero County, New Mexico, USA. The stories I could tell of our struggles with the US immigration system could, can and will fill a book.
She hated it there in Alamo just as much as I did and we were both excited to get out-of-town, out-of-state, and see Denver, Colorado and the greatest rock n’ roll band on the planet after such a long hiatus. Unfortunately for us the ticket scalpers had other plans. It took an entire afternoon of beating the bots at their cynical game, but we finally secured two tickets at face value.
The cyber-scalpers were logging onto the website of the official ticket seller and snatching up all of tickets into those little five-minute windows of time that websites afford to each purchaser in which to complete their transactions. So when we would log on and look for tickets, the website would show that no tickets were available, and yet the show was not sold out. The solution was simple. I sat for hours and refreshed the page again and again and again until I hit that magic second in which the bots and scalpers were briefly logged out, but before they could log back in and gobble up all of the tickets again. Then I quickly chose two seats and proceeded to pay not a penny more than face value for them.
We picked up our rental car and drove the 550 miles to Denver, stopping in Santa Fe for lunch, then driving past white water rafters on the Rio Grande near Espanola and on up into Colorado where we drove through gorgeous landscapes of red earth, sheer cliffs, tall pines, and green prairies populated with pronghorn antelope and enormous majestic bison.
On the drive we talked the songs we most wanted to hear live. My picks were mostly underrated masterpieces rarely performed in concert: Naked Flame, Someone Else to Blame, Shipyards of New Zealand, Mountains of Burma, while my wife wanted to hear her favorites Power and the Passion and Common Ground. We had both already sadly accepted that fact that there was no chance of hearing Bells and Horns in the Back of Beyond.
After a goodnight’s sleep, a day exploring Denver, and several trips to El Taco Veloz for the best carne asada and al pastor tacos I had tasted since the cruelties of the recession had driven me out of my beloved second hometown of San Diego, California, I took my wife to Denver Botanic Gardens as was her request. We had a lovely time, but in doing so I may have missed my opportunity to arrive early and possibly get a chance to meet the band.
We arrived downtown and stopped along the way to the Paramount Theater so that I could hammer out an improvised solo on one of the garishly painted pianos that sit in the pedestrian promenade for any and all to play. A walk around the corner and there was that beautiful art deco marquee sign and those two words that have for so long represented the power of music to move feet and minds and make people want to make this blue ball a better place ¨Midnight Oil¨.
As we waited in line I was approached by fellow Powderworker, originally from South Africa, who handed me a cd that contained a single solitary mp3 of one of the only known recordings of The Oils playing Mountains of Burma live. We spoke about our common interest in both Midnight Oil and in the music of South African musician and activist Johnny Clegg of Juluka and Savuka fame. He informed me of Clegg’s battle with cancer of which I was unaware.
My wife and I spoke with a couple who had flown to Denver from Texas for the concert and a local couple who had paid a very large amount of money to scalpers for tickets to the concert they refused to miss. There was some talk of heavy events as the crowd waited for the show to begin. Chris Cornell had committed suicide 5 days before and just the day before the show 22 people were killed and 139 were injured as they left an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, when a suicide bomber detonated a TATP nail bomb hidden in his backpack.
All Our Exes Live In Texas were a gentle, folky, feminine, and charming opening act that lightened the mood with their subtle melodies and warm sense of humor. Then out of the din of the crowd came the ominous sound of Vangelis’s Blade Runner End Theme and we waited for those familiar silhouettes to emerge through the dark shadows behind the theater curtains.
Redneck Wonderland was a fury of skittering electronica, thunderous drums and bass and those two ferocious raging guitars. The crowd roared like a hungry lion during the quieter moments when Rob Hirst was tapping along with the programmed beats on his trashcan lids. the crowd loved this song and it was certainly a song for these times we found ourselves in.
Next up was a driving pub rock version to Too Much Sunshine that had a few middle-aged fists in the air before Peter Garrett addressed the crowd to say thanks for to the audience and to address the parents of one young boy he spotted near the stage, ¨Live music is bad for young ears. I hope this boy has something in his ears.¨
¨We’re gonna do a South Pacific chant song for you because you’ve waited so long for Midnight Oil to drift back over the South Pacific, miles up in the middle of the United States of marijuana.¨Garrett joked, referring to Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational pot use.
The climate change anthem Now or Neverland was all funky psychedelic bass and organ with hands waving on stage and in the audience like the waves of the South Pacific I suppose, as the band and very enthusiastic audience chanted along while the joyful melody became something of a hippy jam session. Maybe it was a bit of that ¨hippy waffle¨that Leszek Karski discouraged during the Head Injuries sessions.
Peter Garrett once again addressed the crowd, using a bit of lighthearted humor to address a serious issue: Donald Trump. ¨You know I can’t find anyone who will admit to voting for the Dumpsta.¨ He said, referring to Trump as a waste receptical-cum-wannabe-gangsta, ¨I’m just chillin’ like anybody else, I’ve got my camera on…I’m just hangin’ and asking people, in the interest of democracy. Fess up! No one ever, ever tells you the truth.¨
¨Anyway, nevermind that. It was kind of hard coming hear tonight because of what had happened in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert.¨said the professional musician, father of three daughters, and former politician as a drunk belligerent loudly groaned his disapproval at the subject being broached, ¨We didn’t want to overstate the issue and we didn’t want to understate, being we’re a long way away.¨
¨We can’t kind of imagine what it would be like for those people, particularly for those who were hurt, for those who passed away, their friends, their families, particularly young girls and their mums and dads. But we did want to say that the one thing no one in any part of the world will be giving into is fear.¨ Garrett paused to cheers of approval, ¨And its a reminder that 99.99 percent of the world actually gets home quite well and there are thousands of acts of kindness; deliberate, cooperative, which are happening every minute of every hour, in every city and in every country and we are not going to curl up in a little ball and let this madness and evil turn us into people we don’t want to be, no matter what!¨
¨So naturally we extend from this room in Denver, as many other people are in different ways around the world, our sympathies for what has happened. We’re gonna pause for a minute.¨ Peter concluded as the obnoxious heckler resumed his noisy disruption, which was quickly shut down by a woman shouting ¨Shut the fuck up!¨
¨Let’s rock n’ roll in here! Fuckin’ rock n’ roll! Aaaaargh!¨ bellowed a drunken Australian man to responses from fellow Oils fans ranging from ¨Show some respect.¨to ¨Let love rule.¨ The rock n’ roll did indeed resume, but the broaching of serious issues was along for the ride for the duration of the show.
In a time in which random acts of unspeakable cruelty, not just the terrorism of ISIS and fellow Islamic extremists, but the racists and xenophobic threats of the far-right, random mass shootings, and Kim Jong Un taunting the world’s other nuclear armed nations with his dictatorship’s pursuit of ICBMs to carry their nukes far and wide, a bass heavy rendition of the 1987 anti-nuke anthem Put Down That Weapon was more than appropriate for addressing the headlines of the day.
Rob Hirst’s drums erupted as Garrett shouted that line, ¨They keep talking about it!¨, Reagan and Gorbachev now replaced by Trump and Kim. ¨You must be crazy if you think you’re strong.¨sounds like a line that could have been written specifically for the likes of Trump and Putin and Kim Jong Un. Moginie’s eerie droning keyboard parts gave way to some chiming, almost Christmas song like electric piano passages as Garrett reminded us that, ¨Some things aren’t meant to be. Some things don’t come for free.¨
¨Thank you and thank you for showing your respect during the prelude time. We come from a land down under.¨ Garrett said as Bones played that epic opening bass line that led into, what was certainly a highlight for the hardcore fans in the audience such as myself. Lucky Country was the oldest song performed on this night heavy with Diesel and Dust and Blue Sky Mining. It was also one of the best and though I was disappointed to not get any Head Injuries or a long nasty atonal No Time For Games Jim Moginie guitar solo, I was overjoyed to have at least one example of why The Oils were the world’s greatest rock band long before they hit the big time on MTV.
¨I never did get to go bushwalking in the mountains, but nevermind. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be granted the opportunity. Life has a way of surprising you.¨ Garrett lamented just before a loud bass and drum pattern began to fill the theater. The gorgeous, almost classical sounding guitar melody was buried in this more sensual and funky rendition of Shakers and Movers that chugged along like a soulful freight train. I felt this is what the song might have sounded like had it been on Earth and Sun and Moon or Redneck Wonderland.
¨It’s never too late to read a bit of Walt Whitman…That song is about an Australian poet (Henry Lawson)…Its never too late to vote in the midterms…never too late to give your local Representative a, you know, a kick in the, you know, wherever, about getting rid of Obamacare.¨ Garrett said, with words that all of the USA truly needs to hear and heed. ¨Its a very simple principle, folks. I don’t want to preach to you too much tonight but it does work in other places, so we get to share the good news with you. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, if you’re flipping burgers or running a hedge fund. You pay a very tiny percentage, a tiny percentage of your salary each week. You don’t notice it. It just disappears out the door. Its less than a coffee, but what this means is when you get sick or when you get old, when you lose your job or when you go to the hospital…Its free!¨You don’t have to pay!¨
After the cheers of approval from the audience, no doubt many of them drowning in the debt of over-priced medical expenses, Garrett continued, ¨Now some call it communism and socialism. We call it common sense, because it works! In fact, you feel so good after you get out from getting fixed up for nothing that you feel like paying more taxes not less.¨
After a fun loud King of the Mountain, a stripped down piano and bass version of My Country which became an audience sing-a-long, and a very well received performance of Luritja Way, in which Hillman’s gospel vocal solo took center stage, came the song that was for me a highlight of the entire tour and one of the most under-rated gems in the whole Oils songbook, Ships of Freedom.
Originally a b-side left off of Earth and Sun and Moon, this song grew on me year after year and decade after decade. More subtle and simple than the usual Oils song, it speaks directly and simply to the issue of our universal humanity and in this time of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Myanmar, Yemen, South Sudan, El Salvador and elsewhere, it seemed perhaps more than any other song the one most of and for these times. Its Beatleseque organ solo made even more gorgeous by the flugelhorn of Jack Howard.
After some of the joking around about Bones Hillman supposedly being the second cousin of then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, there was a half-acoustic/half-electric Kosciusko, not the Shipyards of New Zealand I most wanted to hear, but at least one song from the amazing Red Sails in the Sunset. This was immediately followed by the sole song from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Only The Strong just about brought the roof down on our heads between the power of the performance and the passion of the audience reaction.
A slow, deep drum pattern began and I was not quite sure what the next song would be until Moginie began playing gentle piano chords and Peter Garrett started singing that most philosophical of Oils songs, Arctic World. This live version replaced the New Wave synths and strings and processed drums of the album version with the more timeless sound of piano and deep evocative drum and bass accents and was for me one of the best performances of the night.
Of course Arctic World must lead into Warakurna and Warakurna always leads to cheers of audience approval. This time was no exception, as those opening guitar riffs turned the indoor urban nighttime setting into a hazy, misty early morning in the desert of the Australian outback. The heavy bass drum sound of Arctic World continued through Warakurna, at times reminiscent of Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers.
During The Dead Heart we saw Peter Garrett’s well-known ability to lose himself in the music of his band mates and the message of the lyrics as he passionately wailed at the wall projecting images of Uluru. We were now in the hit singles part of the show and next up was a fiery, bluesy rendition of the biggest hit of all, Beds Are Burning, which was immediately followed by the raging harmonica of the anti-asbestos mining anthem, Blue Sky Mine. Little did we know at the time, that Trump was going to take steps to legalize the use of asbestos in US construction the following year.
¨For those people who have traveled from the mountains, across state borders, across the oceans; for those of us who totally accept that the only way forward is to treat one another and the beautiful planet with equal respect, thank you for being a part of it tonight! Our Dreamworld lies ahead!¨and with those words, which seemed aimed right at my Tunisian wife and myself who had driven more than 500 miles for the show, Martin Rotsey’s lead guitar lead the band into the powerful closing song and the band left the stage.
After the usual ritual of audience disquiet demanding an encore, the band returned and gave us a dusty, rustic version of one of the least often performed songs from the Diesel and Dust album. Whoah always seemed to me to be a gospel song about fake Christians, but it says many things that even a staunch non-believer such as myself can relate too. Is the first verse about the TV Evangelists that were so ubiquitous in the 1980s or perhaps Ronald Reagan who manipulated many Christians into supporting very un-Christian policies like not giving a flying fuck about the poor? I never was sure, but the other verses about politicians with landslide votes and the negative effects of The Cold War on Australia were sung in an evocative, mourning tone, before Garrett offered his own explanation.
¨…to which we’re referring to the dark angels of nature emanating from your White House and other places around the world, a constant vigilant battle between the greedy, the stupid, the narrow, the bigoted, the narcissistic and those who know there is a better way. Tell me the truth. Tell me the truth before we leave town.¨ Of course, you guessed it, the next song was Tell Me The Truth, in which Bones Hillman’s fuzzed out bass took center stage.
Forgotten Years reminded us of why these songs about historical events still matter and will always matter, as Jack Howard’s flugelhorn once again shone, this time performing the beautiful aching slide guide solo that my wife always said sounded like a woman’s voice. Then the band went backstage again for some moments of well deserved rest before returning to the stage for a second and final encore.
Peter Garrett was clearly attempting, unsuccessfully, to get the other guys to agree to perform a song well-known to be among his all time favorites when he began to address the issue of universal human right. ¨With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tightly to our bums and the smell of the salt air of Sydney in our muscles we can go just about anywhere. I was talking to someone the other day about progress, one way or the other. Let’s do Progress, eh?¨This was met with cheers of approval, but clearly someone in the band nixed the idea and Garrett reluctantly conceded.
¨For Midnight Oil people that have followed the band for a while or who sort of got into it in the Diesel/Blue Sky era…with our hopes for a nuclear weapons treaty which would have the same effects as a landmines treaty would, in place, stop people spending all your money on dumb bombs that can never be used. Let’s get those Hercules flying!¨ and with those words the band launched into one of those brilliant songs about Hiroshima I had been blasting out of my car windows in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I sang as loud as I could, ¨This is something I will remember!¨and looking around the theater, I was not the only one more than a little bit overwhelmed with emotion at the common humanity in that room that night.
More than a year later, I find myself living as a foreign resident alien in my wife’s North African home country of Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, after she and her sister were nearly killed in a horrific auto accident. Nesrine is still paralyzed from the waist down with a spinal injury as I write this seven months after I received the horrible news and had to give up everything, my job, my car, my apartment, my nonfiction books, and my library of cds which contains more than a little bit of Midnight Oil, and my country, which seemed to be gone already with the election of Trump. To top it all off, the airlines lost my luggage with the recording unit I planned to make my next low-budget recordings on and worst of, four years worth of love letters sent between my wife and I across two continents and the Atlantic Ocean.
There is hope that my wife will be able to walk again and there is hope that we will be able to get our lives back on track again and so we move forward day by day. During the many struggles we have faced during this hard time, Midnight Oil’s songs of hope and defiance continue to sustain me and inspire me.
¨I want to hold you precious head. I will not leave you or pretend. I’m gonna hold you to the end.¨
¨Sometimes you’re beaten to the call. Sometimes you’re taken to the wall, but you don’t give in.¨ …and we never will.
Thanks in part to the inspiration of this band and its songs of hope and meaningful actions beyond the song lyrics, it just might be possible that thousands of people, to paraphrase Peter Garrett, ¨in many cities and countries around the world are committing thousands of deliberate and cooperative acts of kindness, not giving in to fear, treating one another and this beautiful planet with equal respect.¨ That is a wonderful legacy.
¨This is something I will remember.¨