Sunday, 10 February 2008

Lyrics & their meaning Part 6- Power and the passion

“ Rock songs will not change the world, for starters no one can understand a word they’re saying…literally! ” …My Dad

The Power & the Passion- Midnight Oil (1980)

(and Midnight Oil in general)

Midnight Oil long regarded as Australian Rock Music's Environmental and Social conscience.
Me , I consider them a good band with at best questionable lyrics. Midnight Oil for some reason have managed to get away with the reputation of being hard hitting word smiths with poignant and relevant messages. But a closer look at most of their lyrics reveal vague mentions of subjects and cryptic leanings towards others. For example: in the chosen subject song Power & the passion The song has reference to many iconic symbols but can anyone truthfully say they understand what these lines mean or represent?
Sunburnt faces around, with skin so brownSmiling zinc cream and crowds, Sundays the beach never a cloudBreathing eucalypt, pushing panel vansStuff and munch junk foodLaughing at the truth, cos Gough was tough til he hit the roughUncle Sam and John were quite enough
It is alright to go to form some intellectual theory that you think it may be about but keep in mind the core of Midnight Oils supporter base were the Suck more piss crowd that also followed The Angels & Cold Chisel. You would think plain English would have been more appropriate. Indeed how about for example instead of:
US Forces give the nod,
It's a set back for your country


US Bases are no good
Don't let them in the Country

But if you go deep into the whole Midnight Oil lyric thing the album that the totally incomprehensible Power and; the passion is part of, you soon realise that most of the album struggles to make sense. Not only are the lyrics hard to understand, especially if you aren't aware of the subject matter they also make them very hard to read on the album by using distorted fonts and having them cut on edges of pages, so that one half of a songs lyric is diagonally split onto opposing pages making it even more difficult to understand.
I have researched many articles on Midnight Oil and discovered the lack of attention to their actual song meaning, the topic often moves towards individual protests or polular issues. This could explain Peter Garrets eventual entry in politics, he had great training in talking around a subject in writing song lyrics.

As for Power and; the Passion what's it about?
Don't know and I can't find out anywhere either. There is a short reference in Beds are Burning The biography by Mark Dodshon but it only goes on how Garret used to change Rob Hirst's lyrics if he didn't like them and wouldn't tell anyone. Power and the Passion was one of these songs. All other references only comment on how powerful the songs sentiment is, but refuses to say what that sentiment is.
You one thing that annoys me about this song personally, was for years I’d make excuses for it by saying the lyrics “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” was a killer line. Only to discover it was stolen from Emiliano Zapata Salazar a Mexican revolutionary.
I have compiled a sample list of Midnight Oil songs and I challenge anyone to explain what they are saying without going into metaphors or long winded explanations.

If Ned Kelly was King-Place without a Postcard 1981

Hollow threats and a great adventure

So much business, towns in the dirt

Company cars and efficient Americans

Three black boys sit in the corner

White woman waiting to talk

Lots of intention but no understanding

If Ned Kelly was king

He’d make those robbers swing

He’d send them down

Out in the dead heart, tourists and cameras

Four wheel drives wreck, snapshots and slides

Follow the brochures but nothings inside

Heavy machinery loud in the outback

Dreamtime developers they make all the sound

Where will we be when they leave us a quarry?

If Ned Kelly was king

He’d make those robbers swing

He’d send them down there

He’d make them stay

And we can hope

If Ned Kelly...

If the quinella comes in today

King of the Mountain-Blue Sky Mining 1990

Walking through the high dry grass, pushing my way through slow

Yellow belly black snake, sleeping on a red rock

Waiting for the stranger to go

Sugar train stops at the crossing, cane cockies cursing below

Bad storm coming, better run to the top of the mountain

Mountain in the shadow of light, rain in the valley below

Well you can say you’re peter, say you’re paul

Don’t put me up on your bedroom wall, call me the king of the mountain

Blacksmith fires up the bellows, cane cutters burning the load

Workers of the world, run to the top of the mountain

Mountain in the...

I cant take my hands from my face, there are some things we cant replace

Mountain in the...

Over liquid tarmac wastelands of cactus and heat

Down cobblestone alleyways of washing day sheets

Up ghost prairie mountains of sunset and space

Down the road at a familiar place, across the wilderness

Out further than the bush I will follow you

Outside World-10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1- 1981

There’s a wind on the eastern side

Ghost gums dance in the moonlit night

Mopoke mourns the racketeers

The bosses they can sense your mood

All in place to a hand that rules

They all want to deal you out

I can see the outside world

Everything’s inviting in the outside world

Leaving all my problems in the outside world

Its the summer of another year

A little world weary a little more to fear

Hold those cards tight to your chest

Maybe someday you could be a man

Living quietly in a caravan

Not the Lismore road tonight

Short Memory-10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1- 1981

Conquistador of Mexico, the Zulu and the Navaho

The Belgians in the Congo short memory

Plantation in Virginia, the raj in British India

The deadline in south Africa short memory

The story of el Salvador, the silence of Hiroshima

Destruction of Cambodia short memory

Short memory, must have a, short memory

The sight of hotels by the Nile, the designated Hilton style

With running water specially bought short memory

A smallish man Afghanistan, a watch dog in a nervous land

They’re only there to lend a hand short memory

Wake up in sweat at dead of night

And in the tents new rifles hey short memory

If you read the history books you’ll see the same things happen again and again

short memory they’ve all got it

When are we going to play it again

Got a short, got a short, got a short, got a short

They’ve got a short must have a short theyve got a short aah

Short memory, they’ve got a.

I'm The Cure - Bird Noises 1980

Tell all your friends I’m the cure

Tell them again and again

Watching the walls, spinning in doors

I can bring you peace of mindUse me whenever you please

Sweeter than sweet memories

Everything’s neat, avoiding the heat

I can give you peace of mind

All this pressure I cant handle

Everything else becomes dim

You’re so much better than them

Waiting around for something to happen

Bring you this instant reliefKilo pascals in my finger

God is hiding in this teacup

Run By Night - Midnight Oil 1978

I’m on the whiskey flying, and Ill run by night

I’m on the whiskey running, and Ill run by night

I’m on the winter cycle, shut my eyes to the bite

I’m on the winter cycle, shake my fist at the bite

I’m on the whiskey flying, and Ill run by night

I’m on the phone to summer, so Ill see you on the flight

My friends are at a party, playing games with the light

I hate to say I’m wrong, I just know I’m right

We all run by night

I’m on the whiskey flying, and Ill run by night

I’m on the glaze a burning, and it burns in the light

I’m on a turning circle, turn my face from the bite

I’m on a turning circle, hear me screaming at the bite

I’m on the edge of danger, and Ill run by night

I’m on the phone to summer, so I’ll see you on the flight

My friends are at a party, playing games with the light

I hate to say ‘Im wrong, I just know I’m right

We all run by night

Scream In Blue -10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1- 1981

Come to me now, be careful of what you say

Don’t make a sound, there’s noise enough in this

Come with me now, let night move into day

Let sheets keep secrets that no one else could know

I could kill for this one time and not be caught

She said to me this is the one and I know

Come to me now, this is the final hour

When I’m dreaming I dream in blue

When I’m dreaming I dream of you

When I’m screaming I scream in blue

Redneck Wonderland - Redneck Wonderland 1998

I don’t want to run I don’t want to stay

Cos everything that’s near and dear is old and in decay

Emergency has gone, apathy rolling on

Time to take a standRedneck wonderland

Got you in my sights, spotlit by the fence

If your small you’re faking, its just common sense

Brick and tile for miles, rolling in the aisles

Rifle in my handRedneck wonderland

Well the streets are clean, nothing gets away

I can see the beauty treatment draining from your face

It is vision free, its poor bugger meSomething less than grand

Kosciuszko - Red Sails In The Sunset 1984

Older than Kosciusko

Darwin down to Alice Springs

Dealers in the clearinghouse

The settlements explode

High up in the homelands

Miners drive across the land

Encounter no resistance

When the people block the road

Older than Kosciusko

Dry white seasons years ago

Darkness over Charleville

The fires begin to grow

No end to the hostility

Now they want to be somewhere else

No stranger to brutality

Now they’d like to be someone else

Older than Kosciusko

Driven back to Alice Springs

Endless storm and struggle

Marks the spirit of the age

High up in the homelands

Celebration cross the land

Builds up like a cyclone

Now the fires begin to rage

Call off the ultimatum

No don’t turn away

Call off the ultimatum until yesterday

Call off the ultimatum

No don’t turn away

Bind up the broken-hearted

No don’t turn away

Call off the ultimatum until yesterday

Mosquito March - Capricornia 2001

when they march

when they march over fields of green

when they march

when they march over fields of green

when they march

when they march over fields of green

walking in the wilderness

no future to the question

you might get a simple answer

get a simple answer

walking in the wilderness

you're naked now just skin and sand

you'll get a smile answer

get a smile answer

see the king see the king of happiness

see the kingsee the king of happiness in the light

in the light you can see him crawl

see the kingsee the king of happiness

walking in the wilderness

no future to the question

you might get a simple answer

get a simple answer

walking in the wilderness the endless distance

you don't need to get a smile answer

et a smile answer

past the point of no return

your like a dog without a bone

so get a simple answer

get a simple answer


Anonymous said...

Short Memory clearly refers to humanity's inability to learn from the past and avoid bloodshed. It is utterly transparent especially given the history that has repeated itself in Afghanistan in the last 8 years. Just one example.

Anonymous said...

It's all about imagery. If you want literal meaning then ask them to write an essay. The imagery of a Sunday crowd at the beach in Power and the Passion for me is very evocative, as is the imagery in many of their songs. Each phrase is a postcard in my head and when you put them together add the music and a little understanding of political events you have a narrative. But because it isn't spelt out in black and white each person will respond to the imagery differently.

What do you want a series of facts?

As for the famous quote "“It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” you can't blame Midnight Oil for your ignorance - do you expect them to put an attribution in their song?

Anonymous said...

Yer, i'm currently doing part of my feature article (grade 11 english ass) based upon how poetry/lyrical works define Australia. Yum fun. And after having analysed the poem i think the sentiment wihtin the song that u were referring to is actually just about commenting upon modernised, Westernised Australian lifestyle and how greatly american influences us. It's basically challenging our way of life and telling us that we're all fat boguns. I mean, that's what i wrote for my assignment anyway.

Anonymous said...

You cant think like that when analysing poems, song lyrics or any other form of literature. This isnt maths where youre either wrong or right - its english where everyone interprets everything differently depending on their expiriences. Usually there is no literal meaning, you have to search deep into history and refer it to past events - even if it makes the whole poem a metaphor!

NO meaning is black or white in english for anyone - its all about the greys inbetween.

Burkey said...

Part of the charm of Midnight Oils' lyrics is that I don't understand what they mean through and through. I liked what another person said here about the lyrics as visual postcards, I also get clear visuals from the Sunday crowd at the beach in Power and the Passion.
The lyrics and the music can't be separated from each other imo....I see the lyrics written, hear the music in my really is more poetry and images than factual storytelling. The fact that I don't understand it, or that it's ambiguous, makes it more melodic to me somehow. Can't explain it. But thank you for your post.