Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Evolution of Peter Garrett

Adulation for Aussie Peter Garrett could have been stirred years ago, as a feeling derived from both his music and demeanor as the front man for The Oils - or Midnight Oil, to those who are the band's less rabid fans. When I first heard and saw his presence in Midnight Oil, I immediately had my visual for what a person representing 'punk' as a positive could be - what, with that unique and disarming appearance and intensity in his performances, not to mention the sociopolitical verses to The Oils' music. So much that if I ever needed to imagine how one could be a political and passionate 'punk' force, but constructively so, Peter Garrett owned that vision in my mind.

It is rare is for a man to have such evident passion in his music to reach that level of success in a rock band (one of the best Aussie bands, in my opinion) but then to be evolved enough as to progress to take on leaderships roles in his native Australia, in direct defense of the issues and values that had always been his trademark. I won't give you his entire resume here, but you can see his impressive credentials on his Wikipedia page. Although I have no real idea about his policies or how they are received by Australians, he has been appointed several times over the course of many years and he has been actively involved in protecting the environment for decades. If he is not well received by his people, then his career evolution would also be ironic... if one were to juxtapose some of his famous Midnight Oil lyrics ("... still it aches like tetanus, it reeks of politics... signatures stained with tears...") alongside the positions to which he's been appointed.

The Oils' biggest international hit was 'Beds Are Burning'. I liked the song as a kid but found it fairly amusing: "How can we dance when the world keeps turning? How do we sleep while our beds are burning..." Years later, when I could actually absorb and decipher the lyrics, I was impressed by its deeply environmental meaning - although as it turns out, it was about the land belonging to Australia's aboriginal people. I particularly like when he sings, "The time has come, to say fair's far, to pay the rent, now, to pay our share." I can't think of many, if any, songs that capture a literal debt to aboriginal people - or to Mother Nature - in such a poignant way. And this was a song released in 1987; it wasn't exactly about being fashionable at that time. Here is an interview with Peter Garrett from 1980, at the brink of great success as front man for The Oils. 

My favorite Midnight Oil song is 'Forgotten Years'. I often have my iPod on shuffle when I'm running and when this song happens to come on I like listen to it on repeat. To think about Peter Garrett is like thinking about two men: Peter Garrett, iconic frontman of Midnight Oil; and Peter Garrett, an Australian hard at work for decades for his people and planet... Will he leave a legacy that the younger, idealistic version of himself as The Oils frontman would have been proud of? I expect that will be largely up to him to determine.


  1. I've since made some changes based on your comments (Anonymous) - this is not meant to be a political forum or blog - I've resolved to keep this post as general as possible, more focused on his Midnight Oil days. Thanks for contributing!

  2. 'Anonymous' had said:

    His perceived charisma and character equals nothing once and now placed in the hot-seat of political complexity.
    He's come off as a fool. And not the wise fool of King Lear. Oh no, rather the fool who believes his own bellicosity unable to formulate any stance from the ground up.

    From closing down the Australian National Academy
    of Music through to his self-character destroying mindless pursuit of political power this is a man who at the end of the day (and hopefully his career)is an empty and pathetic vessel.

    Pure "Punk" in the positive sense of the word"...?
    (What do mean by Punk?)
    * Punk, an archaic term for prostitute, as used by Shakespeare
    * Punk, one of the Mega Man Killers, robots in the Mega Man Classic video game series