In 1990 I saw the Australian band Midnight Oil at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas. They were touring in support of their release Blue Sky Mining, which was probably their most popular record in the US. This was the peak of true “alternative music”, when many radio stations were still free and DJs were spinning all manner of exciting new bands, and I was introduced to Midnight Oil—and tall, bald-headed lead singer Peter Garrett’s crazy dancing—through their 1987 record Diesel and Dust (I made a brief Spotify playlist). However, since I was just out of high school, and shaking off the last remnants of 1980s hair metal, I really didn’t get the band. I spent a lot time mocking Garrett’s limited vocal range and his entirely awkward dance moves. However, 3 years can make a lot of difference in a musician’s life, and by 1990 I was ready for Blue Sky Mining.
So when they went on tour later that year, me and my good friend (and lead singer in my band) Kevin got tickets to the Bronco Bowl, a vintage venue in Oak Cliff, just outside of Dallas. The Bronco Bowl was a great place to see a show: intimate enough to be close to the band but large enough to pack some legit numbers in. We sat back and waited for the show to start.
I still remember the lights coming down as the band played the first notes of “Stars of Warburton”, the second song of the album. Garrett walked to the center mic and sang the verse and chorus with an intensity that I had seldom experienced. The crowd (me included) erupted when the band left the first chorus behind and, as they headed towards the 2nd verse, Garrett started doing his dance. His movement set us free, and we began to move and jump and dance right with him. It was a singular event: we were not observing the band; we were somehow with them, doing our part to create an experience. They provided the soundtrack, but we were all united and together in the same time and space.
It was incredible; this was rock and roll. Garrett and Midnight Oil showed me what can happen when a singer and band hold nothing back and give themselves over—without restraint—to an idea, a song, a movement, an event.
Ninety minutes or so, the band finished with a rendition of Elvis Costello’s song, “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)?” We drove the 30 miles back to Fort Worth inspired and spent.
The fourth song on Blue Sky Mining is called, “The Forgotten Years,” a song about the rhythm between years of war and years of peace. It’s anthemic and powerful, a reminder that we should never forget what peace costs. I still love singing this song around my house—sometimes I even dance like Garrett does (thought you’ll never see it)—but recently it has really struck me when I consider that my country has been at war now for almost 15 years (since we started bombing Afghanistan in October, 2001). It seems as if war has now become the normal state of affairs for the United States, and I wonder, “What is this doing to our mentality as a society?” We have declared the “end of hostilities” a few times now, but still we seem to be mired in low-level war.
Do we remember what peace feels like?
I wonder how easy it is to celebrate, as Garrett calls them, “the years between”, when the years between no longer seem to come.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope we remember that war should not be the normal state of affairs.
I was reading my Bible this morning, and I stumbled across these words in Isaiah 32:
“The fruit of righteousness will be peace,
and the outcome of righteousness,
calm and security forever.
Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling,
in secure homes, in carefree resting places.” (vv17-18)
These words remind me that as much as it seems as if war is the normal state of affairs, it’s not. God is a God of peace, and actually peace should be the outcome of our spiritual life.