I have to admit, I love Midnight Oil. I always have. First of all; what a great name for a band. Midnight Oil. Just the thought of burning the midnight oil makes you feel like you are all grown up. Staying up late always seemed to be cool and it didn’t matter if you thought you were being productive or just goofing off. The old saying that nothing good happens after midnight is probably more accurate than many of us ever want to believe. I’m a certified night owl. 10 PM is like 7 PM to me. I’m just gettin’ started. I’m just heading into my favorite three hours of any given day. I rarely turn the lights out by 1 AM. I’m aware that my sleep habits are awful, but just throw that on the pile next to my diet. Luckily my exercise habits are borderline excellent or I’d probably have diabetes or some other affliction by now (knock wood). If Midnight Oil were a company and it somehow applied to my lifestyle I’d own stock. As it is I have contributed substantially to this band’s bottom line over the years. There can be no denying that. I saw them several times and bought everything in sight.
My first Midnight Oil show was Sunday May 27, 1990 at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA. I remember seeing super fan Peter Gammons of Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and ESPN fame at the show. Peter used to use (maybe he still does, but I refuse to subscribe to ESPN The Magazine just so I can read his column) the names of some of the song titles of his favorite bands as leads ins to the blurbs in his great Boston Globe baseball column in the late eighties. You’d routinely see references to Del Amitri, John Hiatt and Midnight Oil every Sunday like clockwork. I felt a kinship with Peter even though I never met him and we rooted for different baseball teams. We generally liked the same music. It was great to see him supporting Midnight Oil as I was although in hindsight he probably got his tickets for free. The Oils were on top of their game in 1990. Diesel and Dust was an international smash in 1988 led by the track Beds Are Burning. Blue Sky Mining had just been released and it too had some great songs led by Blue Sky Mine, Forgotten Years and King of The Mountain. My favorite track by Midnight Oil by now was Stars of Warburton I think, but suffice to say that the band was kicking some serious alternative ass in those days. The place was packed and everybody was excited.
If you have never seen Midnight Oil live their lead singer Peter Garrett shakes and bakes like nobody I have ever seen. Maybe that is the way they dance in Australia, I’ve never been and I’m clearly clueless, but he’s highly entertaining. It’s like some kind of Monster Mash as he struts and jukes with his shaved noggin all over the stage. He looks kind of scary in a rock & roll way, but he was riveting. It certainly helps that they had some 15 GREAT songs to go along with 10 good ones by then. They put on a whale of a show. When you think of Australia’s greatest exports you think AC/DC, INXS, The Bee Gees, The Church, Silverchair, Jet and, gulp, Men at Work. After that there are several lesser bands that folks might remember such at The Seekers (of Georgy Girl fame), Johnny O’Keefe (Wild One…later recorded as Real Wild Child by Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop), The Easybeats (Friday On My Mind), and Icehouse (Electric Blue). Later on you had The Vines, Airbourne and Wolfmother. Then you had Midnight Oil. I don’t know that there was ever anybody like them. They were distinctive.
The Midnight Oil catalogue runs from 1976 to 2002, but they were never hotter than the five years between Diesel and Dust (1988) and Earth and Sun and Moon (1993). Diehard Oils fans will point to half a dozen other overlooked and ignored records in their back catalogue, but aside from a greatest hits type package you could be forgiven if you just had these two records and Blue Sky Mine (1990). I just loved them. Earth and Sun and Moon was a really good record, but I think Midnight Oil got a lot of criticism, not that I was paying much attention to it at the time, for not only being one of the first hard line environmentally conscious or “green” bands, but for being overly political at times. Peter Garrett was a lawyer so I’m sure that played a part in their overall message. If I understand the thrust of their Beds Are Burning message, they were trying to shine a light on the treatment of the Aborigines, which I believe were the first human inhabitants of Australia. I suppose they could be compared to the plight of the Native Americans of North America in that they literally got railroaded off their land by settlers. I don’t claim to have read up on the politics of Midnight Oil, but by 1993 they had pretty much run their course as far as their popularity was concerned. Trugernanner, also known as Truganini, was allegedly the last full blooded Tasmanian Aborigine to die in 1876 and the Oils wrote yet another great protest song to document her passing. I don’t know if her situation can be compared to the plight of Sitting Bull, but let’s just say it’s in the ballpark. This was the last great Midnight Oil single in my opinion. Their star shone extremely bright about 20 years ago, but I still enjoy their music. I hope you do too. This was a great band. Out of steam, they broke up in 2002.