‘The Three Albums…”Posted: December 10, 2012
30 Days of Summer
#4, ‘The Three Albums … (that changed my life)’
Place Without a Postcard, Midnight Oil:
As a boy growing up in Bondi, Sydney, my life consisted of surfing and playing or watching rugby league, of roaring around on the rubbish-strewn seaside streets of Bondi, of (watching) fights in the schoolyard at Dover Heights Boys High…
But in the early ’80s something else crept into my world. A few of the older guys started to paint a strange “hand” symbol on their surfboards and talk about this band called Midnight Oil. Soon afterwards I was lent a cassette by my mate Fordy, one side of which was Midnight Oil’s second album Head Injuries and on the other, their third, Place Without a postcard. I began to play both of those sides every single day. And I mean that … EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Whilst I loved a lot of the songs on Head Injuries, it was Place… that really struck a chord with me. The fact that the band were singing about “Australian” things in an Australian accent was a complete revelation to me. They were talking about backyards, barbecues and eucalyptus smells and clotheslines … I couldn’t believe it: here was someone actually talking about our world, about MY world, and after that, my life was never the same.
That album gave me a vision about what I wanted to try to do with my life: that is, to try to articulate similar Australian stories, Australian lives … to give due credence to our histories and not shy away from celebrating matters Australian.
Not in a way of glib patriotism, but in a way that underlines the value of our own experience. So, i say thanks to Midnight Oil for giving me that.
Born Sandy Devotional, The Triffids:
Slightly later than Place Without a Postcard, I remember hearing vague things about The Triffids. They hadn’t really entered my world however. They were from Perth and whilst my Dad was born there, seemed to be from so far away that I didn’t really notice them.
However, like a brewing thunderstorm cloud that first appears as a small smudge of grey on the horizon, the band would soon engulf me. And that first small smudge came when I heard ‘Wide Open Road’ on Triple J, then Sydney’s only alternative radio station.
I think I must have heard it again and felt … something … because then I went up to Bondi Junction and bought the album. Again, life changed.
Here was a band which spoke of a particularly Australian distance and space and light. Here was the first band that I had heard which captured that sense of space that I felt had been lodged in my psyche since I was a child, a band that articulated, somehow, that sense of distance that even the most city-dwelling Australian feels lies out behind our world.
It was as if the Triffids had somehow captured actual rays of sunlight and put them in between the chords of the songs. And equally, behind those rays of sun, there were the necessary shadows to give the whole thing true and incredible power.
Coupled with Place Without a Postcard, which spoke of more of a coastal world, Born Sandy Devotional (best album title ever, by the way), in it’s widescope vision of Australia’s Outback and heat and empty desert roads, made me feel like there was something about Australia that was very important to believe in and revere.
Talking to the Taxman About Poetry, Billy Bragg:
In Bondi, from the late ’70s and through the ’80s, The Clash ruled. Punk in general had a reasonable impact on the surfing community, but while the Pistols were appreciated and various other punk bands celebrated, it was the Clash who were loved.
London and her grimy streets and train stations may have been a world away from our life on the beach in Sydney, but in a metaphoric sense, growing up in Bondi, we really could see a connection. Bondi was (and is) an intensely urbanised world and whilst not a “big city” like that which spawned punk in London, we did genuinely connect with the disaffection the punks were expressing. Maybe that was because at that time, surfing was still regarded as a marginal activity and hence we related to the world as “outiders” …? Possibly.
Anyway, so the Clash had a big impact, and then later The Jam did as well. And my brother and I, by then eagerly soaking up a variety of music from around the world, but most of it heavy on guitars and attitude, were aficionados.
And so it came to pass that in, well it must have been maybe 1984, read a review of Billy Bragg’s album “Talking to the Taxman…” in Tracks surfing magazine. There was one line in that review that got us hook, line and sinker. The review could have said the album was the worst thing ever produced (it didn’t), but we didn’t care. The line “Bragg is the acoustic Clash” sold us. We went and bought the album the very next day, and we were sold. Billy’s wonky voice, weirdly metallic guitar, wild and seemingly discordant strumming … it was all there; and so was, we quickly realised, a batch of songs that made us think and laugh and honestly see the world in a different way.
Billy spoke of “ideologies clashing” and there being “power in a union”. He spoke of the worker and worker’s rights and, although we lived in a fairly middle class house in a fairly middle class area, we saw something very important in that. Add to that a widescreen view of anti-imperialism/Americanism, and you have an album that, ideologically, lyrically and sonically changed the way I thought, both about music and also life.
And it also began an intense passion for Billy’s music that has continued ever since … one of the greatest performers I have ever seen and a huge influence.