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into the Australian Way of Life

Midnight Oil Helped to Fuel Country's Social Conscience

October 01, 2000|MIKE PENNER

Midnight Oil is playing today's Olympic closing ceremony.

That clinches a victory for the Olympic closing ceremony over the Olympic opening ceremony.

Midnight Oil is Australia's greatest rock band. Not Men At Work or INXS or, egad, the Little River Band.

Formed in Sydney more than 20 years ago, the Oils are great in the old-school sense, almost quaint now, that rock bands ought to be socially conscious and stand for something beyond record and T-shirt sales.

With international hits such as "Beds Are Burning" and "Blue Sky Mine," Midnight Oil has focused global attention on such Australian causes as Aboriginal land rights and the impoverished conditions of miners in Western Australia. In 1990, the band played a concert outside Exxon's Manhattan corporate offices to protest the company's handling of the Valdez oil spill--and then released a film of the show, "Black Rain Falls," with profits going to Greenpeace.

Lead singer and lyricist Peter Garrett, 7 feet tall with a gleaming shaved head, is a jarring presence in concert, kind of like an industrial-sized Michael Klim caught in a whirlwind, hurtling himself across the stage with an abandon matched, stride for stride, by the Oils' driving, punkish music.

Garrett lives out his lyrics as well, running in 1984 for the Australian Senate on the Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket, losing by a narrow margin.

The Oils' sound has been compared to the Clash and U2, but with a distinctive Australian flavor, with the band occasionally adding the didgeridoo to the trademark guitar-bass-and-drums assault.

Heroes across Australia long before Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman, Midnight Oil shares the same moment in the spotlight today. It's an appropriate booking. The Oils have fought the good fight for two decades, from Melbourne to Perth. It's time the rest of the world had a good listen.

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