Monday, July 4, 2011

Australian Apocalypse: Men At Work

From 1981, the Australian group, "Men At Work" perform their rock chart hit Down Under; we are only going to consider the song/lyrics in this post as the video is its own separate entity:

This video and Who Can It Be Now? (included at the very end) are both good examples of non-Christian sources (a punk rock band) pointing to "signs of the time" and making subtle suggestions that there would be a price to be paid for the rampant immoral behavior taking place in 1980-81; by close examination of the lyrics and how the lyrics work together to create a message, we can understand what was going on beneath the seemingly jovial and carefree lifestyle.
A Volkswagen Kombi, symbolic of the Hippie era, free love and drugs.
The first line in the lyrics, “Traveling in a fried out kombie, on a hippie trail” hails the quintessential hippie symbol of the Volkswagen van which in turn symbolically refers to the will, because our will is the vehicle by which we make decisions that transports us through life. And, if it’s “fried out,” that means it has been maximized and there isn't anything left and they fully recognize this lifestyle—like hippies in general—just can’t last. 
The "trail" of the hippies means, quite literally, they have been living the life hippies advocated:  sex, drugs and music.  The second line of the lyrics, “Head full of zombie” is the key to understanding this song: it’s a drug cocktail meant to give a sense of "euphoria" or well-being. 
A fictional depiction of the very real "Stolen Generation" also depicted in the film
Rabbit-Proof Fence: Aboriginal children were stolen from their biological parents
and re-introduced into white society so they would forget their Native heritage.
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous,” refers to an Aboriginal woman, and the reason she makes him nervous is because of his shame at the way native Australians were enslaved, yet he is a slave to drugs. This “strange lady” who offers him breakfast, is giving the drug addict “food for thought” and literally “breaking the fast”: he’s been fasting from food (to binge on drugs) and now he’s in between highs and is capable of taking a different path.
The Jupiter de Smyrne, holding a
thunderbolt or lightning bolt in his right
hand, the traditional symbol associated
with Zeus discovered in 
Smyrnain 1680.
The refrain of “running and taking cover” from the thunder that is about to sound, invokes the most ancient of gods, Zeus and his traditional symbol of power and wrath, the bolt of thunder or lightning which was always a sign that he was about to wreck revenge for wrong-doings. 
The largest gaol in Australia that was used in the importing of convicts.
When anyone asks, “Do you come from the land down under?” it’s rhetorical (does anyone need to ask Peter Lik if he’s from Australia?). It’s a statement, specifically pertaining to the stigma of “criminal history.”  By invoking this criminal history in the present, he's suggesting that there are still criminal activities taking place today, and they will be judged accordingly. 
The gold mine known locally as the"Super Pit."
Where woman glow and men plunder,” refers to the great gold mine of Australia, that men have plundered and given to the women to wear, and this greed is the reason why, “Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover…” the emphasis repeated on “can’t you hear?” means anyone with any sense should know that there is a price to be paid when people behave like this, and "this" is ambiguous because it's meant to agitate the conscious so that people will reflect on their own behavior and question what it is they might be doing and what they should be doing instead. 
Police in Detroit inspecting equipment used in the illegal production of alcohol
during Prohibition which was then sold in Speakeasies. Patrons of the bars had to
"speak easy" either to enter (using a password) or when ordering alcohol.
Buying bread from a man in Brussels/He was six foot four and full of muscle/I said, ‘Do you speak my language” suggests that he heeded the warning to take food instead of drugs, however, it’s more likely that he thought this man was a drug dealer:  “do you speak my language?” doesn’t refer to a dialect of English, rather, like the American speakeasies during Prohibition, it’s supposed to be a sign that he wants to buy drugs, but the singer has made a mistake, the man really is selling bread and it's not a front for drugs.
The Vegemite spread on toast.
He was 6’4 and full of muscle,” represents health, and I would like to venture, even a missionary: he’s selling bread, “the bread of life,” and offers the singer a “vegemite sandwich.”  Vegemite is made from a yeast substance, so there is yeast on top of the yeast (from the yeast in the bread) and this invokes the Scripture to toss out the old yeast and replace it with the new. Like the strange lady he first met, this man full of muscle is offering him food for thought and a new path in life.
Next, the 6’4 man says that he himself comes from “the land down under, where the beer does flow and men chunder” and it’s interesting that he would say this because it demonstrates that he had been an alcoholic (“chunder” is slang for “vomit” which is a good sign here because it symbolizes the “rejection” of the alcohol).  The man full of muscle is encouraging the singer to repent and give up the drugs as he himself had given up alcohol… but the advice seems to fall upon deaf ears.
A man with two women smoking opium in a den in the 19th century.
Next, the singer is “lying in a den in Bombay…” now, there’s only one type of den in Bombay, and that’s an opium den: “slack jaw, and not much to say,” validates that he’s “eating opium” like the zombie cocktail earlier in the song and that he is still failing to heed everyone's advice.
In making the connection between being “tempted” and coming from “the land of plenty,” it becomes apparent that Australia is a land rich in narcotics:  it has some of the highest housing prices in the world and a very stable economy, and with that comes the need for... what? Escape? Euphoria? Or something that will--at least temporarily--fill the emptiness that existence brings when the "yeast" is not building up.
Land Down Under, then, is a warning from the band to the world in general, that unless we repent and take a different path (unlike the singer in the song) we’re going to pay the price.  The song was released in 1981 and many films (which I will discuss in a forthcoming blog) were making the same kind of prophetic statements about "impending doom" which Men At Work seem to be proposing in this song.  I don't think they were being fanatics. 
In 1981 AIDS broke out. 
I would like to cross-reference their other hit, “Who Can It Be Now?” which invokes the Gospel passage, “Whosoever hears me knocking and answer, I will come and recline at table with him”:  while they know that someone is knocking, they don't know Who and they don't know Why, hence, the door cannot be opened.   It's not so much that "Men At Work" are Waiting For Godot, but that Godot, is waiting for them. 
So, what are these “Men At Work” working at? Self-perpetuating doom.