Following hot on the heels of my ‘Five early ’80s’ post, I continue my exploration of archaeology in pop music culture. In the previous post, I explained that I’m here not looking simply at archaeological themes in songs, live sets and locations of backdrops and allusions to archaeological sites and cultures: I’m specifically interested in sites of archaeological significance utilised as locations for filming music videos.
Complementing the mix of sublime and ridiculous early ’80s examples, I here highlight five very different late ’80s music videos that feature prominent archaeological sites, monuments and landscapes. I present three released in 1987, and two from 1988 with the proviso that these are merely illustrative and there are undoubtedly more examples of archaeology and archaeologists. Together, music videos are revealed as an occasional medium for mass consumption of archaeological themes and places.
INXS – Never Tear Us Apart – 1987
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart
Directed by Richard Lowenstein, INXS’s 1987 Never Tear Us Apart music video was filmed on location in the Czech capital Prague. In doing so, many prominent medieval monuments are featured. The most “archaeodeath” moment relates to 15th-17th-century Jewish graves in the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery contains graves that begin in the mid-15th century through to 1787 when the burial ground was closed.
This relates to two key scenes in the video. First, the video opens in the street – U. Stareho hrbitova – outside the north side of the burial ground, looking (west) and with no graves in sight. Second, at 2:31, the camera does a long pan past multiple band members looking east along U Stareho hrbitova, rising up to give a perspective into the cemetery and the complex, dense arrangement of ruinous gravestones.
In this second scene, Kirk Pengilly plays his saxophone solo among the graves and behind the iron fence. The pan affords a sense of not only the graves, but the stupendous depth of accumulated graves: centuries of the dead packed into this tiny space in the historic cityscape.
Michael Hutchence then walks along the northern edge of the cemetery in front of Pengilly, with his back to camera as the shot widens to see the street again and the camera angle shows the close juxtaposition of the realms of the living and the dead.
I initially thought this setting rather thoughtless and odd. Yet as Hutchence walks, the chorus kicks in and the line ‘two worlds collided…’ is sung. Whether by intention, or accident, the funerary dimension of those ‘colliding worlds’ is therefore foregrounded: the collision of lives lived and gone, with those living on. Therefore, using the Jewish cemetery to add further meanings to the lyrics of the song.
The cemetery in 1987 looks far different from its appearance from the street on Google Streetwise, with covered stalls populating the space in front of the high cemetery wall and the specific relationship of the concrete wall and iron railings is impeded.
The song, and the two worlds colliding it evokes, acquired further funerary connotations following the death of Hutchence, so that in 1997, only a decade later, the song and its funerary associations take on further connotations. The song was played as Michael Hutchence’s coffin was carried out of the cathedral after his funeral service in Sydney.
Note: only after the video was released was the Historic Centre of Prague inscribed as a World Heritage Site (in 1992), so UNESCO are implicated and the video is part of its world-renowned status.
The Sisters of Mercy – Dominion – 1987
In the land of the blind
Be…king, king, king, king
One of my favourite tunes of all time: The Sisters of Mercy’s Dominion is dark, Wagnerian and anti-American. From their 1987 Floodland album, it was twinned with Mother Russia on the album but released on its own as a single with a music video.
The venue of the video is the famous Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine desert city of Petra, Jordan with its rock-cut tombs and other striking architectures carved out of its distinctive rose-coloured rocks. It had been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for only 2 years when the video was released.
The pair of Andrew Eldrich and Patricia Morrison are not inhabiting some fantasy past in the video: this is today’s world of post-colonial diplomacy and espionage. They are up to no good, clearly: some T.E. Lawrence-esque scheme to mobilise the desert tribes to action is clearly afoot.
They drive from a cafe where they began seemingly in wait for an opportune moment to enact their plan. Morrison chauffeurs Eldritch and serves as his co-conspirator at first, although the video does hint as to whether they betray one another. Moving past contemporary suburbs they arrive at Petra as simultaneously riders amass, presumably at their bidding; rushing down the Siq.
Note: this is two years before Petra’s use in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Sisters of Mercy got there first and don’t attempt to enshrine the site in pseudo-spritiual horse-manure connected to the Holy Grail.
The video then consists of Eldrich and Morrison standing and walking around various ruins of Petra, Eldritch brandishing his cane and then drawing a sword from it. A sword-cane – what a fabulous material metaphor for imperial diplomacy! Eldritch waves his cane and struts, when not supping hard liqueur, all in his colonial white suit with black tie.
Meanwhile, Morrison watches on hawkishly. This is interspersed with aerial shots of Petra and images of riders on horses and camels converging at Morrison’s bidding, while Eldritch skulks among pillars. Morrison is clearly Eldritch’s subordinate, and through the gifting of documents in a leather folder, strides around and rides around, bringing more of the desert tribes under their thrall. But does she have her own plans?
Its all incredibly ominous and brilliant: James Bond meets Lawrence of Arabia. Whatever Morrison and Eldritch are up to (or is Morrison double-crossing Eldritch?), it looks set to succeed to disastrous effect.
Petra is therefore not just a pretty desert setting for the video: it speaks to themes of power, violence, conspiracy and conflict in a post-colonial global world, specifically highlighting tensions between West and East on multiple registers.
Midnight Oil – The Dead Heart – 1987
Forty thousand years can make a difference to the state of things
The dead heart lives here
Now we move to the use of an archaeological landscape utilised as far more than just a powerful backdrop, but as the integral subject of the song’s lyrics and the venue of the music video. I refer to Midnight Oil’s The Dead Heart from their phenomenal 1987 Diesel and Dust album.
The subject of the song is the mistreatment of Aboriginal Australians including separation of children from their parents and land rights. In particular, the band recorded the song as a commemorative act to mark the handing back of the 348m landmark – Uluru – to Aboriginal people in 1985. The video is filmed at this Aboriginal sacred and archaeological site during daylight and at sunset. It is significant that Uluru became part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1987: the same year as this song’s release.
As stated, the video shows the ban performing in front of Uluru. These shots are interspersed with film of the rock from ground level and the air in different lights: affording a sense of how the rock shifts colour through time. The video also incorporates animated contemporary Aboriginal art of Uluru and traditional motifs, which directly evoke themes found on the ancient petroglyphs on and around Uluru which date back to up to 10,000 years. Pictures of hundreds of tourists walking up Uluru coincide with the repeated lyric ‘white man came took everything’, explicitly linking tourism to the appropriation of land and other indigenous rights issues, as much as mining and other spheres of the European colonial legacy. The Aboriginal art coincides with the lyrics ‘we carry in our hearts the true country, and that cannot be stolen, we follow in the footsteps of our ancestry, and that cannot be broken’. The Aboriginal flag flickers briefly across the screen with a drum roll at 2:46.
So with Midnight Oil’s music video, we find the closest of relationships between song and archaeological context in relation to the politics of Aboriginal indigenous rights: a powerful video extending and enhancing the impact of the song’s lyrics and music.
The Timelords – Doctrin’ the Tardis – 1988
We return to Britain and its archaeological landscapes and to a ridiculously brilliant and subversive glam-rock Drummond/Cauty mash-up of the Doctor Who Theme and Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part Two) combined with Sweet’s Blockbuster and Steve Walsh’s Let’s Get Together Tonite. Cynically designed to be a chart-topper, it reached No. 1 in the UK! I refer to The Timelords’ Doctorin’ the Tardis self-described as ‘probably the most nauseating record in the world’.
Without wishing to delve too much into the JAMs and their mythologies inspired by The Illuminatus! trilogy, there is clearly dialogue with the choice to film with an Landsdown obelisk in the background in relation to the Justified Ancients of Mumu pyramid logo on the side of the police car: Ford Timelord. The video focuses on the car, as it drives through the traces of prehistoric and historic monuments in the Avebury area. Most of the video comprises two substandard daleks, presumably inhabited by Drummond and Cauty chasing and being chased by Ford Timelord.
The video features the North Wiltshire landscape in the following ways. Oldbury Castle Iron Age hillfort is just out of shot, but the 1780 Cherill White Horse is prominently depicted. Meanwhile, the aforementioned 1845 Landsdowne Monument appears in multiple shots from the air and from the ground level as the car zooms along tracks and roads. The main focus and destination is the nearby RAF Yatesbury with wonderful concrete former military vehicles: key parts of the archaeological context of ruins. A Second World War pillbox is also featured briefly, with ‘dalek’ in front. A significant further evocation of the prehistoric past is promoted via an aerial scene showing Ford Timelord driving south through the Avebury monument.
So again the National Trust are heavily implicated! Furthermore, once more, we have a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Avebury) featured in a music video soon after its inscription (in this case: 1986).
There’s no logic to trying to isolate a precise meaning behind the choices of location, bar a generic creation of an aura of antiquity. A further element might be the fringe allusions to primeval powers linked to anti-establishment viewpoints and anarchic principles.
Iron Maiden – Can I Play with Madness – 1988
I thank Dr Simon Trafford for reminding me about this one. Heavy metal behemoths Iron Maiden’s seventh studio album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son featured the single Can I Play with Madnesss. It was filmed at Chislehurt Caves and Tintern Abbey. It is not insignificant for our discussion that it starred former Monty Python comedian Graham Chapman whose comedy had repeatedly incorporated biblical and medieval, including mortuary, themes, including the feature films The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life.
In the video, a teacher with a group of school children are drawing the abbey ruins at Tintern, situated at the east-end of the Choir and viewing east towards the high altar along the Presbytery. Miraculously, the group then re-position themselves through 90 degrees so they are facing north with the first bay of the Presbytery behind them, facing into the North Transept.
Seemingly under the influence of Iron Maiden, one kid draws the Iron Maiden cadaverous time-jumping mascot – Eddie – in the sky about the west end (which is odd, since he was previously sitting facing the east end, and then the North Transept!). No wonder Chapman is surprised by the drawing!
The teacher pulls out a metal mag from the boy’s school blazer and confiscates it. He walks away, while the group then see an apparition of Eddie appear in the sky as the boy had drawn it. Note: this shot is reversed, with the group looking away from the point at which it just appeared in the sky, and with the east end shown reversed.
The teacher walks off looking at the corrupting magazine. Distracted by the images in the magazine of Iron Maiden consuming pints of beer, he falls into a subterranean chamber where monks walk with torches for no apparent reason.
The kids’ chairs have reorientated 90 degrees again, and this time they jump up facing north, with the west-end to their right, as before.
Chapman enters a gloomy subterranean realm and Tintern is left behind. He uses the magazine as his light and he explores the caverns, supposedly beneath the ruins. He encounters arcane books and artefacts, plus the school boy who had transgressed into the dark world of Iron Maiden fandom frozen in some trance, still seated as if drawing. Iron Maiden play on a TV screen and the teacher mysteriously gets covered in cobwebs, perhaps indicating he has been transfixed by the music for aeons of time. Then he approaches a fridge-like door bearing the label ‘Life’. The teacher opens it and finds it contains Eddie holding his own guts over icy seas (the album cover). All of these actions seem to be manipulated by an old man with a crystal ball, but it feels as if they ran out of time to conclude what happens next.
No, it makes no frickin’ sense to me either! I guess it alludes to the abbey as a ruinous venue for interaction with the supernatural in some vague sense, and heavy metal of the Iron Maiden variety as some fashion a portal to these supernatural/imaginary worlds. However, overall it’s best not to try and make too much of it all.
Well, we see so much variety in the mobilisation of archaeological contexts in this small sample. They range from the relatively arcane and Gothic sense of ruins as places which breach temporal frameworks or planes of reality (Iron Maiden) and allusions to ancient times and science fiction themes (the Timelords), to powerful uses of the music video to make statements about love between the living and those beyond the grave (INXS), political statements about indigenous rights and sacred places (Midnight Oil), and reflections on power and the rise and fall of corrupt empires (The Sisters of Mercy). UNESCO’s heritage list is heavily implicated, and the National Trust make an appearance again as with the early ’80s videos. We certainly cannot dismiss these archaeological settings as incidental or superficial: they serve a range of purposes in music videos in careful interaction with the music and lyrics.