Dancing on the Jetty

“Dancing on the Jetty” was the last of four singles released from INXS’s 1984 album, “The Swing.” Like the album’s other singles, “Dancing on the Jetty” was co-written by Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss. The music and lyrics contain what could be described as a “hard edge,” hearkening back to some of the band’s very early, more politically outspoken and musically experimental releases, although arguably tighter more slickly produced.
who pays
INXS performing at the “Veronica Rock Night for Greenpeace” Rotterdam, 26th October 1985
“WATCH THE WORLD ARGUE
ARGUE WITH ITSELF
WHO’S GOING TO TEACH ME
PEACE AND HAPPINESS?
WE COULD SIT HERE FOREVER
JUST NEVER GET OLD
LISTEN TO THE WORLD
LETTING GODS TIE US DOWN
HIT CITIES, SHARP NIGHTS
THE RIGHT CLOTHING
DANCING ON THE JETTY
SO OUR FEET STAY DRY
WATCH THE WORLD ARGUE
ARGUE WITH ITSELF
WHO’S GOING TO TEACH ME
PEACE AND HAPPINESS?
WATCH THE WORLD ARGUE
ARGUE WITH ITSELF
WHO’S GOING TO TEACH ME
PEACE AND HAPPINESS?
BLOOD IS UPON THE STEPS
TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO
PRAY LIKE HELL THEN WE GO TO FIGHT
ANOTHER WAR IN THE HOLY LAND
SHOCK THE WORLD
TRUE STORY
SNAP DECISIONS
END HIM ALL HIS GLORY
WE’RE GONNA WATCH THEM KEEP IT A LAW
MAKING TROUBLE
WE CHANGE TRACKS
FOOL THE SYSTEM
TAKE TIME TO TAKE NOTICE
HIT CITIES, SHARP NIGHTS, THE RIGHT CLOTHING
WATCH THE WORLD ARGUE
ARGUE WITH ITSELF
WHO’S GOING TO TEACH ME
PEACE AND HAPPINESS?
WATCH THE WORLD ARGUE
ARGUE WITH ITSELF
WHO’S GOING TO TEACH ME
PEACE AND HAPPINESS?”
The first line of the song, “Watch the world argue” is a phrase that was emblematic for Michael Hutchence. Fans may remember “Watch the World Argue” emblazoned on one of Michael’s favorite shirts of the mid 80s, a t-shirt with cut-out neck and sleeves, (presumably a band merch shirt from “The Swing” days?), displayed most famously on the cover of the “Listen Like Thieves” album. You can see footage of him wearing this shirt onstage during INXS’s legendary “Rocking the Royals” concert in 1985. He can also been seen rocking it towards the end of the “What You Need” video. With Michael’s chest at front-and-center of everyone’s attention including the royals’, the reinforced message conveyed seems to be one of detachment amongst conflict, standing back and observing the fights the world has “with itself.” The actively passive word, “watch” is often associated with television news, as in “watch the news,” where one is cast as a witness to power struggles and war. As the media focuses our attention on all of the most contentious situations, it highlights and thus promotes violent escalations. The call to “watch” here seems to be a call for objectivity, to resist the inclination of getting drawn into the conflict. At the same time, the word “watch” also connotes complacency and inaction in the face of extreme injustice, where people simply “watch” without questioning their government’s role in enabling or perpetuating oppressive conflicts around the world. In 1984, around the time this song was released, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa spoke the famous quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. ” 
In such a scenario, the question arises, “Who’s going to teach me peace and happiness?” With this poignant inquiry, Michael asks how can one be expected to a pursue healthy, positive life while being constantly bombarded with examples of strife?
The world’s example having failed, the rhetorical question of “Who’s going to teach me peace and happiness?” is turned toward the audience, seeking affirmation through human interaction. These lyrics call for solace, specifically for a person with whom he can finally relax and just be happy, someone who can teach him how because he’s never seen it modeled before. Suffice it to say, many felt compelled to respond such a call from such a man.
The verses begin: “We could sit here forever, just never get old. Listen to the world, letting gods tie us down.” Again, we have the notion of passivity and the delusion that opportunities for action in life will always remain, the reference to “gods” in this context being traditional mindsets and outsourced external authorities, especially within religious dogma.
“Hit cities, sharp nights, the right clothing,” all point to the lifestyle of consumption, in which the location and goods one buys will determine one’s satisfaction.
“Dancing on the jetty, so our feet stay dry.” This is it: the titular line from the song. But what does it mean? A jetty is defined as, “a breakwater constructed to protect or defend a harbor, stretch of coast, or riverbank.” One can imagine Michael and friends literally dancing atop the rocks jutting out into the ocean. This would be a dangerous endeavor, partying on a sliver of surface that has been placed in the water to break down waves. Metaphorically it seems to reference the oblivion that Western consumers have as we pursue fun and material desires: oblivion to the sweat shop slaves, oblivion to an economy based on war, oblivion to the disenfranchised without access to the basic needs of life. We dance, consume, and aim for enjoyment on this precarious place, “the jetty,” surrounded by an ocean of blood and suffering. And why do we dance there? “So our feet stay dry.” So the jetty is cast as not the dangerous place to be, but the relatively safe place where at least your feet are protected. The implication is that there is no safe place left anywhere, and people have been forced out onto a buffering zone between the ocean of suffering humanity and the insulated elites who rule.
The second verse starts, “Blood is upon the steps 2000 years ago,” in an apparent reference to Jesus on trial, accused and found guilty of being an insurrectionist by the Romans and a heretic by establishment Jews. “Pray like hell then we go to fight another war in the Holy Land,” brings us to the present moment, where the violence continues to this day. There is an irony that Jesus, (the entity to whom one is presumably praying) promoted peace, empathy and loving your enemies, and yet directly from the act of praying we “go to fight another war.” A war (ie. an ongoing series of systematic atrocities) in the name of noble ideals, in the “Holy Land,” no less.
“Shock the world, true story,” evokes the spellbinding dramatic narratives of mass media in its moralistic war promotion.
“Snap decision, end him all his glory,” is about the trained practice of killing the enemy, the act of totally and without deliberation wasting someone’s life. The meaning of this line is reinforced in the song’s official video by the image of a barrel of a gun being raised towards the viewer.
“We’re gonna watch them keep it a law,” means that this violence is not carried out by criminals, but by the law itself. In fact the notion of endless war has become compulsory in our current system, so much so that our society has allowed it to become normalized. We no longer question its necessity. We allow ourselves to accept ongoing war as an imperative that is required for protecting our freedoms, never questioning the narratives we’re being fed to justify them.
“Making trouble, change tracks, fool the system” seems to encourage disrupting society’s existing power structure. “Take time to take notice,” is a wake up call, and a call to action. Instead of allowing ourselves to be duped by the system into taking sides and thus offering support for state-sponsored war, the suggestion is made that we can change our roles in this game, band together, and demand an end to the senseless violence perpetrated by war profiteers.
And yet the refrain of “Hit cites, sharp nights, the right clothing, dancing on the jetty” is repeated, just like the unabated cycle of distracted consumers in their societal buffer zone.