Original Sin

Original Sin
Cover art for Australian release of the single “Original Sin”. Note the contrasts of black and white, the organic forms of the lilies seeming to reach out to each other in the context of a manufactured, linear space. The Japanese calligraphy on the side references INXS’s extensive travels in Asia during this time period. The official video for the song was also shot in Japan.

“Original Sin” was the first release and opening song from INXS’s fourth album, The Swing. An an infectious, dancey, synth-infused rock song slickly produced by Nile Rodgers, and with backup vocals by Darryl Hall of Hall & Oats, “Original Sin” rose on the charts in 1984 to become an international hit. The music of INXS was introduced to a larger audience than ever before, coinciding with the rising format of MTV and the cool video of a sunglasses-wearing, curly mullet-having Michael riding a Harley, leading a Japanese motorcycle gang through the streets of Tokyo, and the band performing as a colorful carnival is set up, enjoyed, and then broken down behind them. The lyrics were written by Michael Hutchence, and carry a haunting message about the human condition.

According to Songfacts.com, in 1986 Michael stated that the concept for this song is about “kids and conditioning. Growing up. How you grow up through other people’s ideas or your own.” Songfacts further notes that “In the context of the song, Original Sin is about how beliefs are passed down to children by their parents. The first step to breaking free from the chains of those ideas is daring to question them.” In other words, all children, irrespective of race or class, are born with a pure and untainted lens through which to view the world, and it is largely via the biased views of their parents and others in their communities that they start to develop prejudice towards others. On the topic of racism, Michael also stated, “Racism is essentially natural, it’s old fashioned, it’s an evolutionary phase that we’re going through. Ultimately it won’t exist.”

 

“YOU MIGHT KNOW OF THE ORIGINAL SIN

AND YOU MIGHT KNOW HOW TO PLAY WITH FIRE

BUT DID YOU KNOW OF THE MURDER COMMITTED?

IN THE NAME OF LOVE, YEAH

YOU THOUGHT WHAT A PITY

DREAM ON WHITE BOY

DREAM ON BLACK GIRL

THEN WAKE UP TO A BRAND NEW DAY

TO FIND YOUR DREAMS ARE WASHED AWAY

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I DID NOT CARE

AND THERE WAS A TIME WHEN THE FACTS DID STAND

THERE IS A DREAM, AND IT’S HELD BY ME

WELL I’M SURE YOU HAD TO SEE ITS OPEN ARMS

DREAM ON WHITE BOY

DREAM ON BLACK GIRL

THEN WAKE UP TO A BRAND NEW DAY

TO FIND YOUR DREAMS ARE WASHED AWAY

YOU MIGHT KNOW OF THE ORIGINAL SIN

AND YOU MIGHT KNOW HOW TO PLAY WITH FIRE

BUT DID YOU KNOW OF THE MURDER COMMITTED?

IN THE NAME OF LOVE YEAH, YOU THOUGHT WHAT A PITY

DREAM ON WHITE BOY

DREAM ON BLACK GIRL

THEN WAKE UP TO A BRAND NEW DAY

DREAM ON BLACK BOY

DREAM ON WHITE GIRL

THEN WAKE UP TO A BRAND NEW DAY

DREAM ON BLACK BOY

DREAM ON WHITE GIRL

THEN WAKE UP TO A BRAND NEW DAY

TO FIND YOUR DREAMS HAVE WASHED AWAY

DREAM ON, PLAY WITH FIRE

WHITE BOY, BLACK GIRL

DREAM ON, IN THE NAME OF LOVE

BLACK BOY, WHITE GIRL

WHITE BOY, BLACK GIRL

BLACK BOY WHITE GIRL

DREAM ON

IN THE NAME OF LOVE YEAH

YOU THOUGHT WHAT A PITY

ORIGINAL SIN

Throughout the song there are a myriad of references to both racism and religion. Considering that one of the greatest civil rights theologians in modern Western history was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it seems quite possible that the lyrics to this song were heavily influenced by the messages present in Dr. King’s work. In fact, Hutchence’s varied and repeated use of the word “dream” throughout the song is likely a nod to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, wherein he dreams of a world that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  

 The first line of the song introduces the concept of “the original sin,” which is a reference to the Biblical account of mankind’s first transgression against God, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, metaphorically “playing with fire.” According to the Bible, the fruit eaten was “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and made these proverbial first humans suddenly view the world in terms of a right versus wrong, instilling a sense of shame. Instantly they realized their nakedness, a trait of their newfound “knowledge” that, until that point, had belonged to God alone. Because of their disobedience and consciousness of good and evil, the pair was exiled from paradise, doomed to toil for sustenance and suffer beyond measure. In the book “Ismael,” by Daniel Quinn, this fall coincides with the Agricultural Revolution, metaphorically seen as man’s attempt to usurp God in matters of “good versus evil,” rejecting the harmony of nature in an attempt to control it.

“But did you know of the murder committed?” Interestingly, just as this line in the song follows the opener about Original Sin, the second story in the Bible is an account of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, which is typically considered in conjunction with the narrative of Adam and Eve’s exile. One can also understand this story in the context of the Agricultural Revolution. From the viewpoint of Sephardic herders, “Cain” would represent the violent encroachment of an agricultural society expanding into their grazing lands, and the notion that it was the agriculturalists who doomed humanity to displease God. In his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck examines the Cain and Abel story as an almost more fundamental human sin, since it was driven by jealousy and rage rather than impressionable curiosity. When Hutchence sings that the murder was committed “in the name of love” it could be that he is contextually referencing the passion and jealousy for God’s love that motivated Cain, or those who emulate Cain’s sin, committing crimes against their fellow human beings, ironically out of an egotistical interpretation of what “love” entails and entitles them to. “You thought what a pity” seems to call out the dismissive detachment present even in one’s sympathetic inner thoughts.

“Dream on white boy, dream on black girl…” provides a momentary reprieve with its lullaby-like delivery.  But “then wake up to a brand new day, to find your dreams are washed away” brings our focus back to the reality that people are divided. In keeping with Michael’s aforementioned theme of passing on traits and viewpoints, if we are to believe that Original Sin is a legitimate concept, then we must also believe that we are all one human family with common ancestral roots. Many interpretations of the Bible suggest that sinning is innate in all people because we can all trace our spiritual lineage back to Adam and Eve. Yet, the acceptance of this shared heritage contradicts the divided state we find ourselves in as a species, negating the very premise of racial discrimination. It is ironic that the acceptance of the concept of shared “Original Sin” is passed along generation to generation, somehow alongside a tribal mentality, as though some people are more “originally sinful” than others, as a rationalization for systemic exploitation. These lyrics continue and even increase in relevance as time goes by, resonating with the current increasing focus on the inherent inequity of Western criminal justice, military, and financial systems which disproportionately arrest, incarcerate, exploit, disenfranchise and murder people of color, not only domestically but throughout the world.

 It’s possible that Michael is calling out his own previous apathy toward the importance of standing up to racism when he notes that “there was a time when I did not care,” despite the “standing facts” that systemic oppression toward people of color has been an ongoing obstacle to human rights, for example apartheid in South Africa or the former Jim Crow laws of the Southern USA states which forbade interracial marriage. The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King in the US was a direct response to the brutal injustices of the Jim Crow laws, so it makes sense that the next line that follows is that, “There is a dream, and it’s held by me. I’m sure you had to see its open arms” where Michael seemingly suggests that Dr. King’s inspirational words have resonated with him, prompting him to uphold the same values of inclusion and justice and calling on others to recognize what they can see with their own eyes, and how a better future inviting extends its arms. 

It’s important to note that original lyrics were “Dream on white boy, Dream on white girl,” but Nile Rodgers, who produced the song and whose parents were an interracial couple, suggested changing it to “White boy, black girl,” because “it makes a bigger statement.” The fact that these lyrics caused controversy with some radio stations refusing to play it underscores the notion that it carried a challenging message in encouraging people to confront their own racial biases, as well as to advocate for a harmonious interracial society. 

 

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