The Gift

Co-written with drummer, Jon Farriss, “The Gift” was the first single off of INXS’s “Full Moon, Dirty Hearts” album released in 1993. An analysis of this song would be incomplete without mentioning the video which highlights the underlying message throughout the song. According to director, Richard Lowenstein, “The video uses harrowing visuals in order to portray man’s ability to create havoc and destruction. The message behind the video is to show how as viewers, we have become accepting of, and increasingly apathetic to images of gross human suffering and violence.” The video, which is part of a collection  woven together for the band’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts album in 1993 was reportedly banned from MTV due to its juxtapositions of footage of the Iraq War and George H. W. Bush with that of WWII, Hitler and Stalin. 

Before the song begins, we are shown a tree adorned by various religious artifacts and symbols, such as a menorah, a statue of the virgin Mary, candles, Buddhist bells, and sheaves of wheat which represent abundance in paganism. As the camera pans across all of the religious objects, it eventually zooms into a monitor on the tree, where we see Michael casually entering a kitchen, and opening up the fridge. Given the theme of the song, this seemingly mundane activity is deliberately woven into the overarching point of the video which serves to show how many of us go through our daily routines oblivious to the pain and suffering of others who aren’t in our respective “bubbles.” When Michael opens up the fridge, the song begins with the video featuring the band members bursting out of the backdrop of constant explosions, apocalyptic scenes of war, and various political struggles throughout history.

Furthermore, the title of the song is a possible nod to the themes present in O.Henry’s Christmas-themed story, “The Gift of the Magi” wherein selflessness and unconditional love are the greatest gifts of all.

“OH SO FINE
WE WERE TRYING
OUT OF NOWHERE
JUST IN TIME
LET YOU TAKE ME
DEEP DOWN THE RIVER
KISS THE CHANGES
THAT SHAPE MY LIFE
ALWAYS
LEFT BEHIND
ALL THE TRACKS THAT
I COULD FIND
DO DO DO DO DO
ALL THESE SCARS ARE MINE
I WAS THINKING GOT THE FEELING
THE GIFT YOU GIVE
IS GONNA LAST FOREVER
ALL THE LIES YOU FIND
ALL THE TRUTH YOU SEE
RISE AND FALL
BUT I KNOW WHAT’S MINE
HERE WE LIE
LOOKING UP TO
EMPTY SKY
AND THE PROMISES WE FIND
I’M NOT THE FIRST ONE
TO ASK WHY
I WAS THINKING
GOT THE FEELING
THE GIFT YOU GIVE
IS GONNA LAST FOREVER”

The first line of the song appears to be a reference to people who are self-actualized, having all of their basic needs (and then some) met on a regular basis. They are, in a Maslow sense,¨fine.” Many of these people who are “fine” go throughout their whole lives without considering the consequences of their actions or bothering to spend any time being mindful of or gracious for all of their blessings.¨On a metaphysical level, “Oh so fine,” also addresses the delicate finite-ness of a situation. “We were trying, out of nowhere, just in time,” implies a coordinated effort, manifesting itself unexpectedly, and at a moment of urgency. Taking this a step further, one might imagine a person on his/her deathbed begging for spiritual forgiveness for having lead a selfish, morally devoid life, enjoying his/her own creature comforts without acknowledging “how the other half live. 

“Let you take me deep down the river,” implies profundity of both thought and physicality. The reference to a river could be intentionally biblical, especially considering that the “River of Life,” as well as a tree (like in the beginning of the video) are mentioned in the Revelations (apocalyptic) chapter of the Bible. From Revelations 22:1-2 (note the numbers…also Michael’s birthday) “Then the angel showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Suffice it to say, we know Michael wasn’t necessarily known for dropping Bible verses into his work, nor was he known for being particularly religious. However, there is no denying that he was a selfless, gracious person who regularly and wholeheartedly “did unto others,” and it is in the spirit of this gracefulness that we reference this particular Bible verse.) Given that we know that water is essential for life, the river could symbolize life and all its experiences thus far. Going “deep down the river” is a call for us to dig deep and tap into our common divine humanity so that we can find the resources we need to help each other on a spiritual level.

the gift
Video still from “The Gift”

“Kiss the changes that shape my life,” underscores the theme of the sensuous, transformative process of human connection. As we “kiss the changes that shape my life” we become more grateful for all of life’s experiences, good and bad, celebrating the positive and learning from the negative. Life experiences in and of themselves are gifts, however if we remain bitter and jaded, we will never recognize them as such, and we will eventually become apathetic and ambivalent toward the suffering of others. Furthermore, in taking ownership of our experiences, we become more empowered and more self-aware, and are then more able to find self-love. The river of compassionate self-love is eternal and everflowing, and we can tap into it anytime and share it with others in unconditional ways.

“Always left behind, all the tracks that I could find,” references abandonment experienced on the pathways one has previously forged in life, and “All these scars are mine,” reinforces the imagery. Herein lies the suggestion that by dwelling on negative experiences (always left behind) and perceiving ourselves as victims of love instead of victors of love, we disallow ourselves from experiencing true happiness and gratitude. When we get caught up in adverse situations, it becomes less easy to go with the flow, and this in turn, causes us to act out of ego rather than compassion, sometimes rendering us too narcissistic to see beyond ourselves.

Then comes the main thesis of the song: “I was thinking, got the feeling, the gift you gift is gonna last forever,” which could be interpreted as the ongoing gift of life, applying not only to sexual reproduction but also to all positive, affirming energy exchanged and thus expanded. Eternal, unconditional love “lasts forever.”  With these words we are reminded that spreading love and goodness in the world has the ripple effect of raising humanity’s compassionate consciousness, thus creating a better world for all.

“All the lies you find, all the truth you see, rise and fall,” addresses the process of uncovering the dishonest narratives around us and the temporary illusions that consume us. Considering the context of the video, the reference to ¨lies¨ could also be indicative of our increasingly passive acceptance of the normalization of endless, imperialistic wars. Rather than questioning the reasons for war, we mindlessly trust those who speak to us in authoritative tones, never stopping to wonder how constant militarism affects those abroad, never taking the time to do our own research into whether or not the justifications of these wars are based on lies. “But I know what’s mine,” is a reclaiming of one’s own experience, viewpoint, and indeed life. It’s possible that Michael is suggesting that we all need become more introspective and hold ourselves accountable by being honest with ourselves. Here we again have another reference to a river and the concept of dealing masterfully with the ebbs and flows of life so that we may reclaim our happiness, and in turn share it with others. “Rise and fall, but I know what’s mine.”

“Here we lie, looking up to empty sky,” seems to reference a present moment in the presence of another person, side-by-side considering the vast expanse as void of matter or inherent meaning. In referring back to a person on his/her deathbed (lying down but also lying in a dishonest sense) as s/he looks up to an empty, unforgiving, sky, potentially devoid of an afterlife, the suggestion here is that the person should have realized that s/he was capable of creating a more compassionate world throughout his/her whole entire life. “And the promises we find” is emblematic of using the ¨empty sky¨ as a blank canvas that we can fill with random acts of kindness and goodwill. Taking this a step further, if we operate under the premise that we are all connected as one human family irrespective of religious (or non-religious) identity, the sky is also something that all of humanity (and all life in general) shares.

Lest he feel alone or special in this consideration, Michael then sings, “I’m not the first one to ask why,” as though the answer lies in the collectiveness of the question itself, or if not the answer, then at least a solace in not finding one together.