“Under the Milky Way” by The Church
(Words/Music: Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, Album: Starfish, Arista Records 1988)
I, like most people, think of “Under the Milky Way” as a nice, somewhat surreal 80s synth-pop meets 60s psychodelia from one of those 80s one-hit wonders. Oddly, a quick check at Wikipedia tells us that the band is still active (and apparently took no breaks) and making new music. While they struggled for eight years to break through worldwide and saw bands like Men At Work and Midnight Oil reach moderate success, their one song shown brightly and quickly faded. In the subsequent years, they, like many one-hit wonders, kept searching for success. So it only seems right that their one hit is about exactly that: searching.
“Under the Milky Way” introduces the existential conundrum that people can’t find meaning in their lives because they don’t know what meaning is because they don’t have it in their lives. We think because we are; we are born, live, and die, but unless there is something greater, then that is a somewhat meaningless existence. For eons man has looked skyward (into the Milky Way, for example) for these answers and found them in various incarnations of a god.
However, the song takes on a completely different meaning when you consider that it was written about a musical and cultural venue in Amsterdam which singer Steve Kilbey used to frequent called the Melkweg (translated as “Milky Way”). Given that information, we can envision someone looking for someone or something in a bar or other social setting, be it love or musical inspiration or a respite from a strenuous life. Whatever it is, there are just as many impediments to them finding it. The allegorical workings of this song, while not superficially apparent to most listeners, subconsciously express everyone’s need to find something, explaining its ongoing and universal appeal.