Life is a near death experience

On his 2008 album City That Care Forgot, Dr John sings that ‘life is a near death experience’. Ever the pragmatist, Dr John, and on this album, a rather angry one, addressing the concerns of post-Katrina New Orleans.

It’s an album that takes on wider meaning in the aftermath of Queensland’s devastating run of floods and storms — burdens shared in NSW and Victoria, Tassie too — and WA’s fires and now, most recent horror of horrors, the earthquake that has torn New Zealand’s Christchurch apart.

I can’t imagine it, that suddenness: a terrorist couldn’t have timed it better. A crowded city centre, a lunch time crowd running errands, shopping, eating … and then the moment when it all goes to hell. Buses crushed, buildings collapsed, cliffs fallen…

There’s word that a youth hostel is the site of multiple fatalities, bringing to mind the horrible arson in Childers that killed so many backpackers. That distance from home, that has to add salt to the viciously ripped wound; a long-ago far-away farewell and no homecoming, just a box, and grainy, goofy pictures from the interwebs plastered on websites under the title of ‘coverage’ as we try to make sense of it all.

It’s the arbitrariness of death that helps to make it such a fearsome force. Even when human agencies are at hand, there’s that element of chance, of randomness. That building, that car, that spot on the sidewalk… but not mine. The person next to me. But not me. Not this time.

Dr John’s album is an indictment, a plea, a rallying cry. It points the bone at callous politics and immoral big business; it urges strength in the face of indifference. It urges perseverance and pride, and finds strength in history and community.

My friends scuffling with contractors/permits and roofers/on top of tons property damage/feel like insurance companies screwed us

The song title? We Gettin’ There.

There might be a bit of Aussie irony in Dr John…

Australia and New Zealand are fortunate places; not perfect, by any means, but the ongoing crises demonstrate that the quality of compassion hasn’t been lost. Our musicians don’t have to write protest songs after a national tragedy to make the rest of the country give a damn. The two countries rally around their own, they help any way they can. Mere hours after the earthquake, Australian relief workers were winging their way across the Tasman. The message is clear, from the Government all the way down to the folks leaving messages of support on the interwebs: we share your pain; we’ve got your back. Godspeed.

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