Song Of The Day 3/30/2015: Heroes - "The Star and the Slaughter"

Given the temperament of certain recent events in America, maybe this isn’t the best news cycle in which to talk about street rioting. But this event was in Australia over 35 years ago, and it should go without saying that in most situations this blog neither condones nor endorses drunken melees. You’ve got to have a good reason for one, like the unhindered advance of a neo-fascist plutocracy, or running out of beer.

A 2004 article in the Sydney Morning Herald goes into this particularly infamous evening of September 19, 1979. The Star Hotel barroom in Newcastle, New South Wales was home to a wide range of cast-off misfits who, until this night, seemed to get on fairly well, according to the National Times: “The front bar ‘served sailors from around the world, RAAF men, petty criminals and pimps, parachutists and “short back and sides” misfits who didn’t fit into sophisticated taverns.’” The second bar featured drag acts for the local gay population, and the third bar was where the bands played. As disparate these elements may have been, almost no incidents ever happened between them and all got along fairly well: “There was a real sense of community, of belonging to the place.”

That last quote was from Mark Tinson of Heroes. It wasn’t his scene: “Aesthetically though, (the Star) was a big toilet. But for the fact I was being paid to perform there, I don’t think I’d have been seen dead in the place.” For those reasons and other tawdry incidents the Star was being forced to close, and on September 19 they held a farewell party where Heroes played the final set of the bar’s existence.

There’s a lack of clarity about how exactly the riot started, but around 10pm the cops showed up. Perhaps angered by the pending closure of their clubhouse, or possessing feelings of deep anti-authoritarianism, or more likely just shit-faced, the clientele got riled up just as Heroes were about to start their encore. They decided to push forward, and chose to play “The Star and the Slaughter.”

That may have been a tactical error on their part, as a full-blown riot began taking place in the street. It was ugly and damaging: 14 police officers and eight private citizens were hospitalized, and an astonishing “46 people were charged with 79 offenses, ranging from assault occasioning actual bodily harm to resisting arrest and riotous assembly.” At one point the riot claimed over 4,000 participants.

One of the arrested individuals was Heroes lead singer Peter de Jong, on the basis that the lyrics to “The Star and the Slaughter” turned out to be eerily prophetic and, according to authorities, incited the riot. Despite the fact that the song had long been a part of their set, and that Tinson considered the rioters’ behavior “abominable.” The "Star" part of the title had been a complete coincidence, as the song was allegedly sung from the point of view of a disenchanted rock star dealing with his contempt for the audience in a more cost-effective way than Roger Waters would have.

As the Herald article points out, “The riot was the product of booze and boredom. More, drunken rabble or not, the rioters - most of them young, many of them unemployed - were representatives of a bigger, nationwide group of boozed, bored people who felt increasingly at odds with the political system.” The article contends that brawls and riots started happening with regularity in taverns across Australia for the next several years, although it’s unclear whether that would have happened anyway.

As for the Star, it remained standing, albeit vacant for many years. The facade was spared the wrecking ball and now it stands as a “respectable boutique apartment complex,” according to the Newcastle Herald. As for Heroes, they never escaped the notorious events of that evening, although they’ve survived its shadow well enough to have a reunion album. Stand at the ready, booking agents with nerves of steel.

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