Back in 1988, a little-known Australian alternative rock band released its fifth studio album entitled Starfish, which included the hit single “Under the Milky Way.” As far as I know, the song was the band’s only hit in the U.S, and even then, it was a modest hit at best reaching number 24 on the Billboard charts before it slid into irrelevance as yet another one-hit wonder on the American music scene. While this song may have been a flash in the pan for many music fans, it remains one of my all-time favorites from the 1980s because of its deeply philosophical lyrics and the melancholy vocals of lead singer Steve Kilbey.
As with most of my favorite songs from my teenage years, I have a specific memory associated with it. In this case, I was walking on the beach at night under a tapestry of stars as this song played on my Walkman clone. The stars seemed brighter than normal, especially as I wandered further away from my hotel and out of the glow of its bright lights. I can still feel the damp sand between my toes, the slight sinking feeling that accompanied each step, and the slight, warm breeze that followed me.
Wish I knew what you were looking for, might have known what you would find.
I was 17 at the time. It was June 1988, and I was in Florida with a good friend of mine celebrating his high school graduation. I still had one more year left in school, but he had invited me along for his last hurrah before he headed off to college, and we, sadly enough, went our separate ways. It was my first trip on my own, my first trip to anywhere really.
I’ll never forget that trip. We met some strange and interesting characters along the way like the wannabe drug dealer who approached us on the street and asked if we wanted some coke, to whom I replied that I only drank Pepsi. I’m a smart ass, sometimes I’m a foolish smart ass. Luckily, the thug dismissed us as the naive teenagers that we were, and after the guy went on his merry way, my friend admonished me for making a joke in such a precarious situation. We laugh about it nowadays, albeit somewhat nervously.
After a day filled with sun and excitement, I’d walk on the beach at night, sometimes late into the night, listening to music.
And it’s something quite peculiar, something shimmering and white. Leads you here despite your destination, under the Milky Way tonight.
This song captured my fascination at that crossroads in time for me. I was on the cusp of becoming an adult experiencing my first adventure on my own away from my usual unremarkable existence. The haunting refrain from the song (“Wish I knew what you were looking for, might have known what you would find.”) suggests that whatever you’re looking for is itself unremarkable, uninspiring. Filled with the idealistic yearning of seemingly endless youth, I didn’t necessarily agree with the suggestion. I knew there was more to life than what I had experienced thus far. There had to be. Whatever it was, I was certain I’d find it. Eventually.