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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Never Tear Us Apart" is a beautiful song on its own...

...but the INXS gem becomes even more special in the context of one Australian rules football team, who will hear it at home tonight.


The intersection between sports and music seems to be a double-edged sword.

Marching bands and live organists can truly complete a stadium experience with the energy that radiates from their performances. Being at Cal, our band is such an integral part of being at Memorial Stadium and Haas Pavilion, and the players feed off their music and support. I felt that tonight as I went to my first volleyball game in nearly two years. (By the way, the band’s first halftime show of the season was awesome, and I wrote about one of the tracks they played for Sunday’s post. Cal Band Great!)

On the other end, though, piped-in music has the potential to damage, if not ruin, that same experience. Six-second interstitials during volleyball matches, snippets between football plays, and the awful deluge of music that overpowers an NBA game detract from the fan experience, both at the game and at home. Canned audio just doesn’t work… when it’s forced. There are a few types of recorded music that feel natural: baseball walk-up music, hockey goal songs, pre-recorded fight songs for teams without marching bands (i.e. most professional teams — but not my Baltimore Ravens), and win songs all have a place in the game. They don’t take away from the action, because they come at breaks in which that music can truly be embraced.

There’s one other type of pre-recorded audio that works which I have yet to mention though: team songs — popular tracks which over time become part of a club’s identity through adoption by supporters and players alike. The experience of hearing an entire stadium sing along to one of those songs is like nothing else: it’s a chilling, mystical feeling as you sing or hear this ultimate expression of unity and support. Even if I’ve become a tad sick of Liverpool’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I can never turn away from the TV when I hear their supporters sing it.


Liverpool inspired a team from another sport and half a world away to adopt their own song — the topic of today’s post — as their own. The sport is Australian rules football, a game I’ve come to love and stay up very late watching over the past two years, and the team is the Port Adelaide Football Club. In 2012, Port Adelaide went to England for an exhibition game and took in a Liverpool match at Anfield. Enraptured by the power of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” they began seeking a song of their own, and by 2014 they had found it. While a process that short could have ended in disaster, Port Adelaide’s song struck the right chord (no pun intended) with their fans because of how the track symbolized a crucial part of their history. Their song is INXS’s (pronounced "in excess," by the way) epic 1987 ballad, “Never Tear Us Apart.” I'm writing about this track tonight ahead of Port Adelaide's preliminary final, their last home game of the season.

(Before I continue, I just want to clarify that I'm not a Port Adelaide supporter myself — I'm a fan of the Perth-based West Coast Eagles. I wrote this article not because of my own allegiance, but rather out of admiration for Port Adelaide and the song they have adopted as an anthem.)


"Never Tear Us Apart" begins with dramatic chord stabs on a string synth that couldn't sound more 80s if it tried, with upbeats tracked by a tambourine. The opening figures establish the song's waltz-like triplet feel. Typically, a waltz is light and bouncy, signifying the joy in life and love, but this is no ordinary waltz. It's a tribute to love, no doubt, but it's a pensive tribute and one which burns slowly into its climax. Michael Hutchence's lyrics, sung over the strings, are a simple capturing of an unparalleled love. The chorus, which introduced some soft guitar chords, makes it clear that this love was at first sight and unbreakable: "I... I was standing / You were there / Two worlds collided / And they could never tear us apart." I'm floored by how such layman's language could be so powerful in relaying humanity's strongest emotion. After a while, I realized that we so often overthink how to write and talk about love; gratuitously elegant prose often loses the point, and simpler sentences end up saying so much more because they can so easily communicate these feelings.


After the first chorus, absolute silence falls upon the track for two tantalizing beats. Silence is such an underrated and under-utilized tool in popular music, as British composer David Bruce discussed in a 2018 video, and in the rare cases it is used, it's often kitschy and in conjunction with lyrics about stopping (see/hear examples from Gino Vannelli and J Dilla). The silence in "Never Tear Us Apart," however, feels sincere, dramatic but also sensuous considering the lyrics it follows. When the song does come back in, it does so with a completely new sound, as Tim Farriss rings out a four-note guitar riff before his younger brother Jon thunders out snare hits. It's this sound which starts Port Adelaide's pregame ritual, as fans around the Adelaide Oval rise as one, with their black, teal, and white "Never Tear Us Apart" scarves held aloft.


The brothers then repeat the short section, with Jon attaching a quick fill on the end, before the string synth and vocalist Hutchence return. The second verse's lyrics are more poetic and more powerful than the first, expanding upon the one-of-a-kind bond between the narrator and his lover. I'm inclined just to write out the whole verse because of its succinct sublimity (okay, I need to listen to myself stop with the gratuitous poetic language and alliteration):

We could live
For a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears
I told you
That we could fly
'Cause we all have wings
But some of us don't know why

I'm mystified by this verse every time I hear it. I simultaneously know exactly what it means, and don't know at all because I'm not a party in the incredible love being described. "I'd make wine from your tears" is the one line that blows me away the most — what an elegant way to describe repairing the damage one has cause to someone they love, and making the most out of a bad situation. The second half of the verse expands upon the relationship's unique bliss in the ability for the two lovers to be free together.


So how does this verse relate to Port Adelaide? It has to do with their joining of the top-level Australian Football League (AFL). The Port Adelaide Football Club was formed in 1870 and built a rich history as South Australia's most successful team. However, they sought to join the mostly Victoria-based AFL in the 90s, a decision which divided their fan base. Their state-level league initially denied them permission, instead building a new team altogether — the Adelaide Crows — to join the AFL. Port Adelaide eventually got their AFL nod in 1997, but with new colors and uniforms and a new nickname to avoid conflict with another team, as well as new administration and facilities. The apparent disregard for the club's tradition, as well as their instant rivalry with the Crows, only further fractured support for the team in the early years. Ultimately, some time and on-field success healed the wounds, and all Port Adelaide operations were merged in 2010. With Port's club/fan relationship being so long-lived and ultimately making wine from the tears of division in their early AFL days, the second verse of "Never Tear Us Apart" is a fitting representation of what Port Adelaide and their community have gone through to reach where they are now.


Though they cut off the song at the Adelaide Oval after the second verse when another silence falls, the piece continues; it restarts as it did after the first chorus before Kirk Pengilly launches into a brief, but oh-so-powerful saxophone solo. The solo feels like a cathartic release, a climax in which words don't do the bond between the two lovers justice. Indeed, the saxophone is the last new material, per se, introduced in the song, which fades while Hutchence repeats the chorus and Pengilly resumes playing.


"Never Tear Us Apart" is a supremely crafted tale of love, one that continues as strongly as ever in the wake and face of various trials. How lucky are those of us who can find that sort of love in anything we do — in friendship, in family, in romance, or maybe even in your unabashed support of a team. Take it away, Port faithful.


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