It was 1985. I was a 17 year old boy with a shock of died auburn hair and heavy, smudged eyeliner when I first heard this song.

I was living back home in Toowoomba, famous then only as the Garden City with its Carnival of Flowers, infamous now for its carnival of unsolved murders. It was about an hour after dawn on an autumn day. I was alone, walking slowly down a silent country road.


The road was a damp black line that curved gently here and there to pass at a distance between the larger hills of the Darling Downs; golden hills of wild grass that has a name that I don’t know. Each individual stalk of that grass sparkled with reflections of the rising sun cast by early morning dew. The air was cold and smelled of sorghum; a wheaty, malty smell.

A week before, I’d been in an op-shop searching for paisley shirts when a tarot-reading trannie psychic whom I didn’t know slipped a mixed tape into my hand. She said “I think I made this for you, tho I didn’t know it at the time.” Things like that happened in Toowoomba all the time back then.

The first song on the A side was “Cities in Dust”. I played it on a clunky portable cassette player. No headphones. The sound was a little muted but I turned it up and the music filled the warming air around me as I walked. For me, the song is about the genuine sadness we feel when something beautiful perishes. Other people say it’s about other things. That morning was beautiful. The song ornamented it. Altogether it changed me.