Our Burning Planet


20Twenties: Eve of Destruction — how it came into being

20Twenties: Eve of Destruction — how it came into being

This anthem took more than 40 months before it was fully reimagined. This is the story about its early days — from an off-the-charts crazy idea to do something meaningful, possibly seminal.

Tiara Walters: 

Had I thought a chance event would become a climate anthem, I may have chosen a more writerly turn of phrase to mark the moment.

 “This is freakin’ epic,” I wrote in a text to my editor, Branko Brkic, one Sunday morning in July 2019.

“You know this?” I asked Branko, sending him a link to Eve of Destruction, the US No 1 protest song made famous by 1960s folk-rocker Barry McGuire.

I had been idling out my gate, listening to Cape Town’s golden-oldie station, Fine Music Radio. And I confess, born at the tail-end of the 1970s, I felt I was hearing McGuire’s 1965 version for the first time.

“Yeah, heard it many times,” Branko wrote back in minutes. “The footage is horrible. Late Sixties and early Seventies were terrible.”

I had just joined a new unit at Daily Maverick, Our Burning Planet, and I had climate on my mind. On that seemingly harmless morning more than three years ago — yes, that is how long it took to produce this song — McGuire’s voice sounded like a raw, raspy lament about an Earth aflame.

So I floated the idea of adapting Eve of Destruction’s seminal lyrics, penned by the visionary youngster PF Sloan with input from music partner Steve Barri, into a climate anthem. This would hopefully help serve our unit’s maverick vision of reporting the full climate story to a range of humanity, from potato farmers to policymakers, in any medium.

Always an editor for an idea, Branko responded in affirmative caps. Days later, a text from my Our Burning Planet colleague Kevin Bloom.  

“Branko and I have been playing Eve of Destruction in meetings as a cosmically kick-ass call-to-arms… it MUST happen,” my colleague noted.

Our idea was now not just a project. It was an invocation.

Over months, and between deadlines and day jobs, Branko and I riffed off lyrics for our climate adaptation. It was pure therapy, helping us make sense of the apocalypse that is our occupational hazard. (A year or two into the project, we even hallucinated about a launch involving Table Mountain, the cable car and Bruce Springsteen’s guitar.) 

Soon enough, we understood that 20Twenties: Eve of Destruction would go beyond an African story. We imagined it as an every-human tale — an inner reckoning articulating all the grief and rage of living in our fossil-fuelled world. 

Branko Brkic: 

Of course, our writing process was not as poetic in the real world — we stank, actually… We managed to get the opening lines and the two magical lines by Tiara towards the end:

Think of all the coal that’s blazing your soul
Then look at your own town spinning down the hole

The clean lines of today’s song came much, much later. Two years later, to be precise… The pandemic threw a massive spanner into our wheels. The Eve of Destruction project was shelved to make space for a new and most immediate planetary emergency. But we knew we would be back to it one day.

One night in late August 2021, I could not sleep and decided to give it another go. It took only a few minutes — it needed a bleary eye and semi-awake mind to complete the job we started two years before. Like a bunch of easy puzzle pieces, words just clicked, with a really satisfying grip that was going to hold for a long time.

The metamorphosis of the Eve of Destruction project into 20Twenties: Eve of Destruction was firmly on its way.

The next thing was to reveal the project to ideas man Bernard Kotze, who redefines the term Renaissance man. We were still a year away, but by now we knew it would have to happen.

(Read more about the process of making the song and the video in his account: From conception to the final piece – The making of ‘20Twenties: Eve of Destruction)

The question is, will presidents, prime ministers and policymakers listen? One way to find out, as we always say. At least, we’re trying. 

Anneli Kamfer was brought in by Bernard Kotze as the chosen medium into this spiritual world. Her deep, incandescent pipes put it in a nod to the PF Sloan original:

Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say?
And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
When the threshold is crossed, it’s the end of the game,
There’ll be nothing to save when the world is aflame…

Indeed, there will be nothing to save unless we do something differently. This is Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet contribution. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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