Allo Darlin’ singer Elizabeth Morris on the Go-Betweens’ ‘Cattle and Cane’
In Australia, we have an all-night music video show on Friday and Saturday nights called Rage. It was a fun thing to come home and watch after a night out. One night, I stumbled in and Belle & Sebastian were the guest programmers; I must have been 20 or so, and was just starting to get into their music. They picked ‘Cattle and Cane’ early in their set.
I had always intended to get into the Go- Betweens. Everything I had ever heard of theirs I liked but, as is often the way, it took someone else, in this case Belle & Sebastian, to show me how to appreciate what came from my own place. It wasn’t like the Go-Betweens were a household name in Australia, at least not at that time.
So I started listening to them a lot in that year, my final year of university, when I lived in Brisbane. Suddenly I began to see the romance in the place. To quote David Malouf, Brisbane had always seemed “so sleepy, so slatternly, so sprawingly unlovely…” is was not a place where books and songs were written. is was a place of rugby guys and beach babes. I understood why the Go-Betweens had left , and felt it was for the same reasons that I would leave too.
Of course, travel makes you homesick. It is a strange thing about being an expatriate – the word ‘home’ itself becomes confusing. ‘Cattle and Cane’ is a song that could never have been written in Queensland. It was written by Grant McLennan on Nick Cave’s guitar, in London.
It is not lost on me that a song that makes me nostalgic is a song about nostalgia itself. Perhaps I am nostalgic for something that never even existed; perhaps that is the best (or worst) kind of sentiment. It’s what makes lovers sad.
Much has been written about ‘Cattle and Cane’ itself, how odd the time signature is, how strange it is that it doesn’t have a chorus. The melody oats down like a memory, like a radio on in another room. But the words resonate through the walls, and lie half- remembered in the back of my mind.
What surprised me when I came to London was how many people loved the Go-Betweens here, how many people saw the beauty in a song like ‘Cattle and Cane’. To me, it is a song about a very specific place, one that feels so far away from the rest of the world, and especially far from a place like London. Grant McLennan was born in the same town as me, Rockhampton, Queensland, When I was a teenager I felt that Rockhampton was the most ordinary place in the world. I think it probably still is.