The Go-Betweens’ “Cattle and Cane” is an atmospheric reverie composed on a comatose Nick Cave’s guitar and filled with fragments of evocative imagery (I really like “his father’s watch, he left it in the showers”) from songwriter Grant McLennan’s youth in rural Australia. (That last wikipedia link indicates that the song has been named as one of the 30 greatest Australian songs of all time.)
The halting chord progression is immediately arresting and just a little dark or disquieting. At 2:19 they even throw in the sort of Peter Hook-ish high melodic bass that I am a total sucker for. Love this song.
I recall a schoolboy coming home Through fields of cane To a house of tin and timber And in the sky A rain of falling cinders From time to time The waste memory-wastes I recall a boy in bigger pants Like everyone Just waiting for a chance His father’s watch He left it in the showers From time to time The waste memory-wastes I recall a bigger brighter world A world of books And silent times in thought And then the railroad The railroad takes him home Through fields of cattle Through fields of cane From time to time The waste memory-wastes The waste memory-wastes Further, longer, higher, older
Each individual recollection leads to the next, like railroad stations being visited by the narrator’s memory, methodically tracking back and forth in time.
But memory also plays havoc with our understanding of time as linear – every moment we’ve lived through seemingly still exists in our heads, simultaneously, all jumbled up and just waiting for the right trigger to be experienced again. “Cattle and Cane” packs the overwhelming wallop of a lifetime of memories as recalled in a single condensed rush.
The Wedding Present did an excellent cover that loses the spoken-word bit and slightly speeds and tightens up the arrangement; the propulsive drumming makes the song’s unusual 11/4(ish) time signature really pop:
The Wedding Present – Cattle And Cane (Go-Betweens cover)
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