I’ve been obsessing about the Go-Betweens for a while. No one I talked to in Canada has even heard of them, they were a flash in the pan in their home country of Australia, and even now they remain firmly on the ‘cult favourites’ list. Their history is only partially relevant to this piece, but I encourage you to read about it here and elsewhere.
JohnBruce, our soundman, used to play their song "Streets of Your Town" in between sets, and when I discovered it, I downloaded and played the song literally hundreds of times. I even learned to kind of play it on guitar, although the primary recording is so layered it can’t really be played by one guy with an acoustic. Subsequently I’ve listened to every album they made, and watched their videos a dozen times, and become a bit of an evangelist for their music. Half the reason I was so excited to go to Australia last year was to walk the same streets they did, and maybe catch a bit of that inspiration. For the last little while I have been thinking that maybe this whole obsession is an attempt on the part of my sub-conscious to teach me something.
For the most part my whole life has all been about forging ahead, ignoring adversity of any kind, facing challenges and defeats with stoicism and indifference. A few things this year have forced me to do the opposite, and it has been an uncomfortable process. The exercise in nostalgia that surrounded the GBS XX project has been very instructive; looking at so many videos and pictures, and listening and thinking about ideas and decisions made 20 years ago is not without hazard. Much has been gained over the past two decades, but much was also left behind.
During the summer my mother passed away, after a long and demoralizing battle with cancer. While I have been at deathbeds before, her passing was a hard struggle one that I have found difficult to put behind me. Above all else, we were great friends, and such relationships are not replaceable. Both my parents and all my grandparents are gone now, and it is strange to be at the end of that line.
Confronting that cycle, while delving though the mists of GBS’s past has made for heavy going at times. Again and again I have turned to the Go-Betweens. The band had moments of pure sublimity, but barely achieved any real financial success, and self-destructed in a fashion that was utterly hopeless. Their finest moment came in the late 80s, when the band was re-built around two couples, one of which was singer Grant McLennan and violinist and singer Amanda Brown. They made a number of great music videos in those years, and the "Streets of Your Town" video, about McLennan’s childhood in Brisbane, particularly resonates. I watched it a dozen times, trying to figure out why it is so perfect, and only recently discovered the answer.
A few nights ago, I also watched the DVD in the contained in the GB box set. I had never really looked at it before, figuring that there would be something in it I would hate, which would require editing, and thus destroy the whole delicate balance Sean had achieved. I enjoyed it a lot, watching my younger self, half-pompous, half-inspired, laughing to himself at the absurdity of it all, delighted just to be there. Halfway through a thought occurred to me “I was really happy then…” - not that I am unhappy now, but the last year has sometimes been a trial, and as one gets older, one realizes that such moments don’t come as often, and when they do are harder to recognize.
The Go-Betweens’ "Streets" video demonstrates this a lot better then I can. I’ve realized that the most important moment of this video, the thing that gives it a small piece of transcendence, that sums up my love for this band, comes about a minute in, when Grant’s lover Amanda Brown looks at him as they sing the song’s chorus together. Music videos are full of artifice and nonsense, but this one captured a moment when the participants were truly and unreservedly happy. I hope they knew it.
I look forward to playing GBS’s music with my friends this year; such moments are fleeting, and I hope we have many together, and that I am smart enough to recognize them and savor them when they are happening.