If the internet is something like the collective unconscious instantiated in electrons and pixels, then YouTube may represent our shared dreamtime; it sometimes seems like all of humanity’s memories, flights of fancy and weird rhyming synchronicities are on-tap there for anyone who has a few minutes – or hours – of their life to give over to its immersive and intoxicating free-association.

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)

Here’s a couple more of the Go-Betweens’ lovely, bittersweet songs:

The Go-Betweens – Streets Of Your Town

And don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way…
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.

The Go-Betweens – Bye Bye Pride

“When a woman learns to walk,
She’s not dependent anymore”
A line from her letter: May 24
And out on the bay,
The current is strong,
A boat can go lost.


That’s all I was going to talk about today, the Go-Betweens.

But YouTube had other ideas, and introduced me to one Jimmy Little, who as best as I can tell appears to have been a much-beloved Australian amalgam of Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, and Don Ho. Here’s his pretty-great cover of “Cattle and Cane”:

Jimmy Little – Cattle And Cane (Go-Betweens cover)

Not only does Little sort of physically resemble Cash there, but much as with Cash’s Rick Rubin recordings, late in Little’s career he was covering the songs of younger Australian rockers. Here he is with The Church backing him:

Jimmy Little – Under The Milky Way (The Church cover)

Anyone who has any knowledge of American and Australian history (or has seen The Proposition – scripted, natch, by a non-comatose Nick Cave) will no doubt be aware of the shared cultural and historical similarities – founded as modern nations by the people that England didn’t want, and having a checkered-to-say-the-least history with the indigenous peoples that were there first and/or people of color (no politics).

But it is still a bit jarring to see the Down Under parallels:

Jimmy Little & Brother Fred – Twistin’ The Night Away (Sam Cooke cover)

Like any good country singer, Jimmy Little never forgot where he came from. “Yorta Yorta Man” is a tribute to his Aboriginal ancestral tribal homeland:

Jimmy Little – Yorta Yorta Man

I found this absolutely haunting:

Jimmy Little – Bring Yourself Home To Me

Feel free to hold forth in comments about: the power of memory; YouTube – Amazing, or The Most Amazing Thing Ever; whether there’s a Glyph in Australia, aka “bizarro-America”, who does NOT have a goatee (Van Dyke, technically); or whatever strikes your fancy.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. I knew about Jimmy Little, but I can’t remember how or when I heard of him. I had no idea who the Go-Betweens were until I hit play, and quicker than name that tune I knew. I have that first song on a Rhino compilation, a little bit poppy for my, but definitely not bad.
    I didn’t know anything about the Nick Cave connection, which is cool, as about half of my listening at this time is following the various members of the Bad Seeds in other projects they are in, other bands they played with. That can take you from the Cramps and Magazine, to Kylie Minogue and Wim Wenders. Not to mention Neubauten…
    Oddly enough, I just attended a specialist training seminar, and it was hosted by an Australian. First thing out of his mouth, he wanted to tell all of us how much he loved guns. Guns had nothing to do with the training, but it sure broke the ice (I work in management of a super highly skilled blue collar field.) I hear country music pretty big over there also.

    • I had never heard of Jimmy Little, but he appears to have been a huge deal down under. That’s always sort of weird when that happens – I was gobsmacked when my German friend didn’t know who Devo was. DEVO!

      I actually heard Wedding Present’s cover of “Cattle” before I heard the original, and became completely obsessed with it – it is slightly more rockin’, but it still has that unusual and really distinctive chord progression, and I spent forever trying to figure out what that off-kilter time signature was. I would get it stuck in my head for days.

      • It is weird when you get that slightly more than deja vu feeling, and then several years later you put the pieces together. I had no idea “wanted man” was a Dylan song. I didn’t come from a Dylan household (mostly jazz and the “ventures”.) I head the Nick Cave version, then the Johnny Cash version, and then the Dylan version. About 15 years later.

  2. I had heard The Wedding Presents version, and no idea it was a cover, but now having heard all 3 you have here, I gotta say that the steel guitar makes that song.

    • There are very few songs that can’t be improved by adding steel guitar. I actually ordered a used copy of Messenger pretty much based on that cover.

      Is there a difference between “steel guitar” and “lap steel”, or are they the same thing? “Pedal steel” is the one on the table, with a pedal, right?

      I guess I could look at wiki – looks like “lap” and “pedal” are variants of “steel guitar”.

      • There are many variants. The common thing is that the fret board is played with some sort of slide; and the slide may be used in combination with actual fretting.

        A standard guitar, in the standard position, can be played as ‘slide guitar,’ getting that ‘steel’ twang.

        The next variation is the resonator guitar; my sweetie plays a Dobro guitar, wood body, steel resonator. He holds it in a standard hold; uses a number of open tunings. Wears the slide on his pinkie (this looks very painful to me, but he says it’s fine.) He frets with his index, middle, and ring finger. And with this combination, he plays Coltrane tunes, and more.

        The steel guitar, a guitar with a steel body and a resonator, is typically played on your lap, partly because of the weight. This is the classic image of ‘steel guitar,’ has the sound of a garbage can with strings. They come with both a square neck, which would only be played on the lap; the neck’s too big to fret, and a traditional neck. Friends loaned us a National for a while with a round neck; beautiful guitar, but very, very heavy.

        Then there’s the pedal steel guitar, a box, with strings and pedals, played with a metal slide that’s round on one side, a square for holding on the other.

        Someone here linked this video for me once; I think it a masterpiece of pedal steel. John Paul Jones, play Nobody’s Fault. Both tone and mind bending.

          • Hey, that worked! Cool!

            Thanks for the info & vid zic.

            Since you mentioned a dobro, I have to link the only song I know with a “dobro” lyric, by one of the greatest living songwriters we have (and that’s not hyperbole – just look at those lyrics, and listen to the elegance of that melody):


            I have a mandolin
            I play it all night long
            It makes me want to kill myself

            I also have a dobro
            Made in some mountain range
            Sounds like a mountain range in love

            But when I turn up the tone
            On my electric guitar
            I’m afraid of the dark without you close to me

            I went out to the forest and caught
            A hundred thousand fireflies
            As they ricochet round my room
            They remind me of your starry eyes
            Someone else’s might not have made me so sad
            But this is the worst night I ever had
            ‘Cause I’m afraid of the dark without you close to me

            You won’t be happy with me,
            But give me one more chance
            You won’t be happy anyway

            Why do we still live here
            In this repulsive town?
            All our friends are in New York

            Why do we keep shrieking,
            When we mean soft things?
            We should be whispering all the time…

      • I saw the Stones during their ’97 tour. For each show, they had an online survey (I bet it was the first time a band had done that) to determine one of the songs they’d play. Nashville naturally picked “Faraway Eyes,” probably because it had a steel guitar.

        I remember Jagger saying that Ronnie probably hadn’t played the pedal steel in 10 years.

  3. A totally-not-made-up-reader asked, via e-mail, for Australian rock band suggestions, for gifts for an Aussie nephew. I am posting my reply here:

    Go-Betweens are very, very good – but they were a pop band, very melodic and literate (not sure if they might seem too “wussy” for a young man now).

    If he likes 60’s rock, try The Easybeats, featuring George Young (Angus’ older brother, he also produced some AC/DC):

    If you are looking for harder rock, Australia has a good history with garage-punk-type stuff (basically, the Stooges were hugely influential there).

    Radio Birdman:
    The Scientists:
    The Saints:

    Eddy Current Suppression Ring are newer, but still in that tradition:

    I have a love/hate thing with The Church: I think they have great, great psychedelic guitar work, and the lead singer has a cool voice, very suited to that music: but some of his lyrics are REALLY, REALLY STUPID. Still, some of their stuff is OK.

    • Totally not made up, I’m sure.

      Also, how do you not mention Men at Work?

      Also The Living End.

      • He shall remain nameless unless he chooses to identify himself.

        I DO have a soft spot for “Overkill”:

        • I will listen to Men at Work anytime they come on the radio, because nostalgia is powerful.

    • the only aussie rock band i’m familiar with is the dead c, and i’m not sure they count as “rock”.

      • I’m not sure they count as “Aussie”…we’d have to get James K in here to make the call, but I think New Zealand is like the Canada of Australia.

        I am not familiar with them, but they are from Dunedin (home of The Clean) and have released on both Flying Nun and Siltbreeze, so they warrant my cautious optimism. Any tracks you’d recommend?

Comments are closed.