What are we made of?
Well, you could say we are mainly Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorous.
Add some pinches of Potassium, Sodium, Sulphour, Chlorine and Magnesium.
Just the tiniest amounts of Boron, Chromium, Cobalt and Copper.
Traces of Flouridine, Iron, Iodine, Manganese, Silicon, Selenium, Vanadium, Molybdenum, Tin and Zinc.
Scientifically that’s absolutely the case.
Still, I prefer to think we are, each of us, a whirling constellation of dreams and memories.
Dreams beget memories and memories beget dreams.
We are star shine, dreams and memories.
Just before you go to sleep – a shimmer in the mind.
Just before you wake up – slow spools of overexposed film.
A Life lived in a landscape of dreams and memories.
Sometimes pin sharp with hallucinatory detail.
The grain of the kitchen table, the fragrance of your mother’s perfume, the bark of a long dead dog, the leathery feel of your father’s hands.
Sometimes drifting in and out of focus – colours merging and fading.
The faces of the children you played with, snatches of skipping rhymes, the clang of trolley buses passing by.
Tracking shots, jump cuts, slow motion.
And, the landscape of dreams and scudding memories is so often the landscape of childhood.
A landscape that will never leave you.
When we are very old and our powers are failing we will forget today’s appointment and the name of the current political leaders.
But, until our last gasped breath we will remember the intensity of the light in our youth.
We will remember the sounds of our childhood home and street.
We will remember the breeze blowing our hair awry and the sound of the wind outside our window in the deep dark of night.
However old you become you will always in some sense remain the child you were all those years ago.
The child who will be your secret companion and your deepest mystery.
And, if you are a songwriter – an individual given to times of silent thought – you will find yourself returning over and over and over again to that landscape in search of that companion and that mystery.Embed from Getty Images
If you are Grant McLennan you will recall a schoolboy coming home.
Through fields of cane.
Fields of Cane.
To a house of tin and timber.
Tin and Timber.
And in the sky a rain of falling cinders.
A rain of falling cinders.
Falling cinders that will fall, fall, fall all around you all your life.
If you are Grant McLennan you will dream up a hypnotic guitar riff in the key and time signature of memory and write a classic song of recalled childhood and the greatest song ever to come out of Australia.
If you are Grant McLennan living in a world of books and music and silent times in thought you will write, ‘Cattle and Cane’ and you will be certain of immortality as a songwriter.
I recall ….
Grant recalled his childhood when he was far from Home, Queensland and Australia when he wrote Cattle and Cane.
In 1982 he was staying with fellow expatriate Nick Cave on whose guitar he conjured the unforgettable guitar figures threaded all through Cattle and Cane.
With Robert Forster (his song writing partner) and Lindy Morrison on drums as The Go Betweens the song was recorded in Eastbourne in 1983.
Forster added the enigmatic last verse identifying the heart of the song as both the consolations of Home and the sense of aloneness you feel when Home is far away.
Home first became far away for Grant when he went away to Boarding School leaving the fields of cattle and cane far behind.
Boarding school where he would never forget losing his father’s watch.
In silent times of thought he will have returned to the rain of falling cinders and the sky above his Home.
Dreaming in the night he will have returned on the virtual train to the fields of cattle and cane and been blessed by the rain of falling cinders.
Those dreams of home will have flashed brighter when he left Australia in search of his chance.
Recalling the genesis if the song Grant McLennan said in 1983:
‘I wrote (the song) to please my mother. She hasn’t heard it yet because my mother and stepfather live (on a cattle station) and they can’t get 240 volts electricity there, so I have to sing it over the phone to her.’
The beauty of the lyrical imagery is fully matched by the melody and rhythm.
Opening with a riff that seems to signal a dive into the subconscious the song builds and builds through the verse until there is a feeling of breathless elation.
This a song which has the space and time stretching quality of dream.
Further, longer, higher, older.
Further, longer, higher, older.
The adult and the child co-exist and find peace with each other.
For the duration of the dream and the song they live together surrounded by fields of cattle and cane.
Fields of Cattle and Cane.
For the duration of the dream and the song they live again in a house of tin and timber.
A House of Tin and Timber.
A House that will always shine bright in the memory.
And, Boy and Man, dreaming their dreams, they stand under the sky and a rain of falling cinders.
A Rain of falling Cinders. that will never stop falling,falling, falling.
There is the quality of an anthem about Cattle and Cane.
An anthem to an Australia that is both real and mythic.
The anthemic ‘Australiana’ nature of the song is very well captured in the version by Jimmy Little.
A Song that can be deeply personal and an anthem for us all is some Song.
So, ‘Cattle and Cane’ tales up an honoured place on The Immortal Jukebox as A45.
I’ll leave you with a glorious live version with Grant and Robert diving deep ….
‘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 ….
In memory of Grant McLennan 12 February 1958 – 6 May 2006.
For Malcolm McCulloch.
Words fitting for the lyrics of a wonderful song
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Many thanks. Found this very inspiring song to write about. Thom.
Reblogged this on Séamus Sweeney and commented:
“Icnoic” is a hugely overused word. Everything famous or even just well-known (ish) seems to be dubbed iconic. Yet it is the word that keeps coming back when I think of The Go-Betweens’ “Cattle and Cane.”
I think it is the other sense of icon, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, a stylised yet somehow living representation. Stylised in that there is a formal, repetitive pattern to the song, and living in that Grant McLennan’s memories become our own.
As this post by Thom Hickey evokes brilliantly, “Cattle And Cane” is a tapestry of childhood memories and longings tied together by an immortal, driving, sensitive-yet-oddly-hard riff.
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Many thanks Seamus. I 100% agree!
I’m living in my memories and images right now . Good stuff Thom. Love Jimmy’s take. Beautiful. Thanks man. CB
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