It wasn't always shits and giggles. When McLennan returned to the Go-Betweens in 1999, I was turned off by the obvious aging of their charms on The Friends of Rachel Worth, despite his two nifty songs there, "The Clock, and "Orpheus Beach." I don't want this heart/I don't need this blood
Now there's guilt. Why be embarrassed to join the receeding-hairline-set (not me) I mingled with in 1999 at one of the first (the first?) Go-Betweens shows in the US in 15 years, back before Rachel Worth dropped? 2003's Bright Yellow, Bright Orange was a total flop in every way, and that's maybe why I failed to find 2005's Oceans Apart, with "Boundary Rider," McLennan's sadder and probably more personal rewrite of "Cattle and Cane:"
So with a brick of a heart this morning I made it to the job, greeted by a phone call, from a student, from the delivery room of his soon to-arrive-infant daughter, his baby's moms already doped up, numbed waist-down, and three minutes apart.
The Go Betweens always threatened to take over my personal catalogue, but they didn't conquer it until 1994, when I went all out: Before Hollywood, formally their second album, became my favorite very quickly, especially since it reunited me with "Cattle and Cane" and introduced me to "Two Step, Step Out:"
I'm still pretty sure "Love Goes On," off of 1988's 16 Lovers Lane is McLennan's best song, an acoustic rain forest of obsessive love, and as good as a pop song gets. I stole this cassette from my much cooler younger sister, ashamed I hadn't bought it, and lost it again myself, in college, hopefully stolen from me by another initiate.
Seven years later, in grad school, I scored a cheap vinyl copy of 16 Lovers Lane and songs I hadn't earlier appreciated hit me like a shudder. "A Quiet Heart." For some of McLennan's songs, you just have to be older, in deeper, and coming to know complex joy. I was 25. It's the song that makes me think of my wife.
I try to tell you / I can only say it when we're apart But despite "Love Goes On," his crowning achievement remains "Cattle and Cane," first brought and lost to me via a midnight radio taping done on my first Sony stereo, a cassette that might languish in my parents' basement to this day. I was 17, freshly moved from my childhood town and abandoned into acquaintanced days but friendless nights, connecting with a slightly sympathetic, unapologetic nostalgia trip back to McLennan's childhood home.