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Song of the day – 58: The Go-Betweens

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This entry is to celebrate the fact I attended a lecture given by Mr Robert Forster yesterday at QUT to 40 first-year students. Two songs were played, ‘Born To A Family’ (from Oceans Apart) and ‘Surfing Magazines’ (from my own personal favourite The Friends Of Rachel Worth) – two acoustic guitars, plenty of introduction.

The preamble to the former song involved a very lengthy explanation of how growing up in The Gap (where I live now) with no hip school-friends or peers or musical members of the family helped shape his music. That, and a love for “simple” music such as The Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and Television. That, and the fact that he wrote poetry from the age of 14. That, and the fact that punk freed up bands in Brisbane – allowed them to get on stage, not entirely musically competent, and play two-song sets if need be. Plenty of Gs and Cs (I believe) were played to illustrate his points, sometimes in varying styles (country, folk, rhythmic).

Songs are written, primarily from song-titles (which always have stories attached). The process has grown more difficult – or perhaps Robert has grown more demanding of himself – over the years, as various chord sequences lose their freshness for the musician, and various wells of inspiration are drained. He’s lucky if he writes three songs a year now that he’s proud of, and he’s continually writing. Robert even revealed a new song-title, and a new riff.

He was interviewed and accompanied by John Willsteed, who threw the questioning open to the class, and latterly me: I immediately latched onto the idea of what makes a good and bad song in Robert’s head (initially he had described it as something his wife likes, or an audience), the process of taste formation, and… wait, at the start, the audience he was playing to didn’t even exist. The Go-Betweens had to create one. So how can you judge what is ‘good’ in those circumstances?

The latter song involved a charming description of the actual moment when the song was composed: a riff that he liked, coupled with handy juxtaposition of a batch of surfing magazines situated to his side, to be read during ‘down time’. The lyric came out in one gasp. But usually, the lyrics come first.

Thanks to John for tipping me off about all this, 15 minutes prior!

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