Fading Celluloid and Fading Memories – The Artistic Triumph of The Go-Betweens’ Before Hollywood
Juxtaposed with McLennan’s introspective poetry are Robert Forster’s pleading, mocking, inscrutable, drama-filled vignettes. The music that powers these songs is harsh and angular, helping to define Forster’s persona as arrogant and ever so slightly ridiculous. Forster is more interested in his immediate surroundings than his past, but gazing at these surroundings he sees traces of past glories and images of beauty in decay. On the album’s title track he uses the idea of the pre-Hollywood American film industry to invoke images of a forgotten past, but of a historical past rather than a personal one:
“The flicker of light,
A silent screen, A silent star”
These images are intertwined with Forster’s own personal drama which serves to enlarge and elevate his troubles and make them seem gigantic in scope. It’s a ploy which works because of Forster’s fey and aching delivery, which undercuts any notions of ponderousness or Bono-esque grandiloquence. Both ‘By Chance’ and ‘Ask’ strut and fret to wondrous effect, while the latter’s three-note riff is echoed by the opening bars of follow-up number ‘Cattle And Cane’.
The albums penultimate number is ‘On My Block’, and it revolves around Forster’s fascination with a dilapidated mansion near where he lives. While the world in general ignores the fading relic Forster finds enchantment and mystery amid the ruins. If there is some kind of aesthetic catalyst to be found in a situation or location Forster will find it. Before Hollywood closes with another McLennan number, ‘That Way’, and on it he links up with Forster’s showbiz dreams to paint the picture of an actor determined to succeed at his art:
“Inspired by shadows,
Driven by tears,
You won’t rest, ‘til you’re back on the boards”
The obsessive tone of the song encapsulates the romance of The Go-Betweens. Two friends, intellectual dreamers, who seek to escape the humdrum of the everyday by finding poetry in vanishing beauty, in blurry recollections, in long forgotten artistic endeavors. From this swirling cauldron they will concoct their escape, though the fame they seek will never be on the level as that reached in their dreams.