The Door is Open Wide

Peter wrote this essay last week, after hearing the news about the Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan:

Grant McLennan, who died of a heart attack May 6 at age 48, wrote my second favorite song of all time. The song is called “Bye Bye Pride,” and it came out in 1987 on “Tallulah,” the fifth album by his band, The Go-Betweens, although I didn’t hear it until 1991, after the group had broken up and put out a retrospective compilation. I did buy “Tallulah” upon its release. I was a sophomore in college, and I must have read something in the Boston Phoenix or one of the city’s free local music papers that said that if I liked jangly guitar pop, which I did, I would love The Go-Betweens. But I’ll confess that I sold the album not long after I bought it, and I’m not sure that I’d even listened to it all the way through. I think it was Gore Vidal who said that you have to be over 40 to fully appreciate Proust. You don’t have to be quite so mature to appreciate The Go-Betweens, but perhaps they were a bit too subtle for an easily distracted 19-year-old.

Three years later, I came across that compilation at the Tower Records on Newbury Street. Its title, “1978-1990,” read like the dates on a headstone. But the CD cover, a simple photo of ferny green leaves reaching up into a cerulean sky, held out nothing but promise: sunlight, growth, clarity. Still, I resisted, remembering the hocked “Tallulah.” I didn’t buy “1978-1990” for another year. I can’t explain what, in the end, prompted me to finally seek it out again. It did, in a sense, call to me. I was somewhere, doing something, and I thought, “I should really go buy that Go-Betweens compilation.”

As any fan with tell you, every Go-Betweens record is divided equally between the band’s two singer-songwriters, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. McLennan’s songs are often described as sweeter, lusher, more conventional, while Forster is the difficult one, his delivery eccentric and theatrical. (Not long after I became the owner of “1978-1990,” I bought a VHS tape of six of the band’s videos; in each, Forster vamps for the camera, doing everything he can to draw attention to himself. McLennan just stands and strums.) Secretly, every Go-Betweens fan has a preference, be it ever so slight, for one singer over the other. The McLennan songs on “1978-1990,” and the individual albums that I began to buy afterward, immediately became my favorites, but I learned that the roles the two frontmen were assigned by music critics weren’t exactly accurate, that they could actually be reversed. Forster’s songs were witty and arch, but they skimmed the surface. McLennan, at least in the band’s early years, had the darker vision. Only in his 20s, McLennan, like this listener, couldn’t get beyond the losses of childhood, found adulthood confusing and sometimes harrowing.

It is difficult to describe a song in a way that makes sense for someone who hasn’t heard it. It is even harder to communicate the song’s appeal. How can I tell you in words why “Bye Bye Pride” is my second favorite song? I could only play it for you, and the song’s greatness should be evident. I would like to think that is true, but I have played “Bye Bye Pride” and other Go-Betweens songs for my boyfriend, and he is immune to their charms. I have put the song on mix tapes for friends, and not one has singled out that song as being moving or life-altering or special in any way.

Perhaps the song has all of the elements that make up the quintessential Grant McLennan song. There are small, concrete details—mangroves, an electric fan, boats in a bay, a letter dated May 24—that seem to add up to a story, a story that never quite comes into focus. There is, as in most songs, bad romance. And there are lines that I swear are poetry: “In la Brisa de la Palma, a teenage Rasputin takes the sting from her gin.”

What got me, though, was something about the melody, and something about the chorus, that pointed toward release. I was 23, and floating. I loved music and books, and I found a job that allowed me to work for an hour or so a day and spend the rest of my time sitting at a desk reading and looking out the window. But I had no idea what to do next, whether to stay in Boston or to move to New York, whether to stay with my then-boyfriend or leave, whether to find another job or go to graduate school. I would listen to The Go-Betweens on my headphones on the bus ride home from work. I played “Bye Bye Pride” over and over, and the song’s melody mirrored the floating motion of my life. The verses hovered, like a skiff on the water. But then came the chorus, the part that I waited for, when Amanda Brown’s oboe line swooped high, a flourished bouquet of flowers. “Take your shoes and go outside,” sings Grant. “Walk to that tide because the door is open wide.” I couldn’t walk through that door, but it was something to know it was there. —Peter Terzian

Surprise on board?

Celebritycruise

“How will it affect you?” this ad for Celebrity Cruises asks. It ran in the New York Times this past Sunday, and I tore it out because I thought the statue looked somewhat familiar. The delicate nose nestled against the right shoulder, the dimple over the left hip, the outward curl of the lower spine . . .

There are more than six known copies of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite in the world’s museums, according to the catalog of the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome, which has one. (So does the Galleria Borghese, also in Rome, but the picture above is from the website of the Louvre, whose version has a sort of quilted mattress; the towel in the original, you will observe, is somewhat differently placed, and is not in fact terry-cloth.) Looking from the statue’s left, you see what appears to be the figure of a woman, but when you walk around to the other side, the story abruptly changes.

Curiouser and curiouser

Back in January, I tumbled down a blog rabbithole. The New York Times had reported that the National Security Agency was listening in on international calls by American citizens without consulting FISA courts, and people were wondering if there might be more to the story. They were wondering this so acutely, in fact, that NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell asked New York Times correspondent James Risen, who had broken the story, an unusual question: “You don’t have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?”

John Aravosis promptly intuited that Mitchell would not have asked the question without a reason, and not long after he did, NBC deleted the question and Risen’s answer from the online transcript of the interview. This sent bloggers into a frenzy. A spokesperson told TVNewser that the transcript “was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting.” But the trails of paranoid, speculative comments at the ends of dailyKos posts snaked longer and longer down the webpage. . . .

And thus I wasted most of a day, in hopes that the mystery would come clear. It didn’t. A few weeks later, I came to the conclusion that the whole thing was an exemplary case of why I should not read blogs. I’ve written journalism, and I know that sometimes a provocative fragment turns out to lead nowhere. Filtered news keeps one’s life more focused. If it had proved to be a real story, it would have showed up eventually in the paper over breakfast. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be provoked.

All this still may be true; I probably should be more vigilant about squandering my attention, because I seem to have so little of it. But it’s interesting that CJR Daily believes that the vanishing-“was-Christiane-Amanpour-bugged?”-question story has a sequitur at last, in this morning’s revelation on ABC News’s blog The Blotter that a senior law enforcement official told two reporters there that “It’s time for you to get some new cell phones, quick,” because the government was tracking the phone numbers they dialed, as part of a CIA leak investigation.

Tourism

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Austin, Texas

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Left: Austin, Texas. Right: Cherry Valley, New York.

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Left: At Chester A. Arthur’s grave, Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York. Right: “Nipper,” on top of the old RCA building, Albany, New York.