All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

BOOK REVIEW: "Grant & I" by Robert Forster

Omnibus Press
Fertile Ground Compost Service
Help support Red Dirt Report
Rusty's Score
4.5 Rustys

BOOK REVIEW: Grant & I: Inside and Outside The Go-Betweens by Robert Forster (Omnibus Press) 2017

I admit to coming late to the enchanting musical world of The Go-Betweens, an Australian rock band that had been bobbing along the indie-pop musical currents of the 1980’s rather nicely, led by the singer/songwriter team of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan.

The album that caught my attention – 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane – a record that was getting a lot of press in American music magazines that I read obsessively in those days when I was taking my love of rock and pop music to the next level.

The Go-Betweens had a special something. A musical chemistry that combined McLennan’s natural melancholy and pop sensibilities with Forster’s more grounded musical approaches. They were a band that included multiple female members (drummer Lindy Morrison and multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown) and they forged their own path. Just listen to the hits taken from 16 Lovers Lane – “Streets Of Your Town” and “Was There Anything I Could Do?” – and you hear a mix of Aussie sunshine and English greyness that offers up an undeniable whole. Perhaps it is why 16 Lovers Lane is number 12 in the book 100 Best Australian Albums. And as a longtime fan of Aussie rock/pop, that is quite an achievement! It's true, the music not only on 16 Lovers Lane, but on all of their records, hold up very well. 

So, what of this band, The Go-Betweens? Well, Robert Forster wants that story told, but with special emphasis on his friendship and working relationship with the somewhat enigmatic Grant McLennan, a talented individual – with an emphasis on the word “individual” – who had his own style, interests and ways of living. The way Forster tells it, McLennan was not one to follow styles or trends or any of the things we are expected to embrace in our consumer-centric society.

McLennan didn’t drive. He read books, mostly. He loved a good drink. He loved life, even though he reflected it with a hint of the bittersweet. But life’s like that, and the music of The Go-Betweens captures the highs and lows of life.

A native of Brisbane, Australia, Forster recalls meeting McLennan and seemingly sensing big things were in store following this chance meeting at university. And a band – The Godots – as in “Waiting for Godot” – would morph into The Go-Betweens, a band and story, Forster writes, “wasn’t going to be mirrored in rock biographies, in the life of The Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, with their flush starts and fame. Our path would follow another model, ‘the wrong road’ as Grant would one day sing – progress made in zigzag shape, foreign cities seen in poverty, all nerves tested.”

From 1977, The Go-Betweens blazed their own trail, gathering more and more attention Down Under. Success, as defined by boatloads of money and packed arenas, was never in the cards. But over the years as a band, they achieved greater things by offering listeners music that, as I said, stands the test of time. Forster and McLennan were songsmiths, crafting smart pop songs that people could easily relate to. Earworms with a beating heart. 

I urge readers who are the least-bit interested in The Go-Betweens to dig under their couch cushions for extra change and shell out the dough for the bands’ 5 Album Set collection (which I reviewed here in 2014), which includes their albums Send Me a Lullaby, Before Hollywood, Spring Hill Fair, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express and Tallulah, all recorded between 1982 and 1987.

All five are addressed by Forster. The writing and recording process and the ups and downs of said process. Forster and McLennan didn’t always see eye to eye, and the “secondary” band members would get rightfully frustrated, particularly drummer Lindy Morrison, who was sensitive to the introduction of drum machines. But this was the 1980’s, and such things were en vogue.

So, recording, touring, opening up for bands like R.E.M., partying - and Forster's later diagnosis of Hepatitis C, which was a scary time in his life, post-Go-Betweens. Telling McLennan about this life-threatening illness, his pal kind of shrugged it off. But then McLennan was always in his own world. And reading Grant & I, Forster strikes me as a bit jealous of the ease of which his best friend could float through life, living what David Lynch calls "the art life." 

By the way, while I was writing this review, I learned that Peter Tork of The Monkees had passed away at the age of 77. The final page of Grant & I has Forster participating in McLennan’s 2006 memorial service (he would die at age 48 in 2006 of a heart attack while at home in Brisbane) and taking it all in as he helped carry his best friend’s coffin out of the church. He writes: “Just as we were out of the door, The Monkees’ ‘I’m a Believer’ started to play through the church. Golden pop sung in the creamy purr of one of Grant’s favorite singers, the indomitable Micky Dolenz, the song written by Neil Diamond … And Grant was a believer. A believer in all the good, fine, uplifting, wonderful things of life. Lines of poetry, the shadows of a film, the majesty of a great song. He was high-romantic. Singular. A complete one-off.

Needless to say, tears are falling as I type this. I guess one can only hope that when they are gone they are remembered so fondly.

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd
Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK