Robert Forster has a new career, it would seem. After winning the Pascall Prize for criticism for his work in The Monthly, he said, "With the passing of Grant I've had to reassess completely where I'm going, what I can do and what I want to do. This prize, if I needed one more piece of encouragement - that's it.”
Forster did say, after Grant’s death, that the last Go-Betweens album had been made, last gig been played and last song been written, but I think many assumed he’d carry on making music, despite the fact that during their 'solo' years, Forster and McLennan regularly got back together for gigs. Now, playing live, Forster wouldn't be able to play a Go-Betweens song again...and most of Danger In The Past was written while the Go-Betweens were still together; many of the songs were played at their (original) last-ever show, in Sydney, December 1989 (and yes, I do have a tape of it; and no, I haven't got a clue how to digitise audio tapes...), so he wouldn't be able to play a good deal of his - so far - best solo album live.
Like most songwriting teams, Forster and McLennan worked best together. They wrote their songs separately, but upon completion, one would take it to the other, who would then ‘suggest’ changes, embellish it and after whatever alchemy it was they had worked its magic, the finished song would be much better than when originally completed.
Out of Forster’s solo albums, it’s only Danger In The Past and Warm Nights that I revisit. I’ve never really come to terms with him releasing an album of cover versions, I Had A New York Girlfriend, as that always seems to be the refuge of the failed songwriter who wants to ally himself with the greats. Forster was – as he proved again when The Go-Betweens reformed – so much better than that.
McLennan might have been an obvious choice for the kind of journalism that Forster’s now succeeding at. He made quite a name for himself writing film reviews at Queensland University, and only joined his best mate’s band as he was too young to enrol in film school. In one of his monthly columns, Forster discusses Grant’s erudition and polymathic ways:
“…I knew I could ask him anything, on any artistic frontier, and he’d have an answer. He had an encyclopaedic mind of the arts, with his own personal twist. So, as he worked on the coffee, I could toss in anything I liked – something that had popped up in my life that I needed his angle on. I’d say, “Tell me about Goya,” or, “What do you know about Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry?” or, “Is the Youth Group CD any good?” And, his head over the kitchen table, he’d arch an eyebrow just to ascertain that I was serious, which I always was. Then he’d start. Erudite, logical, authoritative and never condescending – not one ounce of superiority came with the dispensing of his opinion. God. I’m going to miss that.”
Forster took four weeks to write the full, 3000-word article on McLennan. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, you should find the time.
On a lighter note, there’s this exchange between Nick Cave and Grant to finish this entry:
N.C : I'm like you in that I'm very interested in classic songwriting, creating songs that have a classic feel to them. I mean, I don't think either of us are really concerned about doing anything that's new, or breaking new areas of music. We're far more interested in writing purposeful and soulful and well-constructed songs, and, as you go, you get more tools to be able to do that.
G.W : Where I grew up there is an annual picnic race meeting where the people from the surrounding cattle stations come and race their horses and relax. Whenever I'm there I get asked to play some songs but I find it really difficult because I don't know any of the songs they like. If I play my own, especially the early ones, they say "do you know any with a tune?" (much laughter)
N.C : I'd love to be able to play guitar and be able to sing, to stand on the back of a truck or around the campfire and entertain people in that way. I can't do that, unfortunately
.G.W : You could if you wanted to. You used to have an old guitar in London which I wrote "Cattle and Cane" on.
N.C : So that's why I could never write anything on it.
G.W : I ruined it for you. Did I steal its only tune? I'll give you a credit next time I see my publisher.
(Nick Cave interviewing Grant McLennan for Esquire)