Grant & I by Robert Forster
As Robert Forster tells it near the end of his affecting, up-tempo memoir, the decision to write Grant & I was not his. The morning after his death by heart attack in 2006, aged 48, the voice of Grant McLennan – co-founder, with Forster, of the beloved Australian rock band The Go-Betweens – rung out in his bandmate’s head, telling him: ‘Put to paper everything that happened to us, write our adventures down’.
A lyricist par excellence, known for peppering his songs with the fittings of his life, it’s only to be expected that Forster should apply a twist of poetic license to this momentous event; think of it as a final act of self-mythology from a band who put it on almost-equal footing with the crafting of their ingenious, infectious pop and rock and roll songs.
Considering the high concentration of red-letter episodes in Forster’s story, he is to be admired for the way he cuts through much of the lore surrounding himself and the group; nowhere to be found is the po-mo legerdemain of his hero Bob Dylan’s slippery Chronicles. Instead, we get Forster as drolly eloquent observer to his own life, McLennan the unquiet heart of it all. Even when life sees them pulled in different directions – both artistically and geographically – the man he first met at 17 in an undergraduate literary studies classroom is never far from centre frame.
The current vogue for all things of 1980s vintage makes Forster’s long-gestating memoir well-timed. Key episodes detail Forster’s time of impoverished squat living in ’80s London with then-girlfriend Lindy Morrison, drummer in the band’s classic line-up, as part of the same exodus of Australian post-punk bands that saw The Moodists, The Triffids and The Birthday Party all vying to crack the lucrative UK and European markets. The move would briefly position The Go-Betweens as label-mates to a young band on the ascendant named The Smiths, a group whose meteoric success stands in stark contrast to The Go-Betweens’ career of near misses and thwarted ambitions, frustrations attended by withering financial implications.
It’s startling to read of this now justly revered group hopping embarrassingly from label to label through no apparent fault of their own. Of course, due credit caught up with the The Go-Betweens, slowly accreting both internationally and at home. As Forster outlines amid a fond recollection of the day he pitched the band’s name to McLennan, he attended the opening of Go Between Bridge in their native Brisbane in 2010.
As a survey of a sui generis career, as a glimpse into the formation and working methods of a superlative songwriter, and as an ultimately poignant chronicle of a friendship, Grant & I weaves a memorable story with wit, art and heart. Not unlike a Go-Betweens song.
Gerard Elson works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.