Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remembering the Go-Betweens

The Believer's Music Issue, out this summer, has a substantial interview with Robert Forster, co-founder of one of my all-time favorite bands, The Go-Betweens. Robert Christgau's Q&A, while offering no major surprises, captures one of the most literate men in rock music with all his aloofness intact.

This is a band I think about a lot -- they were part of my childhood in the '80s before breaking up in '89, I saw them on three appearances in LA after they reformed around 2000, and I can render the guitar chords from "Love Goes On" reasonably well. (Though not quite as well as Nada Surf does on its recent covers record.)

But the interview -- and the enduring quality of their songs -- has made me hear them in my head more than ever lately. They were an Australian group who lived in England some of the time, but I actually hear them when I travel to Oregon: When the band reformed, Portland band Sleater-Kinney backed them up with a rhythm section and sublime vocal harmonies, and they recorded the wonderful The Friends of Rachel Worth there. (For reasons having largely but not entirely to do with production, I may prefer the reunited band to the original. This puts me very much in the minority on these guys.)

Grant McLennan, the warmer and more pop-oriented ("Magic in Here," "Going Blind") of the band's lead duo, told me about how he was looking forward to returning to "my beloved Pacific Northwest," and described how he much he loved the deep green countryside there.

In '05 I was lucky enough to speak to both of the Forster and Grant McLennan about their new record and what turned out to be their last appearance in Los Angeles. Here is my piece, in which Grant describes the duo's original meeting:

"We were doing the same theater course at university," McLennan says, "and I noticed this tall fellow carrying a Talking Heads record, '77.' I didn't think anybody else in Australia was listening to it. It was great to meet someone you felt wasn't going to beat you up, and who was as bad an actor as you were."

About a year later, I came to work to find that McLennan had died suddenly, at 48. I've always thought of myself -- just as I am more a John guy than a Paul guy -- as more of a Robert type than a Grant type. I like Forster's detachment, darkness ("Danger in the Past"), biting ironies. But much of the flowing melodies and sense of regret of the band's best songs came from Grant. He is also one of the sweetest musicians I've ever spoken to -- I wish this had not been my only encounter.

I was both upset and honored to be able to write Grant's obit, which is Here . As they say, the music lives on.

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