The Go-Betweens, one of Australia’s most talented and influential bands, very nearly wasn’t. Grant McLennan didn’t want to be in a group, and couldn’t even play an instrument. That didn’t stop the singer-songwriter duo of Forster/McLennan becoming one of the most acclaimed partnerships in Australian music history.
Just as The Go-Betweens always defied categorisation, Grant & I is like no other rock memoir. At its heart is a privileged insight into a prolific artistic collaboration that lasted three decades, and an extraordinary friendship that rode out the band’s break-up to remain strong until Grant’s premature death in 2006.
Unconventional in lineup and look, noted for near misses and near hits, always a beat to one side of the mainstream – the band’s unusual beginnings were followed by twists that often confounded its members as well as fans and record companies. The story of The Go-Betweens is also the story of the times, and Grant & I is a wonderfully perceptive look at the music industry and a brilliantly fresh take on the sounds of the era.
As distinctive a writer of prose as he is of songs, Robert Forster is wise and witty, intimate and frank, astute and knowledgeable. There could be no better tribute than Grant & I to this partnership and band who remain loved and revered.
Grant and I is a memoir that traces the history of The Go-Betweens through Robert Forster’s relationship with Grant McLennan. The narrative traces the journey though beginnings of the band, the various ideas and inspirations that influenced them, trying to make it in Australia and abroad, and the experiences of producing each of the albums. Even with all the supposed accolades, Forster pulls back the curtain to capture a life of living in squats and endless touring, pointing out that although they may have tramped all over Europe, they never really got a chance relax and take things in, and how they were left paying back the advance given to tour with REM for the next 26 years.
In a review for Australian Book Review, Doug Wallen summarises it as follows:
As with the band’s songs, Forster’s account is melancholic, cheery, and self-deprecating all at once. It is often unruly and mischievous as well. Rather than presenting a stock-standard Australian success story, Grant & I offers up the tangled lives of two kindred spirits who decided to make music together. Younger readers who only know The Go-Betweens as canonised legends with a major bridge in Brisbane named after them can discover how long the band toiled in obscurity before securing that lasting recognition.
There has been criticism that Forster left a lot out, such as the place of heroin in their lives. However, I was left wondering if that was asking something from the book that it never promised to provide and if maybe that was not Robert’s story to tell? In some ways, there was an air of David Malouf’s Johnno or F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to it all, both books mentioned in the book, with McLennan both known and unknown.