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Robert Forster and Grant McLennan list their favorite books

THE Go-Betweens have always been regarded as a literary band.They launched their ninth album, Oceans Apart (EMI), at Rocking Horse Records in Brisbane, Australia, on May 1, and I asked singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan about their favorite books.

There has always been a strong literary influence on the songs of The Go-Betweens. Some of their songs have been compared to the work of specific authors. For example, one of Grant McLennan’s songs on The Go-Betweens’ latest CD Oceans Apart, Boundary Rider, has been described as Cormac McCarthy-esque. And songs like The House that Jack Kerouac Built; Karen; and Here Comes a City; all mention authors’ names, and in Cattle and Cane the narrator remembers a time immersed in “a world of books”. And of course the name of the group conjures up The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

But it’s the quality of The Go-Betweens’ lyrics that most reflect a love of reading. So I asked the core of The Go-Betweens, singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, about their favorite books.

On May 1, I attended the launch of The Go-Betweens’ ninth CD, Oceans Apart, (EMI), at Rocking Horse Records, in Albert Street, Brisbane, Australia. The Go-Betweens formed more than 27 years ago; their first single was Lee Remick on the Able Label, Australia, in May, 1978.

(The first time I saw them was in 1981, at the since-demolished Cloudland Ball Room in Bowen Hills, Brisbane, supporting The Sports, and Madness. I’ve also seen Robert Forster and Grant McLennan perform solo, and the re-formed Go-Betweens perform, at various pubs around The Valley area of Brisbane.)

Their romantic and intelligent guitar-based pop songs won over the critics and made some hardcore fans in the 1980s, but they’ve always been musicians’ musicians more than pop chart juggernauts.

Albums from the first Go-Betweens period include Send Me A Lullaby (1982); Before Hollywood (1983); Spring Hill Fair (1984); Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986); Tallulah (1987); and 16 Lovers Lane (1988).
After 16 Lovers Lane, The Go-Betweens split up.
During the 1990s, members of The Go-Betweens embarked on other recording projects.

The core of the band, singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, produced a number of solo albums each. Then The Go-Betweens rematerialised in 2000, with new members, for their album The Friends of Rachel Worth.
This was followed by Bright Yellow, Bright Orange in 2002.
Now, Oceans Apart features 10 new songs, five each from Forster and McLennan.

People of various ages, some with toddlers and babies in prams, headed downstairs at Rocking Horse Records for the launch of the new cd on May 1.
Rocking Horse was a long-time source of independent music, like that of The Go-Betweens, in Brisbane. People were standing throughout the small room, surrounded by second-hand LPs lining the walls.
Then Robert Forster came down the stairs carrying a guitar. He said Grant McLennan was just behind him. The two then sat on a couple of chairs on a small stage area next to the stairs, and they thanked everyone for the welcoming applause.
Some people were sitting on the stairs looking down at the stage; one guy had a video camera. Some people around the room took photos.

Robert Forster said he had been informed that a plumber was going to do something about fixing the air conditioning, although he wasn’t sure plumbers knew much about that sort of thing. Grant McLennan said everyone would have to excuse them for a couple of minutes while they had the mics on their guitars, and for vocals, sound-checked. Eventually Grant McLennan said, “That’s good; we can work with that.”

Robert Forster said it made him and Grant very happy to be launching Oceans Apart in Brisbane. Then they started singing a couple of songs from the 10 track cd.
Between a couple of songs, Robert Forster looked at the two or three rows of toddlers sitting on the floor, just in front of the stage. He said he was glad to see so many of The Go-Betweens’ younger fans turn up, and that it boded well for sales of Go-Betweens cds in 20 years’ time.
They sang a couple of Go-Betweens classics like Cattle and Cane (1983),Spring Rain (1986), and Surfing Magazines (2001).

After the concert people formed a queue along the walls with their copies of Oceans Apart for Robert Forster and Grant McLennan to sign. Forster and McLennan stood behind the counter that ran along one wall, and people filed past with CDS and various Go-Betweens artefacts for signing. People brought old Go-Betweens LPs, rare singles, play lists from old concerts, magazines, Oceans Apart posters, and books.
Forster and McLennan would comment on the art work on old LPs, or talk about other people whose signatures were already on things, and they’d try to recognise people’s hand-writing.
They signed the objects with a silver marker, and they’d step around the end of the counter and sign t-shirts little kids were wearing, too.

When they’d finished signing the cds, and other Go-Betweens paraphernalia, I asked Robert Forster and Grant McLennan to list some of the titles of their favorite books of all time.
They came up with these lists:

Robert Forster:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen;
On the Road by Jack Kerouac;
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole;
Collected Poems by Anne Sexton.

Grant McLennan decided to focus on Australian writers.
He liked The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer;
The Hunter by Julia Leigh;
Snake by Kate Jennings;
and Totem by Luke Davies (which he said was a long poem, and which he described as astonishing).
He also liked American author Thomas McGuane’s Nobody’s Angel.
I had met Grant McLennan before and he had said he liked the novel Father and Son by Larry Brown, plus Larry Brown’s short stories.
He had also liked the biography Blake by Peter Ackroyd.

– Oceans Apart by The Go-Betweens is out on EMI Records, and it’s getting good reviews.
-Story by Simon Sandall.