Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 6th & Grant McLennan

Who will remember your tunes?

Grant McLennan of the Go Betweens died on a Saturday afternoon, May 6th, four years ago. He was sleeping. No one got to say goodbye.

The Apartments and the Go Betweens started in Brisbane around the same time. Getting my band together was simple. Followed the classic lines for a two guitar, bass & drums lineup: arrogant lead singer/guitarist, friend from high school on bass, drug buddy on guitar. Three-part harmonies. Throw in a stranger who turned up out of nowhere to the first rehearsal & could really play drums.

In those early days, at most of our shows, I would look out from the stage into the crowd and see two silhouettes, one tall, somebody shorter beside him. Robert and Grant. Fans & friends.

I'd liked the Go Betweens from the first time I saw them play two songs. Karen, 8 Pictures. I heard in them some of the same records I'd soaked up. I would deal with a very different world with my own band yet what I liked most about them and the world of their songs, was its immaculate innocence.

A childlike world, radiant with hope. Huge, huge hope. Daydream believers. In the howling chaos that seemed to be my life at the time, there was nobody like that. I’m not sure there ever had been.

Their lives were uncomplicated by love - or at least love beyond the screen, the record, the page. Grant liked my girlfriend at the time, not for all that was real about her - her luscious carnality or rapid, merciless wit - but for the mythical in her: her chain-smoking, pale black-haired resemblance to Anna Karina. If you put Ray Bans on Grant at the time and caught him in rich black & white, you might have seen Godard.

I would see some of that hope get mislaid in later years. That's how the second act goes. The world we got into demanded something else and you learn how to wear the disguise to just get through it. Things would never again be the same.

Back then though, I would find myself sometimes wishing I could have just a piece of that sunnyside-up thing they both had. Grant thought this was impossible. "Walsh is night,” he said in an interview round then, “we are day".

1979 came and went, and with it, that first Apartments. Within a couple of years, the Go Betweens headed to England and a career and I moved to New York with other things on my mind. All I wanted was in New York. The promise of the city seemed large, its nights, its possibilities - all of it felt so easily & beautifully fulfilled. Strangers, as Tennessee Williams knew they could be, were kind to me.

This is a Charles Bukowski poem I know Grant loved. Bukowski talking to a girlfriend, I suppose, avoiding yet not avoiding. I know he loved the poem because of what happened when I read it to him one night a long time ago. He wanted to read it himself of course, but I refused to hand it over, I said it had to be read, and that only I knew how it should be read.

I remember the night - about 4am, a riot of birds & hot Summer morning would soon be upon us. His place up in Spring Hill, a two storey block of 12 flats. A Tudor front, and a long flight of wooden stairs up to the back door. A piano player in the front flat who was obsessed with Scriabin. You'd hear Scriabin at all hours, pouring out into the sunlight, floating like ribbons of smoke in the night. A typewriter and a wooden table. We would play a lot of guitar, acoustic guitars. Wood turns electric, he later wrote. Sing & drink & smoke & talk - mostly books and movies, poems, songs - and always listen to records. Record after record. Album tracks & singles, he really was such a great DJ.

When I read this poem, I locked into it, looking intently down at the page. But then I got to a point when I felt something happening in the room, in that 4am quiet, and I halted just before those lines that follow "I wish to hurt nothing". Before the big close. I looked up. Grant had his face in his hands, in tears. For that moment - it came & went - he looked like a man whose fortune had just been told. Or maybe someone who'd caught a glimpse of a feeling that might one day come knocking on his door. I finished the poem, and put on another record. Drinks were poured & nothing was said. Nothing needed to be. It wasn't until after he died I found out how few people he ever let in on this side of him.

Time and distance did their usual work in the years after that. Worlds that are lost to us must now live on in handwriting, blue aerogrammes with red stripes around the edges, postcards, letters addressed to Avenue C in New York, Morning Lane in London, wherever I was living. What he would write about my songs in those letters was invariable; they were generous, full of encouragement to keep going. He had formed a faith in my talent so long ago and it had long outlasted my own. Do we choose what to remember?

By May 2006, for my own reasons, I had slammed a door on that old life. Then, when the telephone rang early that Saturday night and the news came in, the door was kicked open & that 4am poem and its night came rushing back in.

And around this time every year - just as it did with that first May 6th with that phone call - it's that night that I remember. The in between years don't seem to figure at all.

And the richness of a vanished world, when the whole thing still stretched out before us - the world of songs, moving away & moving on. New towns to go to, farewells & futures. All the people who would be in and out of our lives, a long, regretless rush.

And that poem within which he heard - as if for the first time - that knock on the door. We had no idea what was on its way.

I wrote to Grant once in the 90s. He'd moved back to Brisbane. But it was an old address, and the letter came back one day, unopened. It still is.

Grant McLennan of the Go Betweens died May 6th four years ago.

Who will remember your tunes? I will.

don't come round but if you do...

yeah sure, I'll be in unless I'm out
don't knock if the lights are out
or you hear voices or then
I might be reading Proust
if someone slips Proust under my door
or one of his bones for my stew,
and I can't loan money or
the phone
or what's left of my car
though you can have yesterday's newspaper
an old shirt or a bologna sandwich
or sleep on the couch
if you don't scream at night
and you can talk about yourself
that's only normal;
hard times are upon us all
only I am not trying to raise a family
to send through Harvard
or buy hunting land,
I am not aiming high

I am only trying to keep myself alive
just a little longer,
so if you sometimes knock
and I don't answer
and there isn't a woman in here
maybe I have broken my jaw
and am looking for wire
or I am chasing the butterflies in
my wallpaper,
I mean if I don't answer
I don't answer, and the reason is
that I am not yet ready to kill you
or love you, or even accept you,
it means I don't want to talk

I am busy, I am mad, I am glad
or maybe I'm stringing up a rope;
so even if the lights are on
and you hear sound
like breathing or praying or singing
a radio or the roll of dice
or typing -
go away, it is not the day
the night, the hour;
it is not the ignorance of impoliteness,
I wish to hurt nothing, not even a bug

but sometimes I gather evidence of a kind
that takes some sorting,
and your blue eyes, be they blue
and your hair, if you have some
or your mind - they cannot enter
until the rope is cut or knotted
or until I have shaven into
new mirrors, until the wound is
stopped or opened



  1. Beautiful writing. Thanks.

  2. Excellent. As moving as the guitar work on "The Sound of Rain."

  3. So rare to see someone open their heart and put it on a page.
    Thanx Peter.

  4. that's a lovely piece peter, takes us very close to grant, a man of great sunniness and darkness whose songs only get better with time. he put me onto your music - i bought your first album and love it. the bukowski poem is a beauty. tks again, richard, wellington, nz.

  5. Thank you very much for this, Peter.

  6. beautiful stuff...thank you

  7. Thanks a lot for this text about Grant. His songs meant so much to me when I was young. And still do...

    Who will remember his tunes? I will.

  8. don't worry, we'll keep Grant alive in our discotheque. Thanks anyway for this friendship testimony.
    French Fan.

  9. Thank you..just thank you, I see the Bright Ray..

  10. Thanks Peter. It's a tribute to Grant's character that he's inspired eulogies as generous and perceptive as yours now and Forster's in the Monthly. Like many I'm hoping all's otherwise well in Walshworld - we'd love a postcard from there. Good luck to you, Sir!

  11. Dave Graney will be performing Mr Walsh's 'Goodbye Train' as part of two special performances at Melbourne's Butterfly Club tonight and tomorrow night. The theme is 'songs that destroy' (ie pack a real emotional punch) and Dave could have picked any song of Peter's toward this end, I'm sure you'll agree.

  12. Sir! There were two occasions in 1984 when songs by you and Grant came fully alive for me. I was 18 then. The first time I was visiting a dead relative's old Queenslander in Bowen Hills as family discussed carving up the estate. Wandering off I found a quiet room - darkened, timber-walled, a cast-iron bed, a towering wardrobe with an old brown port perched on top - when Grant's 'Dusty in Here' began to sound in my heart as if it was written to describe that very moment, that exact space. Lord, I coulda cried! The time I really felt the power of your song was when shacked-up on the margins of Toowong/Auchenflower in a boarding house off Milton Road. I was sharing the only bed in the room with a Woolies hedonist (they lived fast down at the supermarket!), passing out each a.m with a belly full of beer and ouzo with Funhouse/Zombie Birdhouse the only soundtrack - apart from pausing the cassette to listen to TripleZed. 'Twas during one such interlude that I fortunately had kept my wits about me enough to jab the record button when a song I'd been hangin' to hear again began with a flurry of Clownsy type clarinet(?). A melody that must've come from somwhere French then filled the room and the force of 'No Resistance' simply floored me by the time you got to the 'wahoo wahoo' outro - magnificent! I've still got the tape (you went over the top of much of 'Dirt'....) and it still plays and it still captures that room, that time, your voice. I thank you for that.

    1. Woolies HedonistMay 16, 2013 at 4:11 PM

      Talk about choirboys dancing cheek to cheek, on a bit of a bender but. He didn't last the week, a diet of steak sandwiches from the RE beergarden and whatever we could scavenge from the Night Owl unable to sustain him on top of the booze and those untipped Camels he thought we so classy. I was fine with it though, and after he wheezed his way home to mum and dad I happily got back to shooting speed with that fella who'd learnt how to use a needle hanging around the Boys Next Door. Gotta love those Old Caulfield Grammarians....

    2. Sydney was the go-to get-out for young Queenslanders 'til sometime mid-80s, when the focus shifted to Melbourne as a more beckoning destination for those of us seeking reinvention and/or self-exile. I wasn't after anything bohemian or chic, just a superior suburbia with cooler weather, more frequent public transport, affordable housing and a better brand of football. West Footscray delivered!

      ‘Twas the best of both worlds, too, with Fourex from the Plough drive-thru and TripleZed’s Tony Biggs now on 3RRR, Fridays at dusk. In early ’93 Biggsy was putting together typically great interviews, including a memorable chat with Bobby Forster about his Country Phone lp. And the next week Monsieur Walsh called in (from Sydney?) to mark the release of Drift and the whole cd got a spin. As the last notes of ‘What’s Left....’ fell quiet it was to re-emerge from something like a dream - the perfect end to the perfect album. That first hearing – ‘struth it was good, a real event.

      The next day was shopping day with a mandatory visit to Forges of Footscray, a profoundly confused department store where seemingly the last-thing-you-could-ever-expect-to-find would just turn up. Including a copy of Drift at the record bar!

      I was still properly listening to music in them days, rather than simply collecting or classifying or putting myself thru occasional, painful bouts of self-improvement eg ‘Bob Dylan – who he?’. So Drift got played and played and it soaked into me and that world Mr Walsh keeps alive in song permeated mine, just a little. And just enough.

      But not so much that I could find the internal fortitude to make the perilous crossing of the mighty Maribyrnong and get to Peter’s subsequent in-store at Polyester. Brunswick Street was always just much too much, even then.

  13. I consider myself lucky. I got to see Grant and Robert play in Chicago. And Grant played songs from his masterpiece, "Watershed.''

  14. Wow. I have never really known the story of how you fitted into the Go Betweens, but felt you probably never really did. That is not to criticise either you or them. Grant and Robert remind me very much of my brother and I think this is true of the relationship they have with many of their fans. They became familiar and comfoftable figures to us through their shows, whereas you have kept your distance. I think I more easily understood them as they were like the people I am most fond of, gentle, bookish. I can completely believe Robert or Grant saying “won’t you save these bachelor kisses” or “I just want some affection” (I believe you played on Karen?). But it seesm about as likely you would write something like that as it that Leonard Cohen would! Like that was never available to you.

    Sadly I suppose this is now the only place or the best place I can thank Grant for introducing me to the Apartments, after he and Robert played a show I went to probably more than ten years ago? He said I should listen to the beautiful “Mr Somewhere” and he said the word “beautiful” in a memorable way and with real sincerity. The journalist he was talking to was an Apartments fan already and they spoke very earnetly about “the evening visits...”. Sometimes now, when I listen to Demon Days I think of this. Of that connection lasts from “something’s wrong and that is that” in Mr Somewhere to Demon Days “something’s not right”? They said theres’ more night in you and I think they were right. It is such an obvious thing to say but thank you for this tribute to your friend and helping us get to know both him and you a little better. Thank you for "Black Ribbons" too. This song, to me, it is like you never went away. I read there is the album coming. When is that?

  15. Sir! May I hide here a little while? This is a remembrance of Lisa Richards, the coolest kid to ever come out of Toowong High. I can't imagine anywhere else, by your leave, to make mention of the girl I knew at 17 in 1982 and who died in 2000 at 35. 12 years dead and I only found out last Thursday. Some things you just don't wanna know....

    At 17 Lisa was tall, gorgeous, smart, hip, immediately striking and frequently sad. She was blessed with a creamy Dutch complexion, wore her hair in 20s bob and was impatient for her real life to begin. But Lisa had already seen Whiteley and Humphries up close when she was a child, already read Hesse and RD Laing and Jung, already knew who the fuck David Bailey was. She wore denim skirts and jellybean sandals. At school she kept her blouse buttoned to the top. She loved to dance but dug Joy Division, understood 'em even. I didn't - I reacted and got into The Fall, instead.

    But Lisa forgave me my clumsy FNQ-bred ways and woeful ignorance as long as she could and let me go as gently as she could and I got as far out of her life as I could. That was the right thing but maybe I got too far - I would have loved some word of her, a glimpse on a corner. Lord knows I was looking.....

    The year I knew Lisa turned out be the mid-point of her life. Sir, I know you know nothing's fair in this life but to me, for her, that's fucked. I gather she left a husband and a son but am aware of nothing else of how she lived the second half of her life, or how it all ended. My deepest sympathies go to all those who loved her, and I assure them I too will always cherish the memory of the time I knew Lisa. I will never forget her. I just can't help but remember her, and am grateful for that.

    1. Woolies hedonistMay 31, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      Yeah, that sounds like her 'cept her cool was warm unselfconscious and giving and her sad was happy/sad, all part and parcel of the complete package.

    2. 'Romantic love did not suffer the body. [It left us] strangers with an intimacy that prevented ever corresponding in a normal way, so terrible is the strangeness between two who have touched souls, but not hands'. (The Slow Natives, 1965)

      All you wanted was the poise and knowingness to one day say something like 'So long, kitten' and part on more equal terms, but now the last look will always be your gormless stare met by a dismayed shrug.....

    3. 51 Sherwood RoadJune 26, 2013 at 5:06 PM

      Lisa Richards liked to browse at the Toowong Music Centre on her way to or from the Coronation Drive library. She became familiar with the collection of 'older uni-types' who oft clustered 'round the counter at her local record shop circa '79. She thought they were pretty cool but didn't twig then that it was a convening of such consequence: the Able Label in occasional session, Messrs Walsh McLennan Forster Callaghan and a floating cast of characters in casual attendance.....

      One of the first friends she met at Uni Q was a fella who made a clip for the Frontier Scouts. Maybe they laughed about Lisa being oblivious to the momentousness she'd brushed shoulders against as she stepped past the blokes clogging the store's door. I dunno.

      By the time I knew the place the scene had completely broken up and Mr Nelson was in the process of selling the business to a mother/daughter partnership who would soon enough oversee the shop's demise. No more tall girls wearing that daggy, distinctive two-browns TSHS uniform with improbable charm, toting an armful of borrowed overseas magazines and art books, scanning the lp racks but seldom - if ever - buying.

    4. Good grief.... Astley? and who was he ever gonna call 'kitten'...? Here's the picture proper: The Hunters and The Collectors @ Uni Q '86, and outside the Main Refec the stare and the shrug were exchanged in the tiniest moment while that blokey bloke in the singlet's song about never meeting again echoed and The Goodbye Train pulled away

    5. And take a squiz at Don's Diary (Vol 4, p.584) and his entry for 8 March 1983. That's Lisa ('Lawrie's girl') with Mr Daws and the Lanceleys - and Don - at Darlinghurst's Garibaldi's,, amid a crowd of 'roughs, whores, skinheads and students'. Don had a great time and so did Lisa, who came back with a real hankering to get down to Sydney to stay. I, of course, had no idea who Friend or Col Lanceley were. Still don't, really.

    6. Yep, the frequently sad bit hits a dud note ya billy goat. There was a melancholy, but we all needed that to get past the 'life is great in the sunshine state' smugness. What there was 'tho was frustration aplenty. Outgrown friends, me soon enough included. And an unusually clear-eyed understanding of the adult world. Lisa was very wary that she was being pushed into some sorta competition eg 'Arkie's doing this/done that/gone there - and you're hanging 'round that wimp?' No answer to that one!

      But there were never tears, 'cept once. Winter '83, a chilly (in relative terms) Saturday morning after a Friday night in town with Woolies Man getting our arses kicked by the patrons of the Treasury's public bar - the week before they'd all been peaceable mohicans, but then they swapped - en masse - to Oi.... pathetic.

      Anyway I 'm shambling toward Toowong after sleeping off that bad BAD Treasury tap beer at Woolies Man's Ironside address, eyes down to shield against a dazzling clear-sky Brisbane winter glare. And rounding a corner on the footpath and passing the steps that lead down to Kayes Rocks I sense a figure about to approach from the Coro Drive direction. I distinctly felt this person's presence before actually seeing them, still quite distant. Of course it was Lisa, arms folded, pained. As she neared and saw it was me she steeled herself to walk by, embarrassed.

      She was weeping, the early morning walk a tonic. And if Brisbane was still so small that you were always likely to meet some drip you'd finally shook off several months before, well it was better to get out and walk it off than sit in yr dorm at Duchesne. I knew nothing more than that she wasn't crying about me.

  16. And you come on like Catholic-of-the-year at the end....

    1. Not you, PMW, I'm talkin' 'bout the Anon sop... Toowong was a funny scene, though: bit bohemian with Tom Shapcott's boy there and Lisa's family very very artistic, some Uni Q academic types; them who woulda been at private schools but for lousy alimony arrangements; proto-slackers from Chapel Hill and Young Nationals from way down Moggill Road; last remnant working-class whites in Wests jumpers from Red Hill, Jubilee Terrace blackfellas, Pacific Islanders, Viet kids from the Wacol hostel; the 'redirected' kids from BBC or St Peters or State High - they always livened things up....

  17. Dear Peter,
    I was delighted with your eulogy. When I heard about Grant’s death, I immediately thought – “tranquil, chaste music: peaceful death.” Of course, I knew him only through his art – which is how I prefer things to be.

    Dominus vobiscum,


  18. Do They Come From You?October 5, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    And while I'm sleeping are you trying to get thru?

    Well I've always tend to doubt it and now I doubly hope not, Lisa, after last dream's 'visitation' spelt out the curt appraisal 'BAD DAG HAD ACNE'. I will have to get the t-shirt!