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Robert Christgau obituary of Grant McLennan

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  • Carl Z.
    Grant McLennan, 1958-2006 The Go-Betweens sweeter, darker half succumbs to the undertow by
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2006

      Grant McLennan, 1958-2006
      The Go-Betweens' sweeter, darker half succumbs to the undertow
      by Robert Christgau
      May 12th, 2006 12:28 PM

      Grant McLennan was in a grand mood May 6, with every reason to believe
      he had his best work ahead of him. Renowned and beloved though the
      Go-Betweens' six '80s albums are, 2005's Oceans Apart, third fruit of
      their 2000 reunion, had outsold them all. It also won them their first
      Australian Grammy, and if the category was Adult Contemporary, fine.
      McLennan had money in the bank. Songs were pouring out of him. That
      night, during a huge housewarming party that would root him in
      Brisbane once and for all, he'd planned to publicly propose to his
      girlfriend, Emma Pursey. At 4:30 that afternoon, he went upstairs for
      a nap. Early arrivals found him in his bedroom a few hours later. The
      autopsy revealed a massive heart attack. He was 48.

      "One of the last real romantic bohemians. No watch, wallet, or drivers
      licence," recalled one of a thousand bereaved on the band's message
      board. McLennan reportedly went through a heroin phase and had trouble
      sustaining relationships with women; his melodic grace concealed a
      dark thematic undertow. His father, a doctor, died of cancer at 38,
      when Grant was just four: "You've lost your voice/You let it go," he
      literally moaned on "Dusty in Here" 20 years later. But the songwriter
      was famously modest, generous, polite, courtly. There seems no reason
      to attribute his loss to anything more esoteric than cruel fate.

      McLennan is survived by his girlfriend, his mother, a stepfather he
      was close to, two siblings, and an adult son. But just as painfully,
      he is survived by Robert Forster, his Go-Betweens partner since 1977,
      who played and worked with him even when they lived oceans apart with
      band kaput. They didn't compose together, and both recorded notable
      solo albums--in the early '90s, McLennan's output was obsessive,
      unstoppable. But they were stronger in tandem; they complemented each
      other's tone, with McLennan's graver and sweeter. And even as naive
      new wavers, both conveyed a maturity--an adult contemporaneity--all
      the stranger for its origins in supposedly uncouth Oz. In retrospect,
      maybe it was too mature for its intended audience at the time.

      Admittedly, McLennan's pick hit came early, in 1982: "Cattle and
      Cane," about childhood in the outback, shows up on many
      greatest-songs-of-all-time lists, including U2's. But now that he's
      lost his voice, remember 2005's "Finding You": "What would you do if
      you turned around/And saw me beside you/Not in a dream but in a song?"
      Or 2000's "The Clock": "But then the clock turns/And it's now/And its
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