07 May 2006

God fucking damn it.

now i know why people resort to all caps & peculiar typography : it disorients, it shocks, it disrupts one's processing of information. it defamiliarizes, as victor shklovsky would say, it increases the difficulty and length of peception. and it feels cold right now to be even mentioning russian formalism. but what else to do? i could generate a list of imprecations the length of the human genome and you'd be no nearer to knowing how i feel--unless the next sentence means anything to you.

grant mclennan is dead.

i have no means to communicate the powerlessness i feel right now in the face of death; in the face, too, of public indifference, since any number of you might be asking who he is--"the better half of the best songwriting team of the '80s," said robert christgau. had i said "john lennon," you'd totally understand; you wouldn't merely feel bad for his family and friends, and for me b/c one of my favorite "cult" musicians has died, but you'd also feel bad for yourself, and for mankind generally. i cannot make his death resonate through this medium; the limbic data missing, such as tone of voice and facial expression, makes this near impossible. (never do anything important through a chat; always call the person--or, if they'll allow, see them face-to-face). perhaps i can through a different medium, in which grant himself will show you just what the world has lost. for now, resist the urge to scroll.

i haven't been this near tears since ... well--and so i'm susceptible. (incidentally, a sudden death is always a reminder that if you've got something you want to say to someone, say it today, lest tomorrow you be an outcast from life's feast. live your life so you'll only regret the things you've done, not the things you never did, and to hell w/ both pride & obstinancy. hi, you.)

i've never had a leader of one of my favorite bands die, at least not when that band was still vital. readers of this page will know that the last go-betweens album, oceans apart, was my fifth favorite record of 2005. when i used "last" there, i meant "most recent." now it occurs to me that "last," too, means "final." in 1989, fans were probably really upset to hear that 16 lovers lane might be their last album. but even though they broke up, there was still the chance they could get together. it's the finality of it all that now shocks; and the shock is compounded b/c, not only was the band at its peak, but grant's death is a complete shock, totally out of the blue. no rumors of illness; when i saw them several years ago, he was the picture of health; their last show was less than four months ago. so i feel anger and grief, but for selfish reasons also b/c i know i'll never hear another new grant mclennan song, grant, whose "statue" from that final record, got me through many a melancholy night.

("cattle & cane," voted one of the ten greatest australian songs ever, is playing in the background. it is a song of his boyhood and one of the most beautiful songs ever. that life is over. that life is over.)

grant died in his sleep, which seems somehow appropriate, inasmuch as dying at 48--only a handful of years older than my older sister!--can be appropriate. grant, the quiet heart of the band, whose voice rarely rose above that of a whisper, if only out of fear of disturbing the fragile beauty of his songwriting. grant was one of those people who never needed to do more than whisper, though : his talent drew you in, made you lean in closer to hear what he said, knowing that it'd be more than worth it. of course, i didn't know grant; stuart murdoch did, and in the belle & sebastian song "shoot the sexual athlete," of grant, he sings, "of all the stars / and all the would-be stars / i'd take him home, to my mum and dad / yeah, he's charming / but he's a trouble-maker too / he amuses me greatly"--which is exactly how i think he'd be and hope he'd be.

i did, though, spend time w/ him in a small room w/ a bunch of go-betweens fans at their first show in new york after they reunited. how wonderful that i got a chance to see them live! how wonderful that he & robert set aside differences and added to their legacy three wonderful albums while they could! how envious i am of you if you've the chance to hear his music for the first time!

what to post in his honor? i'd like to put up everything, but then you'd never buy the records and his family would never see the royalties (his mother outlived her child!). "cattle & cane" hurts too much right now; "dusty in here" is far too sad, the same w/ "the wrong road," even though it was the first go-betweens song i ever heard. i'll put up two songs : "bye bye pride," since i mentioned it earlier, whose message of setting aside one's pride dovetails nicely w/ an above parenthetical; and "haven't i been a fool," the jewel of his solo career, offered here in a version recorded for german radio w/ robert forster, 1) b/c the line "tell the funeral man i don't like powder on my face" is sung by robert, 2) b/c it's the arrangement he used at the show i saw and it brings back fond memories, and 3) b/c the two of them were always better together, esp. on the choruses, even when singing each other's solo material (and i hope robert gets on just as well on his own, personally & professionally). if you have go-betweens albums, keep them close tonight, and keep grant, his friends, and his family close to your thoughts. requiescat in pace.

the go-betweens - "bye bye pride" (from the talullah lp, available for purchase here.)
grant mclennan - "haven't i been a fool" (from the watershed lp, import available for purchase here.)

5 comments:

Ekko said...

you've got a cool blog. if you want to link to each other, let me know.

jon manyjars said...

Your statement, "I've never had a leader of one of my favorite bands die" makes clear how personal the loss of a public figure can feel. When Lennon died, I wasn't quite a teen, and felt the sense that we had all lost something. When Cobain died, I felt I was part of a generation whose elders would never understand the significance of his death and its circumstances. But when Elliott Smith died, I felt personally and deeply wounded, and it took days before I felt well again.

Michael A. said...

I just found out about this here, last night. I don't know what prompted me to check in on your site for the first time in a month - took you at your word when you said you were going on hiatus - but I'm glad I did.

And very, very sad too. This is dreadful. Pretty much everything you said about feeling the loss of a much-cherished someone in his prime goes for me too.

I posted my own GM tribute along with two of my favorite songs on my own site here.

Thank you. I'll be back more regularly after this. :)

fred said...

michael, i'm glad that you checked in. and sad for the circumstances. what's funny, in a grim way, is that the picture in the billboard obit has grant in the background. i'm sure he'd find it amusing and wouldn't dream of having it any other way.

g58 said...

I got to know the Go-Betweens in their second incarnation. I never saw them perform and could only hope their Oceans Apart tour would bring them to Canada. I listened wondering which songs were Grant's and which were Robert's.

"Finding You" is one of favourite GB songs. The best ballad of 2005 I think. The more attention I paid the lyrics in trying to contextualize the song, the more I was moved deeply by them. I imagined Grant referencing death at a time when my friends were dealing with the deaths of their mothers.

Now it's hard to for me to cry when listening to that song the way I so often did last year. Instead tears and anger meet my discovery of this sad recent news. Putting the art of their songs in perspective is difficult now. Time will change that I hope. But "Finding You" will never sound the same.