Sunday, May 21, 2006

Grant McLennan

Catching up recently with Simon Reynolds’ excellent Blissblog, a simple little statement, almost hidden away beneath a substantial piece of text, caught my eye, though I wished, immediately, disbelievingly, that it hadn’t. It read, succinctly, ‘RIP Grant McLennan’. After a brief, stunned pause to reflect but not really digest, I Googled for some substance behind this headline, soon finding confirmation of the sad fact that, indeed, this mightily talented man had passed away, suddenly, on 6th May, at a mere 48 years of age. An official tribute & many responses may be found on the Go-Betweenswebsite, a fitting selection of warm comments here & a really nice, personal, blog entry here. Personally, given the quality of Grant’s work over the last 25 years, most notably as one half of The Go-Betweens’ songwriting partnership, with Robert Forster (whose contribution mustn’t be overlooked or forgotten at this time), & my abiding & profound love of those songs & that band, such is & will surely remain a particularly keenly-felt loss. Deepest sympathy to those who loved, knew & worked with him.

From first hearing the dreamlike, haunting refrain of ‘Cattle & Cane’, somehow different & inexplicably magical, way back when, on to the melancholy beauty of ‘Bachelor Kisses’ via Robert’s ‘Man o’Sand to Girl o’Sea’, courtesy of the mid-80s Sunday night team on Radio Merseyside (the ’Tweens being, most unusually for those times, not a ‘Peel band’), I was seduced by the wonder & warmth, the intelligence, the quiet, subtle yet intense passion, the essential humanity, of these songs, & all those subsequent gorgeous, timeless, life-affirming tunes, the beautiful bittersweet compositions, the irresistible sing-along favourites, the wit, wisdom, emotion & rare articulacy of the lyrics (“The rain hit the roof with the sound of a finished kiss”, from ‘The Wrong Road’, to quote but one example among numerous poetic gems).

Grant McLennan wrote so many wonderful songs, from ‘Cattle & Cane’ on, in particular those on the 4 albums spanning the period of the Go-Betweens’ most intensely flourishing creativity & true, untouchable greatness – ‘Spring Hill Fair’, ‘Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express’, ‘Tallulah’ & ‘16 Lovers’ Lane’ – that serve, & will continue to do so, as a fitting monument to his talents & memory: ‘Bachelor Kisses’, ‘Unkind & Unwise’, ‘The Ghost & the Black Hat’, ‘The Wrong Road’, ‘In the Core of a Flame’, ‘Apology Accepted’, ‘Right Here’, ‘Someone Else’s Wife’, ‘Bye Bye Pride’, ‘Hope Then Strife’, ‘Love Goes On’, ‘Quiet Heart’, ‘The Devil’s Eye’, ‘Streets of Your Town’ - classics all, informed by & infused with a unique sensibility that communicates intimately, personally, yet has a universal quality, such was the man’s great gift, so generously shared. Each & all are songs that, once heard & touched by, remain in the heart & mind, as precious as dear friends & loved ones. Listening to those albums in tribute, & also the 3 more recently released collections from the reborn partnership & band, gratefully welcomed back after their 90s hiatus (how lovely & comforting it was to hear 'Magic in Here' opening 'The Friends of Rachel Worth', for example, or 'Poison in the Walls' from 'Bright Yellow, Bright Orange', like old, dear friends returning & seeming, immediately, to never have been away), the songs remain as wonderful as they ever were, familiar yet, with their subtle, layered depths, ever interesting, fresh & rewarding, & - acknowledging Robert Forster’s equal if different but complementary contribution in each case – I’m not alone in regarding ‘Liberty Belle’ in particular as one of the most perfect of all time. Certainly it’s a great work of art, & is one of my most favourite LPs, of any band, anyway. Aw, shucks, they're all great & it's a damn shame there won't be any more now.

Among the many splendours of ‘Tallulah’, it occurred that no one else has written a song quite like, for instance, ‘Someone Else’s Wife’ (which still features one of the most delightful endings to a song, courtesy of Amanda Brown’s violin, ever) - most other pop music sounds so shallow, so illiterate, lyrically & emotionally, in comparison (although, of course, that's perhaps it's very raison d'etre!) - & few have written anything to surpass the magnificent ‘Bye Bye Pride’, perhaps my particular favourite of Grant’s songs, just pipping ‘The Wrong Road’ (or any number of those previously mentioned) most times, first heard, with alternative lyrics, as part of an Andy Kershaw radio session that preceded the album’s release, loved then & to this day.

It’s sad & a terrible shame to have to write of Grant McLennan’s passing, but I know I’ll dive, frequently, into the welcoming depths of those beautiful songs he gave & left, for the fondest of memories. Thanks, Grant.

Listen yourself to the magic of The Go-Betweens, it’s what your ears are for &, under the sad circumstances that make their special songs all the more precious & their beauty all the more poignant, it’s the very least you can do, in honour. And read David Nichols' excellent biography of the band, erudite & packed with entertaining anecdotes, too, to get to know them & their art better still.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Red Doors Revisited

A peripatetic working life has of late afforded the opportunity of returning to the location where I previously encountered those most aesthetic pairs of Gary Humesque red gloss doors (see this post) & of thus taking some photos, which, although offering but a very poor substitute to the actual experience of the real thing, illustrate something of the visual attraction of the doors, their physical nature & qualities of the paint surface, etc. The images are hereby presented in a form that is intended to equate in some way to the experience as lived, in time & space, of approaching & traversing the areas around & before the doors, observing the play of light over the gloss surfaces & always being returned to the insistent physical nature & aesthetic, painterly quality of these wonderful things.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Meyer’s Minimalism

Two months between updates is far too long a gap, but at least part of the hiatus has been spent most profitably, reading James Meyer’s wonderful ‘Minimalism: Art & Polemics in the Sixties’, an exemplary work of art historical scholarship which contextualizes the work & its coming-into-being of Judd, Morris, Flavin, Andre, Truitt & others within the theoretical, critical & philosophical debates of its time, most enlightening & re-inspiring, given the engagement I formerly enjoyed with, particularly, the theoretical issues surrounding such practice: it’s high time to get back on that particular wagon & then processing such thinking in some practical form.