Life can be cruel
The Go-Betweens were blessed with not one, but two brilliant songwriters and indeed a remarkable drummer. Robert Forster (currently holding forth on the 2nd Floor of the Tower of Song) has the more self-conscious and arty writing style, whereas Grant McLennan’s wore his heart more obviously on his sleeve. Much more prolific than his bandmate, Grant had the facility to pepper his songs with poppy hooks and there was more sunshine in his writing. It was in Grant’s songs that the songwriters’ shared love of The Monkees was more evident.
It was Grant who penned Cattle and Cane, I’ve described elsewhere in the Tower as 'a perfect Proustian pop minature' and also this gem, Black Mule.
I first came across the song on a live DVD of the Go-Betweens but the studio version hails from his solo album Watershed. It is an accomplished piece of storytelling, akin, in my mind, to Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm. The song, which is both cinematic in scope but economic, tells the mythical story of a man whom a nun rescues from being beaten to death. After nursing him to health, this guardian angel tells him to “Go into the world and take a look.” The kicker comes in the final verse wherein the man is blown up by a car bomb. There is no hiding as Grant McLennan sums up: “Life can be cruel.’
Indeed it is, on 6th May 2006, on a Saturday afternoon while preparing a housewarming party, Grant McLennan, died of a heart attack. He was 48 years old. Gone too soon for sure, but leaving a treasure chest of songs that I am sure will become increasingly valued as more people discover the work, just as the music of Nick Drake has become more widely known and treasured over the years.