Saturday, July 14, 2018

I'll Keep You Right Here: In Which I Recall Meeting The Go-Betweens

I frequently say how the only time I ever cried (nearly) when meeting a celeb was when I stood in line to get an autograph from, and picture with, Ray Harryhausen. The rush of emotions at seeing the man who made so many creatures come to life in so many films from my formative years was just too much. I looked at Harryhausen's hands, busily signing autographs for appreciative fans, and marveled at how those digits had moved the heads of hydra in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), for example.

But, the truth is, that I very nearly welled up with emotion when I met Grant McLennan and Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens in D.C. in 1999. It's a memory I've been repeating in my head a lot lately, as I make my way through the superb Grant and I by Robert Forster. And as I devour that wonderful book, I've been on a quest to find my autographed Go-Betweens poster. See, I rarely got things autographed back in my record store days, and I didn't even get John Cale to sign anything when I met him or was corresponding with him some years back -- that's another story -- but when I saw The Go-Betweens in 1999 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., I figured I better get some tangible evidence (for future reminiscences) of the event. It was an especially important mission given that this was in the era before cellphone pictures were a routine thing. The poster that Robert and Grant signed was one I gave to my buddy Mike (for safe-keeping) when I sold off all my stuff and moved to Hong Kong in 2011. I didn't want to sell it, and it wouldn't have been easy to fit a poster into either of the 2 suitcases I took with me to the former British colony, the 2 suitcases carrying (nearly) every remaining possession I had.

I haven't been able to find any copy of the show listing, but I'm pretty sure that the mid-week event was billed as a Go-Betweens gig, and not a Robert Forster and Grant McLennan show. And this would make sense, given that this was about a year before the official Go-Betweens reunion in 2000 when the band released The Friends of Rachel Worth. There was a newspaper preview of the show, and the remarkable thing here is a reminder that the concert was only $10, which was a ridiculous bargain, even for 19 years ago.

The year earlier I had met John Cale at the 9:30 Club when he played there with The Creatures (Siouxsie and Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees), and so I knew that if I stood upstairs where the backstage doors were, I just might see a glimpse of Grant or Robert, or even get to say something to them -- something like how their music had filled my life with so much joy for so many years.

So, sure enough, there was a small line forming back there -- the concert wasn't a sell-out show, an amazing thing to consider now -- and it seemed as if the duo was going to graciously let fans come back and say hello. My friend Mike and I had snagged 2 promo posters from the walls of the club, posters promoting the recent release of Bellavista Terrace: Best of The Go-Betweens, a fairly decent compilation of the band's work, and the poster from the label was two-sided, a fact that would be significant later.

We get back and there are Grant and Robert. There was some kind of bunk-bed in the room, a bed that hadn't been there when I met Cale (just a long set of benches), and my memory says that the taller Robert was standing and Grant was laying on the top bunk so that their heads were nearly parallel when a fan approached. I approached. The songwriting geniuses were gracious and kind, very much the way I'd hoped they'd be. And as Mike and I asked them questions and expressed our love of their music, they seemed genuinely touched that there were fans like us in America.

When it came time to sign the poster, in a fitting, poetic bit of business, Robert signed one side, Grant the other. Robert signed in a flamboyant flourish, what one would expect of the guy who danced like Prince in the video for "Head Full of Steam", while Grant signed the flip with an admonition to "Hang in there", a phrase given extra poignancy by Grant's death at the young age of 48 only 7 years later.

The concert wasn't so memorable -- I barely recall much of that -- but meeting them was magical. For an indie-rock fan who'd met quite a few bands over the years -- and even had John Cale call him at work a few times -- chatting with Grant McLennan and Robert Forster seemed the sort of thing that would be hard to top. Ever.

And thank goodness my buddy found my poster. Memory jogged, tunes re-played, and Forster book clutched in my hand, I am content.

Oh, and I framed it Grant side up.

Robert Forster's signature...

And Grant McLennan's.