All posts tagged robert-forster

  • The Weekend Australian album reviews, December 2015

    I reviewed 15 albums for The Weekend Australian in 2015. Many of them were great, but the only five-star rating I awarded was to the below album, which was released in early August. The full review follows.


    HEALTH - 'DEATH MAGIC' album cover, reviewed by Andrew McMillen in The Weekend Australian, 2015That this Los Angeles-based electronic pop quartet insists on capitalising all of its song and album titles speaks to the confronting nature of the music it creates. DEATH MAGIC is the group’s third album, and its best: a futuristic and immersive marriage of electronic beats and pop sensibilities. Its style on previous records was rooted in the abrasive repetition of noise rock, and while that scaffolding remains in place, HEALTH has spent the six years since its last album, GET COLOR, perfecting an aesthetic which is entirely its own.

    Since 2009, the quartet has composed an eerie, atmospheric score for a popular video game, Max Payne 3, and according to an interview published on Pitchfork in April, they “made this record like four times”. The rewrites were well worth it.

    This is among the most vital and exciting albums to be released in any genre in any year. It is a masterpiece of staggering depth and immediacy. Each track pulses with energy and the optimism of youth, yet its overarching lyrical theme is an obsession with the end of life: “We die / So what?” sings guitarist Jake Duzsik on fourth track ‘FLESH WORLD (UK)’. “We’re here / Let go,” he intones atop an insistent backbeat and snippets of warped, metallic squalls.

    Wedged among the unrelenting darkness are two anomalously poppy tracks, ‘DARK ENOUGH’ and ‘LIFE’, which appear back-to-back in the middle of the set list. “Does it make a difference if it’s real / As long as I still say ‘I love you’?” sings Duzsik on the former track, while on the latter he reflects, “Life is strange / We die, and we don’t know why”.

    For a bunch of guys in their early 30s, this preoccupation with death is curious, but as fuel for their art, clearly it has been a boon. The mood that surrounds these themes is far more ebullient than funereal. In acknowledging its mortality rather than denying it, HEALTH seems to have replaced existential anxiety with self-confidence. First single ‘NEW COKE’ is the album’s darkest arrangement, wherein Duzsik’s ethereal vocals state a mantra (“Life is good”) that’s offset by waves of engrossing electronic distortion, like a plane crashing in slow motion. In the middle of the track, there are a couple of brief moments of silence, before the diabolical noise returns anew.

    Stylistic decisions such as these are perhaps influenced by the notion of “the drop” in electronic dance music: compulsive snatches of anticipated euphoria which spur the mind and body into action. DEATH MAGIC is a tough album to categorise: half pop, half electronica and wholly immersive, it is the sound of four singular musicians mining a rich, untapped vein of material. Defiantly, proudly, this band sounds like no other in existence. What HEALTH has come up with here is a towering achievement best played very, very loud.

    I also reviewed the below albums for The Weekend Australian in 2015. They are listed in chronological order, with the publication date and my rating noted in brackets.


  • Rolling Stone story: ‘The Go-Betweens Get Their Own Bridge’, August 2010

    A short story for the September 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, about The Go-Between Bridge opening in Brisbane.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the text underneath.


    The Go-Betweens Get Their Own Bridge

    by Andrew McMillen

    In the tradition of Melbourne’s ACDC Lane, Queensland now has Go Between Bridge. In 2009, Brisbane residents voted to name the city’s newest river crossing after The Go-Betweens, who formed at the University of Queensland in 1977 and went on to achieve international acclaim. On June 25 this year, Robert Forster marked the structure’s completion with a concert on the bridge itself. Ahead of the event, Forster described the naming as “heart-warming, and a bit surreal”. Forster opened with “Steets Of Your Town” from 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane. The song was written by band co-founder Grant McLennan, who died from a heart attack in 2006, aged 48. Beforehand, a crowd of 5,000 witnessed Yves Klein Blue, The John Steel Singers, Bob Evans and Josh Pyke perform adjacent to the silent Brisbane skyline.

    The above photo was taken by Brisbane-based music photographer Matt Palmer.

    Elsewhere: I reported on this show at length for Mess+Noise. I also interviewed Robert Forster for M+N’s ‘Icons’ series a few weeks before The Go Between Bridge opened.

  • Mess+Noise album review: Halfway – ‘An Outpost Of Promise’, July 2010

    An album review for Mess+Noise.

    'An Outpost Of Promise' album cover by Brisbane band HalfwayHalfwayAn Outpost Of Promise

    Call them alt-country, call them roots-rock. The accuracy of genre identification matters not, as at the heart of the matter lies a simple fact: Brisbane’s Halfway are damned good songwriters. That the key writing duo of John Busby and Chris Dale are past winners of the Grant McLennan Fellowship – a $20,000 Arts Queensland grant – is not surprising given the strengths of their third LP.

    Recorded by Wayne Connolly and featuring a Robert Forster production credit, it’s their most ambitious and considered work to date. Even at their most scintillating – ‘Sweetheart, Please Don’t Start’, a five-minute long, achingly beautiful epic – Halfway are characterised by a rare kind of understated cohesion. There are very few sharp edges on ‘Sweetheart’, and I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment: it’s the most gripping song here by a long way. Built on a recurring refrain (“Not like some old love/You’re more like the sea/A heart’s coming home, love/And they wash you to me”), it’s only in the final 90 seconds that the song is injected with a sense of urgency through an increase in tempo and the appearance of softly-distorted guitars.

    Full review at Mess+Noise, where you can also stream two tracks from this album. More Halfway on their MySpace.

  • Mess+Noise story: ‘The Go Between Bridge Opening’, July 2010

    A half-story, half-live review for Mess+Noise that discusses the opening of Brisbane’s newest river crossing, The Go Between Bridge.

    Go Between Opening: Here Comes A City

    ANDREW MCMILLEN reports on the historic opening of the Go Between Bridge on June 25, which saw artists including Robert Forster, Yves Klein Blue and The John Steel Singers pay tribute to The Go-Betweens’ legacy to Brisbane. Photos by ELLENI TOUMPAS.

    The Go Between Bridge concert in Brisbane, June 25 2010. Photo by Elleni ToumpasThere’s both beauty and irony in the fact that Brisbane residents voted to name their newest bridge after a pop band that found wider appreciation outside Australia, rather than within this city’s streets. That it’s a toll bridge, not a free crossing, is a moot point by now. Though this particular structure – which links South Brisbane to the Inner City Bypass and Riverside Expressway – won’t be open for business for a couple more weeks, today’s concert is a novel opportunity to experience the new construction alongside a soundtrack that links The Go-Betweens’ past to its present.

    Surprisingly for 4pm on a Friday afternoon, a significant early crowd has gathered to enter via gates on the western side. It soon becomes apparent that the majority in attendance are teens, presumably wooed in by the triple j-friendly fare on offer today. The John Steel Singers are in full flight atop a stage that stretches across four lanes. Their colourful music provides stark contrast to the threatening clouds overhead, and there’s a strong Forster connection too (he produced their forthcoming debut album Tangalooma). This afternoon they repay the compliment by providing a buoyant take on his ‘Too Much Of One Thing’ from the 2003 Go-Betweens album Bright Yellow, Bright Orange.

    Full story at Mess+Noise.

  • Mess+Noise ‘Icons’ interview feature: Robert Forster, May 2010

    My first feature for the Mess+Noise ‘Icons’ series, wherein Australian musicians of cultural significance are profiled at length. In this case, it’s a three-part story that consists of two hours in conversation with Robert Forster.

    Brisbane-based singer, songwriter and journalist Robert ForsterIcons: Robert Forster

    In the first of a three-part interview with Robert Forster – spanning his years in The Go-Betweens, his solo career and his new life as a producer and rock critic – ANDREW MCMILLEN chats to the Brisbane icon about his early years in The Gap, the Bjelke-Peterson regime and meeting longtime collaborator Grant McLennan.

    A group called The Go-Betweens emerged from Brisbane in the late 1970s. One half of its songwriting core was an arts student at the University Of Queensland named Robert Forster. With a head full of ambition, a desire for glamour and a hard-earned talent for writing pop songs, Forster would – alongside his best friend, Grant McLennan – eventually lead the band to cultivate a significant, yet disparate following across the world. While there was a decade-long gap in the band’s history during the 1990s, when both songwriters pursued solo careers, critical applause was loudest following the release of what would become The Go-Betweens’ ninth and final album, 2005’s Oceans Apart. A year later, McLennan passed away in his sleep, aged 48. Forster knew immediately that the band’s career was over.

    Since The Go-Betweens’ demise, Forster has occupied himself with an ongoing solo career – 2008’sThe Evangelist, his first solo effort in 12 years, was widely noted as among his best work – and an unexpected entrance into music journalism via an invite from The Monthly. That regular album review column led to the publication of his first book The Ten Rules Of Rock And Roll (2009, Black Inc Publications), a collection of his best reviews, and some additional prose, both fiction and non-fiction.

    On a rainy morning in May, I meet with Forster at a bakery nearby his home in The Gap, a suburb to the west of Brisbane. He had been briefed by his manager that I intended to discuss his career at length for this piece, and he more than played his part, proving an amicable conversationalist and answering my many questions thoughtfully and at length. Midway through our conversation, he pauses the interview and asks about the reliability of my digital voice recorder, as he’s looking to purchase one for future journalistic endeavours.

    As we talk, I come to realise that – although he denies as much during our interview – Forster’s exaggerated, livewire stage manner is very near to the off-stage persona he presents. Both sides of the man are informed by a relentless undercurrent of dry humour, deeply rooted in a sense of irony. He often responds in triplets – “Yeah yeah yeah”, or “No no no” – before confirming or clarifying my research. We speak for more than 90 minutes at the bakery, before he realises he’s late for a meeting. Three days later, Forster again slips into interview mode over the telephone with the ease of a man who has spent the majority of his adult life in the public eye.

    Full interview at Mess+Noise in three parts: part one here, part two here, part three here.

    Researching, conducting and editing this interview is the highlight of my journalistic career thus far, as I alluded to in my interview with Plus One. Speaking with Robert was a true pleasure.

    [Further reading: Forster in conversation with John Willsteed at Brisbane bookstore Avid Reader in November 2009.]

  • The Vine live review: Porcupine Tree @ The Tivoli, February 2010

    Here’s my first review for The Vine, a Fairfax Media-owned youth culture site. It’s of British progressive rock band Porcupine Tree [pictured right] playing The Tivoli on February 5, 2010. You can read it here.

    British progressive rock band Porcupine TreeI want to discuss this review from a writing perspective. Some background is required.

    If you’ve followed my writing over the years, you might have noticed that this review is a return to the long-form, descriptive style that I became known for when writing for

    To illustrate: compare my Bloc Party @ Riverstage, November 2008 review for FL to this Robert Forster @ QLD Art Gallery, September 2009 review for Mess+Noise.

    With the former, I fell into a style that prized observing facts over engaging with the subject matter on an emotional level. To me, the Forster review reads like it’s written from a calm place more conducive to expressing one’s feelings, than simply listing songs played and key musical moments.

    To illustrate, it’s less this:

    It seems that foul weather has sidestepped Brisbane’s sore and sorry suburbs this weekend: clear skies greet Bloc Party’s arrival onstage, and an overwhelming sense of unity sweeps across the capacity crowd. […] Following the guitar freak-out during Positive Tension’s bridge (“so fucking useless!”), Okereke’s closing words tease the crowd: “play it cool”. The searing guitar tone of that track and Helicopter number among the likes of Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out as the most memorable rock sounds to emerge from the United Kingdom this decade. (Bloc Party @ Riverstage, November 2008)

    Than this:

    For seven songs, Robert Forster is alone, armed only with six-string, voice, wit and stare. […] There’s no hint of melancholy in Forster’s delivery, nor sense of mourning among the crowd; [songwriting partner Grant McLennan’s death] happened three years ago, after all. I feel obscene for writing these words, like I’m prodding at Forster’s bruised heart for mentioning McLennan in this context. But more than the half-dozen times I’ve seen the man perform in the last few years, this stage configuration highlights the emotional distance between us and he. (Robert Forster @ QLD Art Gallery, September 2009)

    I mentioned earlier that I ‘fell into’ the descriptive style when writing for FasterLouder and street press because it’s the norm. It’s easy. It’s what the majority of street press writers do, and when I stepped into music writing, I paid a lot of attention to my peers within the local community. (I still do read street press, but now I find it most useful when viewed as a resource that highlights what not to do as a music writer.) [Clarification: I’m referring specifically to street press live reviews in this instance.]

    I feel that this style of writing is problematic purely because it is so safe. You can’t be wrong when you’re just listing songs played and key musical moments. I’m not saying that anyone can do that. More accurately, anyone familiar enough with a band and able to write coherently can do that.

    And if you can do that, if you want to call yourself a music writer or a music journalist – I alternate the two terms loosely, which may be problematic in itself – then that’s fine. You can get your name crossed off the list at the door and watch the band and write down the setlist in your notepad (or crib it from online forums) and write your little description and send it to your editor (who won’t fuck with your copy because it’s so inoffensive and beige) and get published and show your friends and perpetuate the delusion that you’re a worthwhile music writer just because you get published.

    If you’re reading this and getting pissed off, hey – I’ve been there. I was that person for nearly two years until I took this role seriously. (You can read more about that here – but I warn you, it’s reasonably incoherent.) Between July 2007 and May 2009, music ‘journalism’, to me, was putting my hand up to review shows that, 90% of the time, I knew I’d like. I’d show up with a friend and get my free tickets and have some drinks and maybe take some notes and if it was a weekend show, I’d write it up late on Sunday night to meet the Monday morning deadline. (I now write most reviews immediately afterwards.)

    If you view it in terms of free entertainment, as I did, there’s no problem. You might even embrace your mediocrity as a writer because hey, it’s a hobby, right? You can impress your friends by getting your named crossed off the guestlist. Seeing bands for free and getting paid (miserably) for it – the dream, right? High fives!

    After nearly two years, though, I could embrace my mediocrity no longer. You realise that publicists are quoting your published praise not because it’s good writing, but because your praise is so unashamedly hyperbolic that of course it’ll appear on the press release. Because at the time, as a ‘music writer’, I wasn’t sufficiently self-aware to realise that I was being so fucking immature.

    This is not to say that a good writer can’t praise a band. I still nominate to review shows by bands whose music I’m familiar with, and usually fond of. I’m not sure how to define it, but I think that an important self-realisation has to take place before a music writer can put aside the urge to praise and describe, and instead rely on gut instincts and feelings to shape their work. Still the best advice I’ve received is from Andrew Ramadge, who I think of whenever I write about music. The most important question I have to answer: what does it feel like?

    Returning to the Porcupine Tree review. It took me three or four hours to write, which is far longer than I’ve spent on any live review for Mess+Noise. In a way it feels like I’ve regressed, purely because of its length and my tendency to rely upon description instead of feel. As I’ve made clear, description without emotional engagement is for losers. There was some exposition about the potential hypocrisy of an internet-successful band disallowing the use of recording equipment, but as my first review for The Vine, I don’t feel that it’s particularly strong, or representative of my evolution as a writer.

    Why did I submit it if I wasn’t 100% happy with the outcome? I believe it’s because I was thrown by the show, and didn’t know how to write it any other way. I hadn’t seen a serious rock ‘production’ like that in some time, and while I was clearly impressed by the scope of their performance, I perhaps allowed myself to take the easy way out. I allowed my standards as a writer to drop, and I think it shows.

    Maybe I’m being over-cautious. Maybe I spent too long absorbed in a piece of writing that I can no longer tell whether it’s good or bad. (That happens sometimes.) What do you think? If you’ve read this far, I’d love your critical appraisal of my review, whether you’re familiar with Porcupine Tree or not.

  • A Conversation Between Robert Forster and John Willsteed, November 2009

    This is a conversation between Robert Forster, co-founder of Australian pop band The Go-Betweens, and John Willsteed, formerly of The Go-Betweens. It took place in Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookstore on November 9, 2009 to promote Forster’s first book, The 10 Rules Of Rock And Roll, which is a collection of his music writing for The Monthly magazine between 2005 and 2009. John: Hello there, I’m John Willsteed. Robert would like to do a song. [Forster plays ‘Pandanus’ from his 2008 album ‘The Evangelist‘; audio embedded below] I met Robert a little over 30 years ago. This is the first time we’ve been on the stage, I think, in 22 years. It’s not a stage. It’s a book shop. It’s very interesting. I think it’s intriguing that there is music; I like music in a book shop like this; it’s fantastic. It’s the meeting of these two things, music and writing, that we’re here for, because we’re talking about the release of Robert’s book. Why don’t you tell us what these 10 rules are? Robert: Alright, the 10 rules of rock and roll, which is the first section of the book and what the book is obviously named after, I’ll tell you them now.

    1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as dark.
    2. The second to last song on every album is the weakest.
    3. Great bands tend to look alike.
    4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour a day job.
    5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
    6. No band does anything new on stage after the first 20 minutes.
    7. The guitarist who changes guitars on stage after every third number is showing you his guitar collection.
    8. Every great artist hides behind their manager.
    9. Great bands do not have members making solo albums.
    10. The three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression.

    That’s the ten rules. I think they’re contentious rules. Robert Forster's 10 Rules Of Rock And RollYou can take umbrage with any you wish to do. Rock and roll needs rules, and I’m glad that you’ve finally laid them down. I like the idea of the two things coming together because rock and roll, theoretically, it’s supposed to have no rules. That’s what it is founded on, to an extent, or the myth is that it has no rules. Obviously, the point of the rules and the point of the book being named that is to bring these two things that normally don’t go together, rules and rock and roll, together. Is it true that in writing about music, which is what you now do, that’s not saying you don’t continue to make music; you obviously do, but in writing about music, do you apply rules? Are they similar? Yeah, one of them is I try not to put myself too much in each piece, or go to ‘I’, which is a great, great temptation. I pull myself out, because sometimes I have connections. In one of the pieces in the book, which is on Delta Goodrem, I review her last album Delta, and it’s her third album. I reviewed the album. I did that about two years. What I don’t put in the article is that when The Go-Betweens were doing their second to last album, Bright Yellow, Bright Orange in 2004 in Melbourne in studio, she was in the studio. I didn’t know who she was because I’d lived over in Germany for a number of years. You didn’t know who she was? No. I’d lived over in Germany for a number of years, and she’d sort of come through Neighbours and things like that. I think she’d had one or two hits at this stage. It was a studio complex and we were in the main studio and she was in a room mixing a single with an engineer. When we were taking breaks from recording, we’d been out playing ping pong and she was sitting over on the piano. There was an old upright, a bit out of tune, and she’d sit and sing; not in any sort of flashy way, but a really nice way. She could play piano. She had a really good voice. It sounded really good. I only found out who she was later, but she would sit there and play, not try and impress, just because she felt like she could do it for hours. I only discovered who she was at that moment and I only heard her records later, but a couple of years later when I came to hear her record and it seemed like an odd choice to review a Delta Goodrem album, I remembered that I’d had that experience. I didn’t put it into the review because I didn’t think it was needed. One rule is when to put myself in and out of the reviews. I suppose an earlier rule, in a sense, then, is what to choose to review. How do you get to a point of choosing what you want to write about? Perversely enough, it seems to be the ones that I think I know something about, or that I have personal experience with. A band like Franz Ferdinand, who I really liked, like right from the first album. They’re a Glasgow band. The Go-Betweens, in the very early ‘80s, were on a label called Postcard in Glasgow. We were around Glaswegian musicians like Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera; we knew these people. And so when Franz Ferdinand, these sort of four Glaswegian arty, hipsters came along in 2005 with the great first album, I loved the album and I would have loved it if I hadn’t have known that they were from Glasgow, but the fact that they were just brought it a little bit closer. When I was thinking of an album to review, I reviewed their second one. I put that in a review and there is a paragraph about Glasgow. It’s just from personal experience. That is part of the thing; that I have a connection, that I think I know something about the record, or the concert, helps. Delta Goodrem, yo It doesn’t explain Delta Goodrem [pictured left] yet, though. I always end up talking a lot about Delta. We can let it go. No, I’ll add to what I was saying. My niece had some of her records in the time between I’d seen her in the studio. She’d become a big star so I was aware of her and I actually quite liked a single of hers called “Born to Fly”, which I think is on her first or second album. If I had to choose ten great Australian songs over the last decade, I’d put Delta Goodrem’s “Born To Fly” in there. It’s a great MOR, big ballad. It’s a fantastic song, which she co-wrote, to her credit. It seems like there would be a danger in reviewing when there was no connection, and that would be the point where there would be a danger of bringing yourself into what you’re writing, or purely being about the technicalities of what you’re listening to if there is no connection. I would imagine the connections go way back with you into your past. That’s the reason why you choose Nana Mouskouri, to not only to see but to write about, and Glen Campbell, to listen to and write about. Is that a fair thing? It is, but at the same time, my ear and my eye goes to new things as well. Even something like Vampire Weekend, who I really like and I reviewed their debut album, and Vampire Weekend are 22 years old. I hear Talking Heads. It’s a New York band and I’ve loved New York bands since the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Velvet Underground, or New York Dolls, or Television. Vampire Weekend, although they’re 22 year olds and doing something really fresh, they go back. There is a myth about a New York band so that sort of plays in as well. I do try and have a sense of adventure in what I choose. I do try and not be predictable, which again plays to Delta, I guess. I came across Robert’s writings by just subscribing to The Monthly when it started, just because it was a great magazine. It not only had good cultural reviews, but it had good political stuff in it. I was really pleased; there are some choices that I was really pleased with the way you wrote. It was very familiar to me, for some reason. Maybe there is a familiarity that comes from you as a lyric writer, and you as a critic. There is something in your language which resonates between those things. There is a lot of me in what I write. I have a romantic view of rock and roll. I also have a sense of cynicism, perhaps. I know those two things don’t normally go together, but that helps me with my writing. I think they’re very common bedfellows, romanticism, and cynicism. I think people are passionate. I think people project fantasies onto bands and fantasies onto songs, and they always have. I think a lot of – and I’m not trying to do a critique of critics – but I think sometimes it can be quite dry. I think my feelings towards music are quite passionate, and I think people have records and songs that are all about a place, a time, and I think people are quite perceptive about music in terms of the structure of songs or choruses, or people just have a great knowledge about music and I think often reviewers don’t acknowledge that. I think also that there is a huge fantasy level. I think people do think about what it would have been like. When they hear a Velvet Underground record, they throw themselves into it in some bizarre way, or they hear a U2 record or whatever. I think people place themselves in those records. When music arrives, there’s something about context. There is something about what you feel when you hear something. There are historical points that I can follow back in time. This music comes from these places. Do you think it’s your role to point some of that stuff out, as a critic? I can’t help myself. Without sort of having a tone in what I’m write as though I’m lecturing, but when I hear a record, it does set off a sense of associations. Normally, even if I don’t put them down on paper, I follow those associations to see where they’re going to take me. The beautiful associations, they kind of put music in a history of songwriting and music-making. I suppose it becomes more like the folk music that it is, rather than the pop music that it seems to be. Robert Forster serenading, poolsideExactly. I am fantastic. That was brilliant, John. I’ve been bullshitting at the university now for a number of years. It’s being taped by the way. You can try it in your lectures. I found a typo on page 249, would you like me to – Tell me later. I wrote here, “There are things with which I concur.” Nash Chambers did a great job on that album [Rattlin’ Bones, by Kasey Chambers and  Shane Nicholson]. I’m really glad that you point things out like that sometimes, that people who were listening to something might not necessarily think in that way, and they might not necessarily look to a producer and think this person is intrinsic to this process. The reason I love listening to this thing is it’s not just about the song or the singer, but it’s about the way things sound, as well. I think with Nash Chambers, who is Kasey Chambers’ brother and he’s a record producer in Australia, where I think there is a lack of great record producers. When I hear one and I think he does good work, it’s like fairly country/alternative country field, but he makes really good records as a producer. When something like that happens, I like to mention it and he’s just done the new Angie Hart album, the former Frente singer, so he’s sort moving more now into pop, in a way. People are starting to see that can produce records, because his records are so well put together in a country context, that they could work in a pop context. [More “things with which I concur”] The Monkees are up there with the Velvets and the Beach Boys. Rick Rubin could be that caretaker at the caravan park. I think he probably is the caretaker at the caravan park. I have an observation. I’m full of observations. I’m really pleased that you wrote specifically about a song and specifically about “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” which I really love. It reminds me that you have a song called “Clouds” that I played guitar on. We both played guitars together. That song was in my mind as always being about the same sort of rhythm as what is in “Have You Seen the Rain”. I just really love the fact that you can pick a little thing like that and say this thing here is embedded, this rhythm can move from song to song, and generation to generation. Would you like to play another song? I will. I just want to say something about Creedence Clearwater Revival. There is a bit in the book, one page, where I wrote I was asked by The Sunday Times in London to write about a song. I wrote about “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Creedence, to me, have always been a touchstone for what I’ve done, as you pointed out, because to me they’ve always been a little bit like a Brisbane band. There is something about their rhythm and hearing Creedence in Brisbane; Creedence sounds different in Brisbane than it does in Sydney or Melbourne. Driving around in the car in Brisbane and hearing Creedence, to me they sound like a local band. I think it’s just that rhythm, the easiness of the music, the realness, the funkiness of it just… they always sound like they come from, like Toombul, or Nundah, to me. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, it’s a compliment! I sort of see them down by the canal there. On the way to the airport, hanging out under the railway line. It’s a good point. Creedence are at home in Brisbane. Are there other bands that are at home in Brisbane, do you think? Not so much as Creedence. A famous band – my other theory is that Brisbane reminds me a lot, now, of LA in the ‘60s; the climate and the layout of the city. Especially when I’m at The Gap, where we live, I half-expect to go down to the shopping center and see The Byrds. Not that Hitchcock sort of thing. No! There’s actually a photo in the latest edition of Mojo that has just come out. There is this big photo, double-page photo of Brian Wilson in 1965 or 1966. I pointed it out to Karin, my wife, last night. He’s got a baseball bat and he’s on a concrete front drive, and behind it is just a really dry hill. There are these funky sort of ‘60s low-set houses and cars on the street, and you would swear it was on the back streets of Brookfield, or The Gap. It’s amazing. I’ve often thought The Gap is like L.A. in 1965, and then I see Topanga Canyon and the whole thing. This is the fantasy we live out there! You’ve gotta have something! I know, and I saw this photo and it was like: evidence, there it is. Anyway, I’ll play a song. [Forster plays ‘He Lives My Life’ from The Go-Betweens’ 2000 album, The Friends Of Rachel Worth. It’s embedded below, but note this is not his performance from the bookstore.] I love Fiona’s shop [Avid Reader] and always have. You talked before about how there are connections between writing songs and writing words. My memory of you is that you were always a letter writer, as well. I don’t know whether that’s true or not. I just have an abiding memory of you writing letters home at a time when there was no email, and phone calls were expensive when we were traveling. Is there a progression? Do you feel that writing in this way isn’t something you would have done 20 years ago, but at this point in your life this is the right time for this? If so, is there a place with writing where you’re heading? Is this part of your journey now? Very good question. Thank you. I’m happy to do reviewing at my age. I think I’d have been unbearable if I’d have had this power and this access when I was 28. I think I would have been unbearable and I would have shot myself in the foot and I would have been going all over the place. I’m pretty happy that it’s come. I started reviewing when I was 48. It’s actually a good time for me to be doing this. It was a leap. I keep a diary and I keep books that last about a year and a half, filled with everything, like poems, what I did that day. I don’t write in it every day, but it’s a real mish mash that I keep, that I have these books. There are a lot of starts over the years, like a fantasy, it was a novel – or short story. I’d read it the next day and put it away. There are all those starts, and in a way, when I started to write for The Monthly it was great because it was nonfiction. I found I could write these paragraphs for these reviews. Right from the first review, when I sat down and wrote the very first review on Antony and the Johnsons album, I found that I could write paragraphs and live with them the next day, and keep on writing, and then live with what I wrote the next day, which is something I could never do with anything else I ever wrote in terms of fiction and short stories. So there is a real freedom in that, then? There is, and amazingly enough, I’ve always been – I was blind to it, but I’ve always been a non-fiction reader. Whenever I come to a book shop, it’s biography, history; I’ll read anything. Some of my favorite books are just off-beat; Sammy Davis Jr.’s first autobiography, Gloria Swanson’s autobiography, Swanson on Swanson. This sort of stuff, I’ll read. I lent you a book on Willem de Kooning, which you gave back to me… I've come to believe that Forster wears a black suit everywhere he goes I didn’t read it. You looked at the pictures. I didn’t even look at the pictures. It was a door stop. You sat on it maybe as a cushion? [laughs] I’ll read a really thick book on Willem de Kooning, that’s got really good reviews. I’ll read that, and I have a passing interest in his art, but I love the story and things will come out to me that will be a lot like de Kooning, one of the great 20th Century artists; he didn’t have his first solo show until he was 45. I found that amazing. I found that enriching, and a great fact to know. I’ve always been a biography reader so it’s really no surprise that I enjoy dealing in facts with a little bit of imagination as opposed to, you know, “Cecilia Page lived down at Redcliffe Pier and had 15 children…”. I don’t just leap off into a story. It seems beyond me. The biography thing, one thing I particularly like in the book is the Normie Rowe piece, which is one of two pieces of fiction in the book. The other piece of fiction is quite light, and almost a little folly, or something. I feel like the Normie Rowe thing I really quite substantial in some ways, yet at the same time, it’s almost a mock-autobiography or something. Is that something that you think you would pursue more? I do, I can imagine writing an ‘I’ – first person biography – that you would think would be my life, but would be entirely someone else’s life. I like playing with that idea. I’ve got another one that is similar to “The Coronation of Normie Rowe”, which is in the book, called “Art World”, which places me as an artist in New York. And I know Robert Hughes, and I’m painting people up on the Upper West Side, and I have nothing to do with the downtown art scene. I started [writing] this, and it has nothing to do with my life, but I do all of this and I’m hanging out with people, and they’re real names, so that it feels real and that it’s historically correct, but the whole thing is a pretense. And I like that. I like that too. I’d read that, unlike that Willem de Kooning book! That’s great. There was something else I was thinking. It’s a bit like a song, in a way. It is. With my songwriting, it stays quite close to what I do. I don’t have any songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby‘. There isn’t anything like that in anything other than my back catalogue. There is nothing. I have to be careful with this because I’m scared that I’m just throwing my life at people all the time, so I try and disguise it and play with a little bit so it’s not just one long 30-year confessional. I try to play with it. I don’t really do leaps off into characters. One of the pieces that was in The Monthly, reasonably recently, was a review of the two David McComb books. Would you like to talk about him, and those for a minute? That was a beautiful piece. I really liked that. David McComb from The TriffidsDavid McComb from The Triffids [pictured right]. Amazingly enough, they were one band that Grant and I, in the late ‘70s, we didn’t feel like there was any other band in Australia that was really close. We read about in Ram Magazine or something – this is 1979 or 1980 – about this band over in Perth who were into The Velvet Underground and Dylan, and also Talking Heads and Television, and Grant and I went “okay!” This is years before we met them. We had a feeling about the band before we starting playing shows with them. We played a lot of shows in Australia with The Triffids when they lived in Sydney in the early ‘80s. I wasn’t really all that close to David. I played tennis with his brother Robert, and that’s a strange way. I guess it’s history now, but you play tennis with Robert McComb, the brother, and I was a lot closer to him than I was to David, although David was the other songwriter in a band like myself. Yeah, not particularly easy to know, either. He was a little aloof. Yeah, he was, but I liked David a great deal. There’s a book about David McComb called Vagabond Holes, and I write a remembrance of it. It’s based on three songs. I once ran into David on the streets of Darlinghurst in 1983, ’84. The Triffids had just put out a record, I think it was an EP, and it had a song called “Red Pony” on it, which I loved. When I ran into David, it was very early in Darlinghurst Streets. I’ll play “Darlinghurst Nights” next. I ran into David on the street at about 8:00 in the morning and I said to him how much I liked “Red Pony”, if he’d show it to me on guitar. I was at a house about two days later and he knocked on the door and he had a guitar. He played me the song and it was a beautiful moment that he just remembered, and he came around, and he found out where I was, and he played me this song. There was a drunken party about three years later in London. It was a drunken party and I was drunk, and I went up to David and they’d just put out ‘Born Sandy Devotional‘ and I said, “I really love ‘Wide Open Road’. Would you play it to me sometime? He said, “Now!”. We walked into a bedroom, this crazy ‘Australians in London’ party, and he just sat on the bed and I sort of crouched down and he played me ‘Wide Open Road’ on a guitar. Then it was like, “Okay, we can go back to the party.” I was just watching his hands. I can’t play it now, but it was these big strummy chords. And the third song is in 1995 or 1996 I was playing down in the Continental Café, which is a venue down in Melbourne. He was DJing that night and I was playing acoustically by myself. I knew David was DJing on that night, and just before I went on he played this song called “Mississippi” which is off an album and he and I both loved. It’s by John Phillips from the Mamas & The Papas, who put out a great solo album called “Wolf King of L.A.”, which he wrote a biography many years later which he devoted half a page to this record. It’s a fantastic solo record. I love the record and so does David. We used to talk about it. He played a song from it just before I went on stage, which was a really lovely “hello”. That night, after the end of that show, ’95-’96, I was staying at a hotel in town and he and his girlfriend drove me into town because I was going to get a taxi and he and his girlfriend said, “No, we’ll drive you into town.” We went into the city and I got out of the car to say goodbye and said I’d take my bags, thanks for driving me into town. I walked around the back of the car, and I got my guitar – this guitar, actually – and my bag out, and David was standing there. I said, “Thank you for dropping me off, thanks for DJing, thanks for playing ‘Mississippi’” and he got in the car, and that was the last time I ever saw him. He died about three years later, but he was great. I’ll play ‘Darlinghurst Nights‘, dedicated to David McComb. John: Maybe I should open it up a bit and invite questions. I’ve talked enough. Would anybody like to ask Robert a question? The Go-Betweens' Send Me A Lullaby cover art, by Jenny WatsonAudience: My name is Jenny Watson, and I did the album art for [The Go-Betweens album] ‘Send Me A Lullaby’ [pictured left]. Robert, I want to ask a question about when you walked into my flat and saw those small canvas paintings, and I’d only had five exhibitions and you said, “You’re doing our next album cover”. Are you usually that decisive in your business dealings? Because you were more decisive than any top-notch art dealer, I can tell you! Thank you, Jenny. I try and follow my instincts. That has got me into trouble at times. John: Are you impetuous? Not impetuous, but it’s like the idea of Brisbane is LA 1965, 1966; how far do you take that? John: All the way, baby! Oh well, it can get you into trouble and you can find that you’re trying to do something that the rest of the world doesn’t understand, which could be difficult. No, I try and – also the other thing is when I see great work before me, I always hope that I recognise it. I did on that circumstance, and I try and do that whenever I can. John: It’s a big thing, isn’t it, Jenny, having some of your work put on somebody’s album cover and spread around the world. Jenny: It was fantastic. It was in a book called ‘The Best 500 Record Covers in Rock and Roll’. Thanks for the publicity! John: Anybody else have a comment, statement, or a question? Audience: I’m really interested in the fact that the writing in this book is so beautiful. Just if you pick it up and read the first essay, you’ll realise that you’re in the hands of a master writer here. Stuart Glover, who is head of creating writing at the University of Queensland, said exactly the same thing. I wonder when you said that you will read any non-fiction; do you have non-fiction work that you won’t read? Do you have a filter where you say the writing has to be of great quality, or is it just the subject for you? No, there has to be quality with it. A great biography writer is someone like Richard Elman, who wrote a very good book on Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce. He’s one of the masters. John Richardson, at the moment, is writing a great biography. It’s his third volume on the life of Picasso. They’re fantastic books. There has to be a certain standard to keep me there, but I think it can also go – and something that I’ve always been interested in, is going-high brow and low-brow. It’s not indiscriminate taste, but I see value broadly, but there is a limit. I do have an autobiography of Shaun Cassidy, which I bought at an art shop, which I refuse to read. This was published in the mid ‘70s. I don’t touch it. Knowing you have it is enough. It is. No Alain de Botton, any of that sort of stuff? No, no. What about the Dylan book? That’s an interesting autobiography, isn’t it?Chronicles‘? Yeah, I leapt on that, and that is a great book. In a rough way, I template if and when I write something that’s biographical about myself; that would be a book that I would always have in mind. I think Dylan’s done an astounding job on that book. There is something surprising about it, in that style. It is. Would you like to be that unpredictable, I suppose, or it’s not impetuous. No, I think if I did write – I wouldn’t write my autobiography, I don’t think, but if I wrote something biographical I think I would have to, in a way, break the mold or play with the form the same way I have done with The Monthly, the same way I have with that song I just played, “Darlinghurst Nights”, which doesn’t really conform to many rules as a song. It’s melodic and has a sense of poetry and information giving about it, which are all important to me, but if I did write something like that, then I would like to certainly play with the form. It’s not going to start, “It was a blue day in Brisbane in the 29th of June, 1957 when Robert Forster came into the world.” I can’t do that. I’d buy that. Do you ever feel like you have nothing to say? Sometimes, do you ever feel, “I have nothing to say”? No, unfortunately I don’t find myself in that position. John: That was very quick. [laughs] Anybody else out there have a question? Audience: On ‘Darlinghurst Nights’, I want to thank you, because that’s such an evocative song. Thank you for playing it. As a long-term resident of Darlinghurst in those years, I saw the Go-Betweens play their first show there in 1980, at the Paris Theatre, where Grant played with his back to the audience most of the night. Jeffrey Wegener and Ed Kuepper of Laughing ClownsReally? See, this was the first show that the Go-Betweens ever played in Sydney at the Paris Theatre in 1980. The Paris Theatre has now been demolished. The bill for this night was The Go-Betweens on first, the Laughing Clowns on second, and The Birthday Party on third. It was a great bill. We’d actually headed down by train – Lindy [Morrison], Grant [McLennan], myself – and we went to the back of the Paris Theatre. We didn’t know anyone and we sat in the stalls in the darkness and watched the Birthday Party and the Laughing Clowns [half of the band pictured right] sound check. We were completely spooked. We just wanted to crawl out of that theatre and get back on the train and come back to Brisbane. We stayed and played, but I did a signing yesterday in Newtown and I met someone else – the first time, in almost 30 years, I met someone that was at that show. That’s the first time in 30 years, and now you’re the second. That’s amazing. John: I’m surprised you remembered. Was there a question? I’m sorry, I’ve just taken off. Audience: I’m glad to hear that. I’ve just wondered if you’d been to Darlinghurst in recent years, and what it evokes today when you go there? I have been. It’s quite different because in the early ‘80s, the roads coming up on the hill, like Taylor Square, a street going down to Williams Street. Crown Street had one-way traffic that was like a blitz going through all hours of the day. There is a lot more traffic, life, and noise in Darlinghurst. I’ve been there 5 years ago and it was very quiet. Is it better or worse? I don’t know, but it was the early ‘80s when we were there. It was very active, and there were a lot of people that I knew living around that area. Audience:Two weeks ago I walked from Central up through to Taylor Square, through all these old streets and lanes that I used to walk through. It’s very quiet now. It’s quite dull, really. It is. There used to be “No-Names”, the restaurant, but it used to be the place outside The Cross in Sydney where you could get a coffee. Reggio…? Audience:Reggio is still there, I think. They used to sell very, very strong coffee there that would keep you up for about three days. A lot of people create a lot of work on this; it was high-octane coffee. It was like one or two cups of this stuff and you’d honestly be chain smoking ten cigarettes and you’d be up for about three days. John: Babbling in Italian. Ed Kuepper used to drink a lot of those! A lot of Laughing Clowns material was written on this coffee that Ed was drinking down there. John:I gave up alcohol and drugs at one point, and the thing that I survived on for the next few years was ‘duplos’, like double, short, blacks from Darlinghurst. I didn’t mean to say that thing about the, you know, with the ‘D’… Has anybody else got any questions they might like to ask? We’ll make this the last question. Audience:It’s kind of two questions. Is there something you won’t review, and also how did you make the selection for what when into this book? There are things I won’t review. I was very wary of Australian artists for the first two or three years when I was reviewing for The Monthly. I was almost scared. If you look at the reviews that I did in The Monthly for the first couple of years, a lot of it is overseas. It’s almost like I was careful and as I said before, I didn’t want to come in with this ‘boots ‘n’ all’ attitude. I feel a lot more comfortable with it now, like this year I wrote a big review on Paul Kelly’s double CD about his career, which I would have never done the first two years. I wouldn’t have had the confidence. It was quite natural. I saw the record in Rockinghorse, on the wall, and I went, “I can do that,” which I wouldn’t have been able to do before. There are certain areas I don’t go within Australian music because I know the people and I don’t really want to go there. What’s the second part of the question? Audience:How did you make the decision for what when into the book? Some of the things I left out were the reviews I wrote in the first year. I re-read them and I think I started settling into a rhythm about eight months in, where I thought I was writing well. I started to keep them. There is not much from the first eight months. I dropped quite a few things. I think also, at that stage, when I started writing for The Monthly in April 2005, The Go-Betweens were just putting out ‘Oceans Apart‘ which would be the last album. The Franz Ferdinand piece, I remember I wrote a lot of it in a hotel in Madrid, a day off. I had to send it back to Melbourne. I dropped the Bill Callahan one, which is all over the place. It’s about a Smog album. Right now, it takes me two weeks to write them. I don’t know how I did this, but I wrote the complete Smog review in a hotel in Canberra, and we were playing that night. I wrote the whole thing; woke up, knew I had to do it, spent the whole day in a motor inn, in Canberra in my pajamas, and just had people delivering coffee. I knew I had to be at the sound check at 4:30pm. I got out of bed around 9am. I listened to the record quite a few times and I just wrote the whole day. I think William Holden could play you in a movie! Robert Forster one of his 230 ties. I just made that up, btw. There’d have to be a couple of whiskey bottles then, I think. But no, I left that out [of the book]. To me, when I read it again, it read like it was written in pajamas on a lot of coffee, in a Canberra motor inn, in one day. I just thought “no, that can’t go in”. I think after the first 8 months, I think I’m a lot more consistent. There are a couple of pieces that I left out after, where I just failed. The other thing that I have to admit is I started this at 48. I wrote a piece on Lucinda Williams’ ‘West’ album about two years ago. I just didn’t get it. It was messy when I handed it in, and I just failed. That happened one other time as well. I’m not a journalist that’s had 15 years experience, done university, worked at The Courier-Mail, worked at Sydney Morning Herald, done stuff overseas. I’m not that journalist. I’m still failing. I’m still messy, and I still miss what I’m trying to get at, every now and again. You’re getting better. I am getting better, but it’s still scary. Month by month. Thank you very much, Robert Forster. Thank you. Thank you for coming along. I appreciate it. John Wilsteed, everyone! Fiona: Robert, Avid Reader would really like to thank you because you had a sell-out session last week, and because of the sell-out you agreed to a second session. You’ve had 200 people in Avid Reader listen to you, which has never happened in the history of Avid before. Thank you so much for your generosity. Thank you for coming along! More on Avid Reader at their website; more on Robert Forster at his.