Grant and I – Robert Forster Tex – Tex Perkins
They fronted two of my favourite Aussie bands. They are two legendary outfits – even if, with one in particular, the legend outweighs the legacy. Their bands are not top rung – never came within close proximity to the international sales of, say, AC/DC, INXS, Little River Band, Crowded House and certainly never had the following of Cold Chisel or the Oils. They weren’t perhaps even second tier, but the Go-Betweens and the Cruel Sea are loved by thousands and their respective auras only enhance as the decades pass. And, as to be expected, what you see on stage is what you get reflected in the style of the two books. ‘Grant and Me’ is written by the bombastic, eccentric and cross-dressing co-lead of the band Brisbane City Council, appropriately, named a bridge after. Call it somewhat high-brow if you will. Tex Perkins – only his mum calls him Greg – is the other author, assisted by acclaimed journalist Stuart Coupe. He gets his story sufficiently down there and dirty. Call it low brow.
Forster makes the Go-Betweens sound greater than the sum of the whole. In their first incarnation they were, at best, just staying one step ahead of struggle-town, even succumbing to the enormity of the task on occasions. They never really made it then – just had glimpses of what could be if they could hold their shit together. They rarely did for an extended period. They were the real deal, but the cards they were dealt always weren’t quite the full hand. Commercial success, with the exception of only one certifiable hit (‘The Streets of Your Town’) didn’t really come their way then. The hard graft of paying their dues eventually caught up with them as, in Fleetwood Mac style, relationships tore the group asunder in the end.
Along with that other unique outfit, the Saints, the Go-Betweens were a product of Joh’s Brisbane – Hicksville in other words. Both bands attempted to take their music to the world with shambolic optimism, only to return to Oz with their tail between their legs. Both collapsed in the after-story. Forster’s band did reform around the turn of the millennium, but things were still strained between the personnel, even if their approach was far more professional. They had some success and the future again seemed full of potential, but all that was snuffed out with Grant McClennan’s untimely passing in 2006. Forster struggles on as a solo act and wit about town, still, no doubt, a legend in his own lunchbox. I like the man and I buy his quality albums, but for all the gilding of the lily, the story of that terrific band is one of what might have been. But still their songs were quite sublime – and such treasures as ‘Cattle and Cane’, ‘Lee Remick’ (Forster meets her), ‘Quiet Heart’ and my favourite, ‘Dive For Your Memory’ are timeless.
And, in a lovely segue, Tex Perkins writes of seeing Forster and his mates performing at the Exchange Hotel, Fortitude Valley when he was a young buck, back in ’81. Tex is pure rock’n’roll; perhaps our answer to Keith Richards. He’s had a life, but has never aspired to the glory, unlike Forster – or that’s how he would have us believe it. He is perhaps better known these days for presenting an authentic Johnny Cash tribute to the punters all around Oz. But he is, as well as was, so much more. I’ve seen his impersonation. It’s great and he is touring the land again as I write with it. Tex, living up to his name, has never hid his love of country music, despite fronting some of the best pub-rock bands Australia has produced. He writes candidly of his days with Tex, Don and Charlie, the Dark Horses, the Beasts of Bourbon (a new album on the way) and the one that I’m enamoured of, the Cruel Sea. We even had his take on the supposed piss-take that was the Ladyboyz.
My entry into the joys of Tex came in reverse fashion – with the Cash show, then a duet he did on RocKwiz with Clare Bowditch, ‘Fairytale of New York’, that made me sit up and take notice. Then I discovered the Cruel Sea and I was sold on him. As you would expect, after years in the industry, Perkins tells some great yarns, especially about close encounters with rock royalty that didn’t quite go to plan – Mick J, PJ Proby, Kurt Cobain etc. Tex is as much about the swagger as anything else and that is the way in which this very readable tome is composed.
Along with Forster, he has earnt his place in the local rock pantheon, but unlike the former, I bet he couldn’t really give a dam – or so he would have us believe.
And as to which I relished the most? Well, Tex wins hands down. Telling it how it was will always win hands down.