Saturday, 30 March 2013

Albums for Life: 29: Grant McLennan: Horsebreaker Star

Um... well, it's a record made, recorded in Athens Georgia, it's 24 songs, it's the biggest and boldest and warmest and lovingest thing I've done I think... I like it as much as 16 Lovers Lane and Before Hollywood... so that's kind of where I see it, and um, it's just a bunch of songs about footsteps and change and kind of, dirt roads, you know, underneath a sky full of stars. It's called Horsebreaker Star. Yeah, it's just a constellation that I invented. Basically I imagined my own bunch of stars and, I don't know, it just came to me as Horse Breaker Star. And so I hope that all the people were going down that road as well, it would be great. It's a peaceful place, it's a good place.

Some albums just wrap themselves around you.
'Horsebreaker Star' was Grant's open invitation to his world:

"I wanted it to be the kind of record that could be played by anyone, but not too obvious. You know, the London Symphony Orchestra doesn't have to do the ballads, Johnny Cash doesn't have to do the country songs. I don't like to be that predictable. I like surprises."

And what generosity! A double album that doesn't outstay its welcome; not once do I reach for the 'skip' button. For me, alongside 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' it's the best double album ever. Easy listening for sure, it's a gentle persuasion, and not the most challenging of music but, like that misshapen pullover that you reach for instead of the Prada, it's a perfect fit. It's impossible not to be taken by such easy charms; not so much a comfort blanket; more a rich tapestry that, upon closer inspection reveals itself as plain cloth and corduroy. But perfectly quilted and crafted. The humble perfections are heightened of course by the knowledge that the gentle heart no longer beats, but what riches were left behind.

I can't believe that, at the time of posting this, the only version of 'Open Invitation' on YouTube had but 18 hits. I've followed it by 'Simone and Perry' which, alongside maybe only Tom Waits' 'Kentucky Avenue' is guaranteed to have me blubbing by the end... 
'Chicken Skin' at 2.55. 
After the final clip I've posted something that I wrote in 'The Limbo Diaries, back in 2006.
I hate to quote myself (moi?) but it does seem relevant.
Come see the paradise indeed...


TJ: Chills... 'Simone and Perry' from 'Horsebreaker Star' was playing on the ipod 'select' as I heard the news this morning of Grant McLennan's passing. 
I've got a few skeletons in my musical attic, albums that haven't survived or aged well, but I'll pat myself on the back over The Go Betweens. I got there fairly early with 'Liberty Belle', fell for 'The Wrong Road' and, later, the mysteries of 'Cattle and Cane' and was forever smitten. The songs seem just as 'right' now as the did then; they breathe their very own exotic air, yet maintain a whiff of the mundane; something special to fuel anyone’s day. The sensibilities aren't male, or ‘cock ‘n’roll’, girl friends connected as much as I did. I loved the vulnerability of the poetry, and that, particularly with Grant, the songs seemed inclusive, "an open invitation" to his world, the songs going exactly where I hoped they would, (with a few twists along the way) me grinning like a loon as they did. There'd always be that 'favorite Beatle' discussion, Robert and Grant's bittersweet combination is beyond that, but I do love those solo albums; there are times when a cup of sweet milky tea is 'just right'.  
'Oceans Apart' was a welcome return, hearing 'The Statue' was like bumping into a best mate years down the line. Of course he'll be missed, but there's a big heart to be heard in his words and music. 
God bless him... I'm off to the attic to review my collection.


  1. Grant got dumped from my list on the "he's represented by that Go-Betweens album" logic. This is a great album that I have for some reason never spent enough time listening to even though I love it every time I do.
    What went wrong is a favourite - "can't find a kidney in Hong Kong."

  2. His other solos are all grand as it the 'Jack Frost' album that he did with Steve Kimberley of The Church. I can squeeze Grant in with a GBs album. Forester can go whistle...

    1. the jack frost one (well the 1st one, the 2nd one is not so hot) is a lost classic, and should have made my list but I chickened out thinking 3 GMc entries may be over doing it just a tad

    2. I ddn't realize that there was another JF...

    3. its called snow job or something - it is okay a bit more psychedelic and lacks some of the fragile nature of the 1st lp

  3. Nice piece. I think there was a spontaneity in these sessions that resulted in something special from GM. Also, Syd Straw's vocals essential in the dynamics. There's some magic going on there. Unlike his other albums, I can't say that I have a favorite tune here. But when I think of Horsebreaker Star, one little song "INTRO" has always come to mind. And recently I've experienced one of those serendipitous episodes to connect even more...

    A few weeks ago we were in Daytona Beach. It was "Bike Week"- an annual event where thousands of 'Easy Rider' wannabes from all over the world congregate to ride around in repetitious circles on their thunderous Harleys. Old, old farts sporting beards of grey, tattoos, leathers and of course their wrinkled old tattooed Mamas in tow. A lot of them are riding tri-cycles for obvious reasons. It's a nauseating week that we cheer to see wrap-up.

    Anyway, Myrna & I were chowing down on steak at the ever so posh 'Sonny's Rib-house' with our friends Mike & Tess... The tucker was scrumptious, however the riffraff patrons surrounding us... not! We were just finishing up dessert, some kind of huge chocolate volcano cake when I heard over the PA... "NEED SOME ACCENTS" - "WE SHUUURE DOOO!" and the strains of an obscure tune began to play. I sat there gob-smacked as "All Her Songs" filled the room. It was shocking and surreal to hear ANYTHING by Grant, GoB's or pretty much any music us folk here admire, played on radio or anywhere in America. I wanted to jump up and shout "Hey, that's Grant... Listen you bastards!" But of course I stayed silent, incredulous and pleased that someone had programmed that song. I don't know if it was satellite radio, some looped background music CD or whatever. All that mattered was that someone else in America liked Grant's tune, and I'd just experienced a little eternalized moment that only I could comprehend...

  4. Your Bike Week story reminds me of Ted Koosner's 'Tattoo':

    What once was meant to be a statement—
    a dripping dagger held in the fist
    of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
    on a bony old shoulder, the spot
    where vanity once punched him hard
    and the ache lingered on. He looks like
    someone you had to reckon with,
    strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
    but on this chilly morning, as he walks
    between the tables at a yard sale
    with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
    rolled up to show us who he was,
    he is only another old man, picking up
    broken tools and putting them back,
    his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

  5. Which in turn reminder me of the Ted Kooser (spelt correctly this time) poem 'Biker'

    Pulling away from a stoplight
    with a tire's sharp bark,
    he lifts his scuffed boot and kicks at the air,
    and the old dog of inertia gets up with a growl
    and shrinks out of the way

    We do get protective about our loved songs.
    I feel conflicted whenever A Simon and Garfunkle song comes up on the Karaoke machine...

  6. "the spot where vanity once punched him hard and the ache lingered on."

    Dammit that is brilliant! I'm not at all familiar with Kooser, but the biker poems you posted made me curious to investigate. I was led to several extended poetry readings by the man himself on Youtube. I had pictured an edgy Ted Hughes sort, but was surprised to find a self-described hobbit! I ended up in the bathtub listening to his readings from 'Delight & Shadows.' He's quite a captivating and charming storyteller; so much so that I became a puckered mess after 2 hours soaking in the tub! "A Box Of Pastels" "Splitting An Order" "The Beaded Purse" "A Deck Of Ponographic Playing Cards" "Abandoned Farmhouse" "Ray" "At Arby's"... so many gems.

    Kooser has an unpretentious style, simple and accessible to the hoi polloi like me. I know you appreciate concise observations of the mundane, and this fellow is a master of the form. I'm a little surprised you'd be attracted to the specificity of his Midwest purview... very American! I enjoyed the videos, but don't usually care for poetry readings; seems a lazy substitute for the magic in absorbing the written word. Is it just me?

    Anyway, thanks Trev for directing me to this gentleman's poetry. We've been so busy "living" lately that reading has taken a back seat. But I'm certainly picking up 'Delight & Shadows' pronto...

  7. Father

    Today you would be ninety-seven if you had lived, and we would all be miserable, you and your children, driving from clinic to clinic, an ancient, fearful hypochondriac and his fretful son and daughter, asking directions, trying to read the complicated, fading map of cures."


    "His hands flutter like birds,

    each with a fancy silk ribbon

    to weave into their nest,

    as he stood at the mirror

    dressing for work, waving hello

    to himself with both hands."

    A Rainy Morning

    A young woman in a wheelchair,

    wearing a black nylon poncho spattered with rain,

    is pushing herself through the morning.

    You have seen how pianists

    sometimes bend forward to strike the keys,

    then lift their hands, draw back to rest,

    then lean again to strike just as the chord fades.

    Such is the way this woman

    strikes at the wheels, then lifts her long white fingers,

    letting them float, then bends to strike

    just as the chair slows, as if into a silence.

    So expertly she plays the chords

    of this difficult music she has mastered,

    her wet face beautiful in its concentration,

    while the wind turns the pages of rain.

    'At the Cancer Clinic' always hits hard.
    I have Kooser on the bedside table in Corsica; I love his easy perceptions. He's a proper 'workman'; sleeves rolled up as he turns his phrases just so. He wrote a charming (but brief) memoir 'Lights on a Ground of Darkness' which is succinctly moving. Winter Morning Walks is great too; he shares thoughts/images with Jim Harrison in a ping pong of creativity.

  8. If you've not watched the videos, I'd encourage you. He reveals some wonderful insights into technique & the inspiration for dozens of his poems. Just stay away from the bathtub if you don't want to become a prune!

    I once held on my knees a simple wooden box
    In which a rainbow lay dusty and broken.
    It was a set of pastels that had years before
    Belonged to the painter, Mary Cassatt,
    And all of the colors she used in her work
    Lay open before me. Those hues she most used,
    The peaches and pinks, were worn down to stubs,
    While the cool colors, violet, ultramarine-
    Had been set, scarcely touched, to one side.
    She’d had little patience with darkness, and her heart
    Held only a measure of shadow. I touched
    The warm dusk of those colors, her tools,
    And left there with light on the tips of my fingers.