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Grant McLennan, 48; Co-Founder of Australian Pop Band the Go-Betweens

Times Staff Writer

Grant McLennan, a founder of the literate and bittersweet band the Go-Betweens, which had lately experienced one of pop music’s rare Indian summers, died Saturday at his home in Brisbane, Australia. He was 48.

The cause of death had not been determined. Robert Vickers, the band’s former bassist, said McLennan decided to rest after setting up for a party. “When people started to arrive they went to wake him up, and they couldn’t wake him up.”

The Go-Betweens, described by the All Music Guide as “the quintessential cult band of the ‘80s,” released six albums during its initial run, including “16 Lovers Lane.” While the group never dominated the charts, it had modest hits with the songs “Spring Rain” and “Streets of Your Town,” acclaim from critics, kind words from U2 and a spot opening for R.E.M. before breaking up at the end of 1989.

McLennan, the cherubic, easy-going member of the group, which also included Robert Forster, afterward made several country-influenced solo records.

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“Grant McLennan’s songs have a wistfulness that always reminds me of afternoon sunlight,” The Times’ pop music critic Ann Powers said Monday. “His melodic sense and inherent sweetness perfectly complements Robert Forster’s edginess in the Go-Betweens. It’s terrible that he’s left the world just as the band is finally getting some of the attention they always deserved.”

Upon their reunion in 2000, the pair inspired a new generation and made some of the most celebrated music of their careers.

Their first reunion album, “The Friends of Rachel Worth,” saw the two backed by the Pacific Northwest band Sleater-Kinney, and Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian wrote a song about their love for the group.

The Go-Betweens’ website posted tributes from indie rock’s royalty, including several members of Teenage Fanclub, Orange Juice founder Edwyn Collins and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan.

“It’s great when you meet one of your heroes,” McCaughan wrote, “and they turn out to be friendly and gracious and as special as you would hope they’d be.”

McLennan’s father died when Grant was 4.

McLennan, who was born in Rockhampton, Australia, spent several years at a boarding school in Brisbane before his mother remarried, and the family resettled in a rural area.

McLennan met Forster in a theater course at the University of Brisbane.

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“I noticed this tall fellow carrying a Talking Heads record, ’77,’ ” McLennan told The Times last June before a show at the Troubadour. “I didn’t think anybody else in Australia was listening to it. It was great to meet someone you felt wasn’t going to beat you up, and who was as bad an actor as you were.”

United by an interest in New York punk and Bob Dylan, the two later worked at a record store together and recorded what would become the band’s first single, “Lee Remick,” at a jingle studio.

McLennan, who was a fan of French New Wave cinema and the American short story, later described his style as a “wistful, nostalgic, memory-driven, melodic McCartney-esque sort of thing.”

Vickers recalls him as someone who kept a distance from the world’s pressures. “He lived in a rented house, he didn’t drive, didn’t wear a watch, didn’t carry a wallet. He wasn’t a real material person: His wardrobe had like five things in it, and he’d wear them whether it was snowing or sunny. The weather didn’t seem to affect him. He had an amazing constitution.”

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Besides working at a university cinema and record store, he probably never held a straight job, Vickers said.

But this eternal bohemianism exacted its costs, says Vickers, who says McLennan was overly fond of discussing books and movies all day over beer and cigarettes. “He didn’t change his lifestyle when he got into his 40s, like a lot of us do. I wish he’d done a bit more of that.”

McLennan’s musical passions included the Mamas and the Papas, Television and Creedence Clearwater Revival. “He loved pop songs,” Vickers says, “but he also loved the poets -- Dylan and Patti Smith. That’s what he was going for, a poetic song that would stick in your head.”

Forster, who told the Australian news media that his old bandmate was as happy as he had ever seen him, says that the group will not continue without McLennan.

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“The best thing about the Go-Betweens,” McLennan told The Times last year, “is that there’s been a vision there from Day One. It might have been naive and sort of fumbling, but it was genuine ... and it wouldn’t go away.”

McLennan is survived by his mother, sister, brother, girlfriend and son.


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