Robert Forster & Zan Rowe: On Creative Collaboration

Nicki Alchin
8th Sep 2016

There are some interviews that flow so freely you completely forget you are listening to a somewhat artificial dialogue that can sometimes sound as abrupt as a job interview with no spontaneous deviations from the planned questions. The School of Life, Sydney's "In Coversation" between Zan Rowe and Robert Forster definitely fell into the free flowing category. 

After a very complimentary and fulsome introduction from the School of Life's Director, Elinor Gammell, the evening was handed over to Zan,  host of Triple J Mornings,  to interview a man who is, to some, one half of the best song writing partnership that has ever been and ever will be in Australian rock 'n' roll, the illustrious Robert Forster - co-founder of Brisbane band, the Go-Betweens. 

The night's topics were friendship and creative collaboration: two life experiences in which Robert has some first hand knowledge. He has just published a book,  Grant & I, that deals with these subjects in the context of his thirty-year friendship with Grant McLennan, the other half of that songwriting partnership, who died in 2006. 

It was evident straight up that Zan had done her homework for the interview. All her questions related very closely to material in the book, often led in by a direct quote. 

Robert was expansive, insightful and generous with his answers to some very deeply personal questions. He gave great insight to himself, Grant, and their friendship, including a discussion of their actual meeting and some reasons why it went beyond a friendly chat in a tutorial room at university. We were given an insider's tour of the friendship's inner workings.

Most importantly for us Go-Betweens fans in the audience, Robert revealed the nature of their friendship and creative collaboration during the early days of the band, then again when they came back as a band around 1999 right up to three months before Grant's untimely death. 

It was a total revelation to hear how they interacted in the song writing process. We discovered how they were always eager to impress each other with their songwriting abilities, playing the newly constructed sometimes only half made songs to each other on the end of s bed, most times in the latest share house that Grant was living, with Robert being the one to come over and initiate the sessions. 

The night was peppered with Robert's amusing and soul bearing anecdotes on how the two of them kept the friendship together, and to our joy, embellished theses stories with an impromptu musical performance to demonstrate various parts of his stories about Grant. 

The evening also touched on regrets of the friendship but also on some moments and conversations Robert was glad had occurred. Most touchingly, Robert spoke of the time just before Grant passed as well as on what he missed the most about not having Grant with us any more. Robert explained he felt acutely the loss of that one person who was by his side through some torrid rock 'n' roll days, but also those moments of breaking through to ride the wave of success. It is all about the loss of having someone with those shared experiences of life changing moments. 

The whole conversation was an intimate exploration of a special bond between two friends and most definitely made the idea of finding out more in the book both exciting and enticing. Zan kept everything moving along well. Robert seemed relaxed and very engaging with his interviewer and audience. We could have kept listening to Robert speak for hours. 

For those wanting to find out more about this friendship, Grant & I is available now at all good bookstores. 

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