A Review: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorne (2021), Canongate Books Ltd.
What a strange and enthralling book by Tracey Thorn (Marine Girls, Everything But a Girl). This biography begins with a letter to her friend Lindy Morrison [Shrew, Zero (1979-80), Go Betweens (1980-89)] stating blankly: “I’ve written it down, written you down, told all your stories, tried to capture you in the pages of a book.” It turns out that there has been quite a lot of collaboration between the two women, not the least of which Tracey has access to all Lindy’s letters, fastidiously kept. Plus Lindy’s diaries from when she was 12 or 13!
Tracey Thorn portrays a turbulent life in an era where women were treated so badly in the music industry. All captured on paper in letters as it happened. The trajectory of the two women in rock music is similar but Lindy started when she was older; Lindy is a drummer and Tracey is a singer; Lindy is tall and ten years older than Tracey.
In Brisbane in 1978, Lindy joined The Popular Theatre Troupe that played at the University of Queensland Student Union complex at a time when the Premier banned SEMP, Social Education Materials Project and MACOS, Man: A Course of Study. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was pressured by the Christian Right led by Rona Joyner to exclude these courses from the Queensland school curriculum. The lack of sex education became the source of satire by The Popular Theatre Troupe in the University Student Union Forum area, safe from intervention by authorities or police. But Lindy had ventured further out, where safety for a punk band like Zero was not guaranteed. Feminism and anarchy were red rag to a bull in a state where justice was a game.
In 1979, the Zero band members lived on Petrie Terrace above Brisbane’s CBD in a lesbian household that Tracey says: “They push her around a bit, to toughen her up, but they let her join their band. Everyone else she knows is moving to Sydney at this precise moment, but she decides to stay in her room in a rambling wooden two-up on stilts on Petrie Terrace.” Lindy was no stranger to violence, having worked with the aboriginal legal service in the early 1970s where police violence against aboriginal people was a daily occurrence. Children taken from their mothers, evictions by landlords in a white city, and police bashings in Musgrave Park. Lindy has already met the young leaders of the Black Panthers in Brisbane / Meanjin, Denis Walker and Sam Watson Jnr.
It is little wonder that Lindy wished leave to this place, Meanjin, home of the Jagera and Torrubul people; but she had her own version of going. She teams up with Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. Grant had been arrested with 418 others at an anti-uranium demonstration on 22 October 1977. The charges were Unlawful Procession and Disobey Direction.
The Go Betweens (Lindy, Robert & Grant) leave the Sunshine State for Sydney and London. A difficult transition for Lindy who is both older and wiser than her bandmates. Tracey writes: “With Zero she’s been in a politically motivated punk band, and The Go-Betweens are decidedly not punk and not political.” Yet these lyrics are decidedly political:
Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way.
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.
– The Go Betweens
Perhaps the band was escaping gigs like the Caxton Street bash where Task Force gave young people a hiding in plain sight and one of those bashed was sentenced to nine months in jail until an appeal court intervened. When the Go Betweens went to London seeking commercial success they left behind the political focus of Queensland where bands put on gigs like Rock against Petersen during the street marches (1977-79) and Rock against Racism in 1982 during the Commonwealth Games Land Rights protests.
Lindy went from violence on the streets of Brisbane/Meanjin to exploitation in the Rock industry in London. Disputes about royalties and copyright was a feature of relationships in this seminal Brisbane band. It led Lindy to become an expert on copyright law and how it applied to contemporary music. Nowadays, Lindy not only trains people to be drummers but advocates for them on how to avoid the pitfalls of copyright.
At one of her first paying gigs (pictured), Lindy had not been paid at 4ZZZ’s Joint Effort at the UQ Student Union’s refectory. She had been ripped off by the local Musicians Union which was a pretty low act by a family affair that did not uphold basic trade union principles of looking after their members. They took the band’s entire pay under the pretext that it was union dues. Lindy protested by refusing to join the union.
Rob and Grant lived the romanticised Dylan version of the music industry while Lindy faced the reality of having to stand up for yourself.
Tracey spells it out thus: “Here are the things I hadn’t known when we first met in London in 1983 she was 31 years old to my 20 and already on the third act of her adult life five years earlier she’d been living in Brisbane in a shared house with a bohemian collection of visual artists and musicians and was the drummer with an uncompromising feminist punk band. Queensland, of which Brisbane is the capital, was under the rule of quasi fascist premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and operated more or less as a police state. Political protest was quashed, corruption was rife, law and order out of control. Her band were chased by cops every time they went to a gig, or played one. For young people, indigenous people, anyone who stood out or who was at all unconventional, harassment and arrests were common. Lindy was caught in the middle of all this and dreaming of escape.”
Lindy never really came back, not banished as such, but caught up in a fantasy of her hometown, a bridge named after the band, connected, but not part of the place: an exile.
Tracey Thorn takes us on a truly remarkable journey, cleverly writing a story so rarely told. A work I could barely put down.
14 April 2022
First Posted on Workers BushTelegraph @ https://workersbushtelegraph.com.au/2022/04/09/review-my-rock-n-roll-friend
Summary Keywords: 1951, friends, and, associates, Australia, biography, Britain, female, friendship, Grant, Lindy, Morrison, musicians, personal, rock, Review, Thorn, Tracey, women, marches, uranium, rock ‘n’ roll.