Read My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn – Canongate Books

In 1983, backstage at the Lyceum in London, Tracey Thorn and Lindy Morrison first met. Tracey’s music career was just beginning, while Lindy, drummer for The Go-Betweens, was ten years her senior. They became confidantes, comrades and best friends, a relationship cemented by gossip and feminism, books and gigs and rock ’n’ roll love affairs.
Thorn takes stock of thirty-seven years of friendship, teasing out the details of connection and affection between two women who seem to be either complete opposites or mirror images of each other. She asks what people see, who does the looking, and ultimately who writes women out of – and back into – history.

I wrote my review of My Rock n Roll Friend here.


You looked like confidence ran in your veins. You looked like self-belief in a mini dress, the equal of anyone. LOCATION: 94

I know you remember that day too, but maybe you don’t know what it meant to me, what so much of our friendship meant to me: how you were a friend to me, but also a symbol. LOCATION: 131

Ambition and enthusiasm had set the motor running, but it had been a longer and harder slog than any of them had imagined. They’d come close a couple of times, but things hadn’t panned out, and success had proved elusive, while critical acclaim came easily. LOCATION: 170

Somehow I was instinctively picking up vibrations which told me that this woman was someone, that she had a story, that she herself was the news. LOCATION: 281

For an obsessive personality type like Lindy, the drums are both exciting and soothing. LOCATION: 317

Gerard Lee’s debut, True Love and How to Get It, where she is thinly disguised as the character Megaton Monroe LOCATION: 336

The two private schoolboys met and made friends at university in 1977, and their first scene together in this story is a real meet cute: Grant’s got three records under his arm, which are Ian Hunter’s debut album, Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch, and Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, while Robert is in thrall to Bob Dylan, Roxy Music, David Bowie and the Velvet Underground. They recognise in each other two typical nerdy boys, both studying literature and drama. Grant has a room full of film magazines, and neither of them are attracted to the aggressive machismo of Brisbane punk. Instead, they’re into Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Jonathan Richman, and when Robert starts to write songs they reveal a pop sensibility filtered through an academic lens. LOCATION: 377

If Robert meeting Grant was all about kindred spirits and mutual identification, then the meeting of Robert and Lindy is an attraction of opposites. He reciprocates her interest, he can feel the tug of the magnet, and they start circling each other. LOCATION: 397

Years later, when their relationship is shattering and dissolving, he will write a song called ‘Head Full of Steam’, and when they play it live on UK television on The Old Grey Whistle Test, he’s added a few lines that don’t appear on the album version: ‘Steam may rise / Steam may tear / Can I come to your place / Can I wash your hair.’ At the time, Lindy tells me those lines refer to an actual event, which is precious in both their memories, and I feel in possession of secret information, privy to the background details which make up the vivid story of this song. LOCATION: 425

With Zero, she’s been in a politically motivated punk band, and The Go-Betweens are decidedly not punk and not political. They don’t have nicknames or slogans or haircuts. They’re not a gang or a crew. LOCATION: 435

Robert and Grant are the kind of boys who buy Playboy magazine for the Bob Dylan interview inside. They may have written that dedication to girlfriends who didn’t exist, but then they became a bit embarrassed about it and decided they wanted a female drummer. LOCATION: 454

They feel that a woman might soften the band. And it’s hard not to laugh at the fact that they end up with Lindy, who is more ballsy than either of them, full of heart and emotion, yes, but about as soft as a decisive right hook. She’s never going to fit in with their fantasies of a chic little French girl, and she’s not going to be Edie Sedgwick, and she’s not going to revere Dylan like they do without asking some tough questions. LOCATION: 461

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION: 485

NOTE: This reminds me of austin kleon and the discussion of the complexity of children and relationships. I remember Clint saying that the addition of … was a disaster, but maybe the addition of any forth member was always fraut

Lindy makes it her business to start organising them, honing their sound, building a working relationship. She may have lived in a lot of boho houses but her work ethic is far from hippy-ish. The rehearsal room is her province. She finds the spaces, clocks the small ads, phones up the numbers, makes the bookings. Gets them all organised and there on time, and makes them practise. Practise, practise, practise, she says. It has always been that way, since high school, when there had been a choral competition, and she’d taken it upon herself to make sure that her team would win. She’d spent every spare minute rounding up girls to come and rehearse, chivvying them along. She had been relentless. LOCATION: 494

Every week his mother makes them a fruit cake, and because they have no money and are on the dole, they live off the fruit cake. The two of them walk around all the time holding hands, and she is twenty-eight to his twenty-one, which never feels weird to her, though her family make snide remarks about cradle-snatching. The flat is in a dangerous part of town, and terrible things happen; they hear fights next door, and someone gets pushed down the stairs. They come home each evening exhausted from the practice room, and sleep in till midday, then get up, eat fruit cake, go to practise, come back and lie in bed watching TV. LOCATION: 511

That title Lindy gives them for the first album, Send Me a Lullaby, is inspired by the Zelda Fitzgerald novel Save Me the Waltz. And Zelda is an interesting source of inspiration. A woman full of creative urges struggling to find an outlet, she lived, with her husband Scott, a life of drink and carelessness, but battled continually to escape from his artistic shadow, to make something of her own. After an all-out attempt to become a professional ballet dancer ended with a breakdown and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she was hospitalised. On her release, she took up painting, then astonished everyone by producing a novel, sending it off to a publisher without telling Scott. It represented, as the critic Elizabeth Hardwick writes, another testament to her ‘unkillable energy’. Lindy too is full of unkillable energy. An almost supernatural determination and force of will is embedded in her character, and she will need it. Zelda died in a fire at a hospital, never having achieved artistic equality with her husband. Lindy will blaze and struggle and fight for a long time to get her due. LOCATION: 546

They are so poor that they have rows about buying butter, or shampoo, or anything that might not be deemed essential. Not everyone in the house is paying their fair share of the rent, but it is only Lindy who decides to take action. LOCATION: 588

She thinks the boys don’t really know how to count their bars, and they have no real sense of timing or rhythm, so it’s left to Lindy to literally drum it into them. She is determined not to ‘play through’ the quirky patterns, and not to straighten them out. She thinks that would be too nice, too boring. Instead, when she is presented with a song like ‘Cattle and Cane’, written by Grant with a time signature that she identifies as being ‘an 11-beat phrase’, she preserves all its strangeness, all its distinctiveness. She describes her drumming as providing a kind of counterpoint, rather than a back beat, following the melody in a more lyrical way. The song is lovely in its melodic sweetness, but thanks to Lindy’s drumming it is elevated into something much more elusive – a singular piece of music, impossible to pin down. LOCATION: 709

I wouldn’t have done it, but you’ve done it for me. I think the others are being disingenuous, up on their high horses claiming the moral high ground and pretending not to be curious about the details. LOCATION: 874

We devour biographies which only exist because someone opened a box they weren’t supposed to, or read some letters and diaries they were expressly forbidden to read. We respect privacy up until the point where we want to hear the end of the story, and then we tell ourselves that the story justifies everything. Is anything out of bounds? Maybe you and I are the kind of people who can’t look away; who can’t obey an instruction not to read; who can’t resist, can’t stand back, always want to know more. I appear to be more discreet than you but in many ways I aspire to your levels of indiscretion. I’m never going to purse my lips at you disapprovingly if you’re telling me a good story. LOCATION: 903

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’. Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’ Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’ Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close: Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room. An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

And we need our women friends in order to see ourselves mirrored and validated: to counter those moments we all experience when it feels like we don’t exist in the world; when we look and can’t find ourselves; when we are erased, pushed to the margins, written out of the story; when we start to feel invisible. In these moments, our female friends are invaluable to us. They reflect and embody us out there in the world; they remind us that we’re real, that we’re here, that we’re not mad. Female friendship isn’t a cosy thing: it’s a necessity. LOCATION: 1307

Still, why would I have known much about Australia? In 1987, I’d never been there. To me, she represents Otherness. She has come from Elsewhere. In that sense, the inaccuracy is truthful. Much about her is mysterious to me, unknowable. ‘I have a friend and she taught me daring / Threw back the windows and let the air in / She taught me how to be easy too / And I had a lot of unlearning to do.’ LOCATION: 1325

It was a time when we invented ourselves in diaries and letters. Not having social media didn’t mean we were more authentic. My letters to Lindy are as stylised and performative as any Instagram account. I am often trying to be my Best Self, or what I think is my Best Self – witty and anecdotal, flippant and bitchy. I want never to be boring. It will be years before I dare to show a more vulnerable, fucked-up self to my friends, and in these letters any flashes of truth are often disguised as jokes. LOCATION: 1375

She may have needed glasses, but she never had a problem seeing. LOCATION: 1551

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION: 1607

Something has happened between the act and its recording – a band which was a trio has become the story of two friends. What happened to Two Wimps and a Witch? Who decided that the witch could be written out of the history, and who was at that meeting? LOCATION: 2428