"The story is you and me, the arc of a friendship, the imprint one person leaves on another." I love Thorn's writing, but initially wondered why she had chosen to write a whole book about her 37-year friendship with Lindy Morrison, drummer with The Go-Betweens. Her purpose soon becomes clear: not only is this a vivid and heartfelt tribute to a mentor, fellow musician and "headstrong heroine blazing her way through a male-dominated industry", it's also a thoughtful and moving meditation on the connective tissue of lifelong friendship. Perhaps Thorn's best book yet.
My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend is less gentle and more sophisticated than Thorn’s previous books, which also drew on diaries and letters but were more self-reflexive exercises. Her ability to be both self-deprecating and assertive is intact, and she digs into human failings in the same expansive style. But we sense there is more at stake: Morrison’s story is emblematic and its telling is a matter of principle.
Thorn’s writing is littered with literary references that really speak to her deep understanding and knowledge of literature – extracts from Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood and many more sit alongside press clippings and quotes from a wide spectrum of thinkers and artists. When these frames of reference deepen our understanding through juxtaposition or particular insight, they offer a glorious texture. At other times, however, they feel an unnecessary crutch for Thorn that weaken what was already an impactful, engaging account of her own.
The idea of reclaiming women’s history is still necessary in 2021 and Thorn, who is a beautiful memoirist, does it with grace and lightness. She barely needs to point a finger at the pompous men who see themselves as sensitive progressives, yet enable Morrison’s “female non-existence”.
Writing this friendship into history is a gorgeous thing. In 1987, Thorn had written a song, Blue Rose Moon, for Morrison containing the line: “But she brings wide open space.” Thorn’s book now does this too, spare and spacious, a place where vistas open up and women may roam and be who they are. It is an offering to all who are, or have been, friends with difficult women.
There’s nothing much more rock ’n’ roll than a woman who is “too much”. Funny that the boys still don’t get that.
And yet this is a book about more than music: it recounts the intricacies of female friendship and its crush of projection, permission, allyship and trying-on-for-size. More widely, it is borderline philosophical – about perception and interpretation, seeing and being seen, living with a stiff upper lip versus living with no filter – and how appallingly condescending the British can be towards Australians. Thorn writes incisively about how she constructed Morrison for herself as a hero and mentor – full of qualities Thorn felt herself to lack.
Thorn and Morrison’s letters to one another prove rich material in recording their respective triumphs and disappointments. Although they have gigged together, holidayed together and got drunk together, much of their lives have unfurled at a distance, sometimes on opposite sides of the world. But Thorn’s interest in Morrison’s story goes beyond documenting a friendship. As a singer-songwriter of over 40 years standing, she herself has experienced pigeonholing and sidelining from an industry that reflexively places male talent on a pedestal. And so, as well as providing a portrait of a mercurial and brilliant musician, the book exposes the sexism and hypocrisy of an industry, and attempts to right a terrible wrong... But through her entertaining, affectionate and righteous book, Thorn invites us to witness her friend in all her gobby glory. In explaining her connection to Morrison, she writes, “When I meet her I feel seen.” Now she has returned the favour.