I’m about to find out what it’s like to publish a book during lockdown, with no bookshops open, no literary festivals happening, no opportunity to meet readers and sign their copies. Although, since we are a year into this predicament, the publishing world has made contingency plans. I have been doing interviews via Zoom, and my events will be streamed online. Instead of books, I have been signing bookplates, slips of paper that will be stuck into the front pages to create a signed copy.
It’s quite an arduous task as there are 2,500 of them, but I get through it gradually. I post a photo on Instagram of me signing them, and get a disgruntled reply from a man who complains that he would rather have a properly signed book. When I explain that, due to lockdown, it is impossible to get 2,500 books to my house, sign them and distribute them to bookshops, I am told off for being “grumpy”. To which the only possible reply is: “Mate, if that is your response to a woman telling you why you can’t have exactly what you want, you are not going to like this book I’ve written.” The book is called My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend, and tells the story of my long friendship with Lindy Morrison, drummer with the Australian band the Go-Betweens. A loud, outspoken, uncompromising feminist, Lindy had to endure the trials of being a woman in the music business in the 1980s, with all the isolation and aggravation that entailed.
We didn’t have a word then for what we experienced so much of the time. Now we’d call them “micro-aggressions”. The sound crew who patronised you, feigning surprise that you knew how to assemble your drum kit, or how your monitors needed to be; the journalists who wrote more about what you looked like than what you sounded like; the reviewers who underestimated your involvement in the music you were making.
I trawled through the 1980s music press during the writing of the book and it was eye-opening, even for me (and I was there). I had forgotten some of the norms of the time; an age when the offices of a music paper had Page 3 pin-ups on the wall, when a journalist at the NME could write about Lindy that “she drinks, swears, and threatens too much”, with the caveat: “No, not for a woman, for ANYONE!”
The second half of that sentence is a get-out clause, and a lie. There’s no way a rock journalist would have said of any male rock musician that “he drinks and swears too much”. Discovering that so-called rebel writers and musicians could be as conservative as your parents in their expectations of how a woman should behave was dispiriting, for both Lindy and me.
We talked endlessly about it, drinking vodka at my kitchen table, discussing the books we’d read, the bands we’d seen. She’s 11 years older than me, and when we met I was 20 years old to her 31, so I looked up to her, envying her confidence, her experience. I didn’t understand how hard-won that confidence was. Looking back, I learned to recognise the similarities between us as much as the differences, and I wanted to write about how complex friendship is, how we partially invent the other person in a relationship, creating the friend we need them to be.
The Go-Betweens have become more famous in retrospect, honoured now as A Great Band Who Never Made It. Their story has been told in books and a documentary film; in their hometown of Brisbane, a bridge has been named after them. And yet Lindy – my glorious, larger-than-life, fascinating friend – has been partly written out of the story, or turned into a minor character.
It’s what happens to women, isn’t it? Sometimes you can read a history and not find yourself, even though you know you were there. It’s as though the door is shut in your face twice: first, when it is made hard for you to participate; second, when even after you kick down that door and force your way in, history does not record the fact.
So I’ve written Lindy back in, and put her at the centre of her life, where she belongs, and as she deserves. As we all deserve.
This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021