Mother of Rock

She was at the centre of the bustling New York scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was an ardent feminist who counted Germaine Greer among her closest friends. She was a trailblazing rock critic who made a name for herself by being unabashedly frank and forthright with her readers in describing the antics of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, and Andy Warhol. Her eponymous “Rock Encyclopaedia” remains a touchstone, brimming, as it is, with incisive bite-sized biographies. But she was also living an exhausting always-on lifestyle that she knew she couldn’t maintain—and just like that, she was gone. Lillian Roxon, who died in 1973 from a severe asthma attack at age 41, was a pioneering music journalist whose charismatic, freewheeling style earned her a reputation to rival the best New Journalists in the business.

When her parents emigrated to Brisbane to escape fascist Italy in 1937, it was Lillian who suggested they anglicise their surname to fit in—their Jewish surname, Ropschitz, would have stuck out like a sore thumb, she figured. At the University of Sydney in the 1950s, she was swept up in the Sydney Push, a counterculture movement composed of a loose affiliation of young left-wing intellectuals. She began her career as a journalist in Australia writing for tabloids, but quickly developed an appetite for the hustle and bustle of New York, where she really made a name for herself writing dispatches for the Sydney Morning Herald and other papers, as well as chaperoning just about every Australian who visited the city. Max’s Kansas City became a second (well, almost a first) home for her and her friends, including Greer, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Lisa Robinson, and (Patti Smith’s guitarist) Lenny Kaye—all of whom are interviewed in Paul Clarke’s new film profile of Roxon and her era.

The documentary combines archival footage with interviews and readings of some of the many hundreds of letters Roxon wrote to friends and family, as well as narration of excerpts from her diaries. Roxon taped almost all her phone calls to friends and family, and selections from these tapes bring her, briefly, back to life.

Mother of Rock is available on DVD through Madman.