Australian journalist Milliken resurrects the woman who shaped how Americans think about rock ’n’ roll.
Lillian Roxon was born in 1932 on the Italian Riviera to Jewish parents. They fled the Nazis and moved to Australia when she was eight. Eventually, Roxon found her calling in journalism and, in 1959, headed to America, where she would live until her death from asthma at age 41. Not only did she shoot to the top in rock writing, cementing her spot as grande dame with the 1969 publication of Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, but she also wrote about pop feminism and contributed a sex column to Mademoiselle. Contemporaries likened her to Dorothy Parker—only Roxon, they said, was nicer, warmer. Drawing on many primary sources, including Roxon’s papers in Sydney’s Mitchell Library, Milliken is able to offer a sense of his subject’s emotional life. We read about Roxon’s tangles with her mother, the fraught friendship with Linda Eastman (which ended when she became Linda McCartney and dropped Roxon), and her difficult relationship with Germaine Greer. The last third of the text comprises a selection of Roxon’s own writing, including her wonderful, controversial 1970 essay “There is a Tide in the Affairs of Women.” This biography isn’t all-out superficial, but Milliken hasn’t exactly plumbed the depths either. For example, the author touches on Roxon’s anxiety about being overweight, but doesn’t discuss how body image shaped her relationships and her feminism. Indeed, Milliken strains in a somewhat toadying fashion to establish Roxon’s importance, a task that interferes with telling her life story. Even the subtitle is a bit grandiose: Roxon was not the “mother of rock” but a fan and a critic—culture-maker, sure, but not mama.
A good enough introduction to Roxon, but much less interesting than she was.