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- Posted on Nov 4th 2010 12:30PM by Jason MacNeil
And it's that dynamic story which director Paul Clarke and producer Robert de Young have captured in a new documentary entitled 'Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon,' which screened at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and will debut Nov. 6 at New York's Documentary Festival.
Roxon -- who wrote the original Rock Encyclopedia tome published in 1969 -- played an integral part in championing many of the seminal rock and punk acts that emerged during the '60s and '70s, including Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and the Velvet Underground. Sadly, she died in 1973 at the age of 41 from an asthma attack.
"She was a great backroom person," de Young says. "Alice Cooper gave us a nice comment which we didn't use in the film, but he said Danny Fields [noted journalist/band manager] and Lillian were always like king and queen bee at Max's Kansas City: 'We would go out on a tour, but we always knew they were back there, it was like mom and dad back at Max's Kansas City.'"
"She was just a bit older than the rock journalists and rock and roll pals," he continues. "She wasn't a drug user, didn't drink much at all. There is that sense of her being a mother figure for a lot of those people."
Both Clarke and de Young had access to early diaries, letters, photographs and even old Super 8 footage shot inside Max's Kansas City for the documentary. As well, recorded phone conversations between Fields and Roxon were also made available.
The biggest challenge turned out to be trying to incorporate music into the documentary on a rather tight budget.
"American and British audiences are used to being able to see a film like 'The U.S. vs. John Lennon,' which ultimately has about $1.5 million worth of music in it," Clarke says. "And the music we were dealing with was some of the most expensive licenses in the world. So there's a tiny bit of the Velvet Underground and a tiny bit of Iggy Pop. It came down to making the most of the people in the film, and their personal stories that related to Lillian."
The film also features interviews with Cooper, Fields, Iggy Pop, music executive Danny Goldberg and Vanity Fair writer Lisa Robinson, among others. But there was one person de Young and Clarke wanted to interview but couldn't land.
"The only person that we didn't talk to was Lou Reed," Clarke says. "One of the people in New York we talked to said, 'Oh, you don't want him. He's a monster!' We did want him, though."
"It would have been nice to have his stamp on the film," de Young adds. "And it would have been interesting to see what he would say about Lillian."
Aside from her music writing, Roxon -- who was friends with Linda Eastman who would become Linda McCartney -- was also the inspiration for 'I Am Woman,' the hit song by Helen Reddy. As well, feminist author Germaine Greer dedicated her book 'The Female Eunuch' to Roxon, although de Young describes their relationship more as the two being "frenemies."
Yet, primarily Roxon's knack for being ahead of the musical curve is quite apparent. One of her final articles was an interview with a then unknown Marc Bolan who would become the lead singer of glam rock band T. Rex.
"She got the importance of Iggy Pop when most people were thinking, 'Well this music is an aberration,'" Clarke says.
"Danny Goldberg talked about the young David Bowie who came to town, and she made a fuss over him and [he] ... was in nobody's imagination at that point," de Young says. "So I think her prescience is extraordinary. And Iggy has a nice little quote that she predicted by the year 2000 technology will enable you to mix the tracks at home; she was imagining where music would end up."
But Roxon -- whose niece Nicola Roxon is currently Australian Minister for Health and Ageing -- probably wouldn't embrace the current rock and roll landscape.
"I think she would be horrified," Clarke says. "Lisa Robinson said, 'Oh my god! I just wish I could hear Lillian talk about Madonna! She would've hated Madonna!' She thought Lillian would have repudiated her. I don't think she would've thought rock music is in a particularly good place today."
"But in a funny way, on a more positive note, when she looked at where people like Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed are now, she would smile with knowledge that she was on the money," de Young says. "She was on a good thing, and she understood that -- she would have to take some pride on what her views on those people were."