One of my most abiding memories of Helen Reddy was an early booze-free gig, featuring a handful of ex-pats and a barefoot Peter Allen.
It was close to Christmas in 1967. I was a newbie as a foreign correspondent at the Sydney Morning Herald office in the revered New York Times building in Times Square. This was living!
One of my colleagues was the ebullient (and eccentric) Lillian Roxon who would go on to be a rock ‘n roll guru and write the Rock Encyclopedia.
She would bring an array of rock people to our office. I sat with the fledgling photographer Linda Eastman when Lillian told her to wear a short skirt and boots when she crouched in front of, and photographed, Paul McCartney. I even gave her my Sydney Morning Herald press pass that day. It worked. They married.
And then, there was Helen Reddy. She arrived in New York as a genuine Aussie rube. A talented, but raw, entertainer. I remember that she was young, scared, disillusioned and vulnerable. She was shattered, at our first meeting, because she had, naively, left her Christmas presents in her car in a venal city. The car was broken into and all the presents ripped off.
Lillian Roxon wrote stories for Woman’s Day about how Helen was being seen at this function or that event in New York. It was rubbish, Helen was a talented young Aussie stranded, and broke, in New York. The indefatigable Roxon eventually got her a gig at the legendary The Bitter End. Helen sat on my desk. Young, keen, excited, vulnerable.
She was shattered, at our first meeting, because she had, naively, left her Christmas presents in her car in a venal city. The car was broken into and all the presents ripped off.
I rounded up about ten fellow Aussies. Helen’s backup singer was an enthusiastic barefoot youngster named Peter Allen. Her performance at The Bitter End was terrific, especially for a partisan ex-pat Australian audience drinking fruit juice, in lieu of booze.
Which gives me an excuse to retell a story, decades later, when Peter was nominated for an Oscar, for Arthur’s Song. Co-writer Carol Bayer Sager called him with the news. She said: “Obviously, you won’t want to come to the Oscars. You really only wrote one line.”
Peter told me he exploded. “One line. ‘When you get caught between the moon and New York City’. It’s the only line they fucking remember.” He went to the Oscars. They won.
I once played Scrabble with Helen on a flight from LA to Sydney, and I accused her of cheating. I honestly can’t recall why I accused her, but her young daughter was on the plane with us and she agreed with me. Later, wrote a book on the game, including a chapter on how to cheat.
I mentioned Lillian Roxon. I remember one steamy summer night in the 1970s when I swung by her East Village New York apartment to pick up some tickets to a Helen Reddy concert in Central Park. I wanted to impress an American air hostess named Eve, whom I later married. Lillian died that night.
Helen Reddy was an amazing Australian. A world talent. She and I shared the same literary agent. Helen fought against calling her biography I Am Woman.
She settled on The Woman I am, arguing, ‘I am more than that song’.