Billy Thorpe's Time On Earth
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 324 pp
Billy Thorpe’s story is the perennial one of an Australian artist dissatisfied with domestic success. In this account of the late pop star’s career, Jason Walker bypasses discussion of Thorpe’s music per se to present him as ‘truly Australian … a battler, a doer [and] a self-promoter’ who lusted for international recognition. While it vividly recounts Thorpe’s life (1946–2007), including enough sex, drugs and equipment fetishism to delight boyish music fans, the real strength of Billy Thorpe’s Time on Earth is its profile of Thorpe’s careerist, provincial psyche and the lengths he went to in search of adoration.
Walker has compiled a wealth of quotes with which to enliven the narrative. It is these, coupled with well-researched details of Australia’s nascent music industry, that save the book from his tuneless writing and specious imaginings from Thorpe’s perspective. Walker’s ‘Thorpie’ is a ribald larrikin ‘blessed with the ability to pick the moment that define[d him] and the preternatural gumption to simply run with it’, and ‘a ball of fire who accelerated his career development from an age when most people are still kicking a football around’; yet readers might just as soon draw the portrait of a guileless, egomaniacal and less-than-brilliant musician.