My friend and mentor, Australian journalist, writer and cultural critic Craig McGregor, died on January 22, 2022.
As his wife Jane writes, Craig had been stoically enduring the effects of a major stroke for the past three-and-a-half years. The stroke left him unable to speak, a tragic deprivation for a man known for his eloquence and thoughtfulness. The last time we met was just before his stroke at a coffee shop in Byron. He needed a walking stick then and I had an inkling this might be our last meeting.
I met Craig McGregor when I took a course on New Journalism that he taught in the Humanities department at the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, as it then was. This was the early 1980s, the salad days of Australian print journalism, when the rivers of gold were flowing into the coffers of Fairfax, and Craig was in his pomp, employed by Fairfax’s flagship weekly, the National Times, as their profile writer.
This meant that one week Craig could be interviewing and constructing a portrait of the Prime Minister, his background, his motivation, his problems, and the next week, the Leader of the Opposition. He was still using a typewriter then, and I remember being amused by his old-fashioned, two-finger technique, yet impressed by the rapidity and proficiency as he hammered out one of these ten-thousand-word interrogations on his dated equipment.
These essays would be collected into Soundtrack for the Eighties, one of his more important works. Craig wrote many books on Australian, politics, society, pop, surfing and popular culture, but his first book, Profile of Australia, and Soundtrack for the Eighties are among his best.
After reading The Spirit of the Age or Contemporary Portraits, written by the great English journalist and literary critic, William Hazlitt, I was fascinated by its similarity to Soundtrack for the Eighties. Although the two books were written in different countries and in different centuries, both are explorations of the zeitgest, the Spirit of the Age, through a series of portraits of thinkers, social reformers, politicians, poets, and artists who represented major trends in the thought, literature, and politics of their times, written by journalists who were vitally interested in ideas and in the proponents of ideas. Craig insisted that journalism should be about ideas, and in this regard, I remain his student.
I sent Craig a card and recommended he read The Spirit of the Age and sent a poem about Hazlitt with a note that read “Craig McGregor is the William Hazlitt of Australian literature”. Craig loved that quote so much, he included it on the back cover of his last book rage & ecstasy: a chronical of our times, along with quotes from Kerry O’Brien, Professor Russel Ward, Peter Pierce and Bob Dylan!
Born in 1933, Craig affected a beatnik beard and met his wife Jane at a Ban-the-Bomb march in England. He surfed, played guitar and was arguable Australia’s greatest Bob Dylan fan! He interviewed Dylan several times and edited one of the first books on Dylan, Bob Dylan: a retrospective.
Dylan’s quote about Craig, which is also on the back cover of rage and ecstasy, was “Craig is hip to the hip but not really hip.” Although he never attained Dylanesque levels of hipness, we students thought Craig was cool. I trust Craig walked into the room with his pencil in his hand, and pointed at Dylan saying, “Who is that man?”
(For Dylanologists: what song does this reference?)
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, I interviewed Craig McGregor for Nimbin GoodTimes, and asked him to defend the award going to Dylan.
Craig argued that Dylan should be called a song poet because you need the music as well as the lyrics to get the full impact of his art. In the 1960s, he said, Dylan had an enormous influence on the development of the song poem. “Dylan turned the pop song serious, and he helped transform it into the most universal art form of our time. These days most poetry is sung – which it always had been, until the invention of the printing press turned it, temporarily, into a written form. The new prophets are the song poets.”
Totally unsurprisingly, he agreed with the proposition that Bob Dylan was the greatest songwriter since Homer! He was pleased, he said, to be alive in the same historical epoch as Bob Dylan. In this regard (and in many others), Craig McGregor was a happy man!
Craig is survived by his wife Jane, four children, six grandchildren and two brothers,
A memorial celebration will be held on Saturday March 19 at the Moller Pavillion in Bangalow Show Ground.