ARIA Hall of Famer Jimmy Barnes walks briskly through his suburban Sydney home on a mid-October morning before settling into the studio, eager to share his enthusiasm for the release of his second memoir, Working Class Man, which includes clear-eyed revelations from his prime years with Cold Chisel to his family life in the present. "Talking about it for the next few months is part of me processing my life," he tells WHO. "I've sat and wrote this, and it was like stream of consciousness. Now that it's out there, I can think about it more, and probably a lot more will occur to me, and I'll be able to deal more with the consequences, get on, and make things better."
Barnes, 61, will continue the conversation with his fans next year when he embarks on Working Class Man: An Evening of Stories & Songs, a more than 30-date national tour starting in March 2018. "I can help people by talking about it," he says," and they can help me talking about it!" Barnes sat down with WHO to talk about his latest work and what his life is like now.
Before you could write about your rock 'n' roll lifestyle, you had to unburden yourself with your childhood years in 2016's Working Class Boy.
When I left at 17 with Cold Chisel, I didn't want to look back there. I thought, "That's it. I'm gone. I'm out of Adelaide, left my family behind, my siblings and all that. I didn't want to think about that stuff again, and I successfully did that. And then, the more things came back to me, the more I tried to drown them out, whether it was booze or more music, or fighting, or drugs, or sex, or whatever it was. I would do anything to stop me thinking about the past. Eventually, there was nothing I could do to stop it, and that's when I ended up writing the first book. It got to the point where the floodgates were open and I just couldn't stop thinking of the impact of it and it was just killing me. So I wrote that first one and it was like as sense of freedom. I suddenly felt this weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And so I wanted to follow through with that because the impact that stuff had on me as an adult was monumental, and I thought to deal with that stuff, I'm going to have to open up about that let that out in the open, too.
Did it feel cathartic to write the new memoir, which looks at your adult life?
It's good. Life is good, and I think I've grown, and I think I'm still growing, and I think I'm still learning and as long as I'm still growing, I'm going to be happy. When I first started writing, years ago, before I got straight, I just made fun of everything, trying to be smart-arse and funny and had no depth in it at all, and I think if you're going to write, you have to put your soul into it. You're doing it as a process for yourself as much as anybody else and probably more for yourself. That's why I liked the process of doing it.
So for your health now, what is the best for you and how do you avoid some of the things that were triggers for you?
Things sort of changed slowly at first and then more rapidly. I used to have a problem where if I drank, all I wanted to do was get smashed, and if I drank, then I'd want to take drugs, then if I took drugs, then I just wanted to go wild. So now, you know what? I don't even want to take drugs. You know? People have offered them to me and I'd go, "Nah, I'm all right." And it's not been difficult. I've sat and watched TV at night with my feet up and I've been really tired and I've had a glass of whiskey, a little whiskey, and sat there, and I've never done that before. Because I would do that before and go, "Oh, OK, give me the rest of the bottle." Now I just don't have the urge to. I don't have the urge to escape. I'm enjoying being present in my life. And I don't feel the need to destroy myself or escape myself and that's a quantum leap. That's a quantum change and I don't think it's ever going back.
You write about how certain songs came about in the book and what state you were in when you wrote them. Was it fun to revisit your songs through a new lens?
A lot of the songs that I wrote make more sense to me now, so they've got to make more sense to the people, too. I never thought twice about writing "No Second Prize." Didn't think about it. But, when I sat there and started writing this, when I was writing it, what I was up against, that was like a mantra. It became my mantra, and I wasn't going to lie down and nothing was going to beat me, and it was just like ramming my head against the wall, and it served me well at the time. But, you know? It's not about winning at all costs, which is what I thought it was about.
You also write about how your ideas of parenting have changed, in light of your thinking more about your parents.
It's not just about making your children like you, which is what I thought I had to do. It's about being a parent and being firm and being their rock and being their guidance and being their friend. I used to, I mean, my parents just threw us out of the way. They didn't care. I was the opposite. I was like, "Oh yeah, you're my best friends," and that sort of gave the kids the wrong idea, too. I should have been a stronger parent, given my kids more advice, and that's what I do now. That's what I try to be, an objective, decent parent, and be a friend to them.
What do they think of that? Do they appreciate this change?
Oh, they love the fact that I'm alive. They love that I've got through this. The kids got sad when they read the book, the first and the second book, and the second book, they were older and Mahalia for instance, she was the first to read the second book and she said, "I knew all the stuff. I knew everything in this book, but I didn't know how far and how graphic it was, but I knew what was going on and I felt it." But like me, she just tried to push it aside and not let it affect her. She had to look at it, too. My kids had to look at this stuff so that they could grow. I talk about how your children are like you but with better software, you know? And every time I get an upgrade to my software, they get an automatic upgrade. As soon as I learn something, they learn and they go past it. They have grown from my trauma, my mistakes, my fear and my growth. So I owe it to myself, but I owe it to them as well to get through this, and I am so glad I managed to get to here because for a while there, I couldn't see any light, and that's so sad when you think of everything I had, and I felt ungrateful to have all this, everything I could want and everything I dreamt about as a child and I couldn't enjoy any of it. It wasn't worth it. To me, it's readjusted my whole idea of what success is. Success isn't having everything. Success is working for it and striving to be better.
To read more from Jimmy, pick up the current issue of WHO on newsstands today.
‘Working Class Man’ is out now from HarperCollins Australia, rep $49.99.
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