EPIC: Jimmy Barnes is on tour following the release of his book.
EPIC: Jimmy Barnes is on tour following the release of his book.

Jimmy Barnes shares his life story

AS the famous Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes had been screaming at us for years, he was Standing on the Outside Looking In, which was how he was feeling while penning the story of his life, Working Class Boy.

The biography saw him dig deep into painful voids he has carried for a lifetime as he reflected upon a violent childhood and the self-destructive path that resulted in a rather dissociated existence, culminating in that angry performer we saw on stage.

It didn't take much to see what Barnes was, the hard-living, high-octane performer whose robust vocals shredded the hotels and concert arenas over the decades.

But Jimmy Barnes had good reason for that, or at least he knows that now.

"My wife used to ask me what was my childhood like. I used to say normal, just like everyone else. I'd been trying to write a book for years but there was stuff inside me that was really painful but I knew eventually I had to get it out," Barnes said.

He says there were things in the book he avoided thinking about for the past 60 years. "I just stocked them away. In fact there were things in there I didn't remember myself until I started writing. One story would lead somewhere else and I thought 'oh, my god' I remember this."

Described as a "memoir of running away", Barnes said he included those lines on the book cover because he had been doing that for the past five decades.

"Running away from the shame of being poor, the fear of violence in the house, of having nothing and the family falling apart."

"We didn't have any hope when we were kids. I look back since writing this book and realise that it's cost me my life. I spent 50 years trying to drink myself to death and that's because of the stuff in this book, so it's very, very personal to me and very important to me so there's no way I can get up there at any point and be blasé about it.

"Every time I talk about it, it's like hitting a raw nerve but I learn something else about myself in the process. I felt like a weight was lifted. It's been very therapeutic."

Barnes' book has been out for couple of months now and selling well.

Since then he has been constantly on the road speaking at libraries and talking at book functions.

"I thought this was just my life and how it was, but found every time I told these stories I was surprised by how many people have the same ones, how many people went through the same things.

"Not everyone went through the same violence or abuse or the same alcoholic situation, but these stories connect with a lot of people.

"It shows me how similar we are, how close we are. We're much more similar than we are different.

"It's the common thread of humanity: we all suffer, we all feel afraid. We all feel ashamed of things we've done or where we've come from. We all feel fear as kids."

Barnes said when he first started writing he thought maybe his childhood wasn't that cruel but since talking about it with people for the past couple of months he said he has found it's more normal than he'd like to admit.

"There are a lot of people out there living in poverty, ashamed of their actions, abused, physically, emotionally, sexually all sorts of stuff.

"I think these are conversations that have to be had, particularly with men. Men don't talk about their own fears or the shame or violence. This country is in the middle of a plague of domestic violence and men don't want to talk about it. I think the booked has helped start another conversation.

"Rosie Batty has inspired a lot of this conversation so the fact I can get out and talk about it ... is a good thing. These issues are often kept in the dark and they thrive in the dark. We have to start shedding a bit of light on them to start the momentum for change."

Barnes will bring this kind of honesty to the stage when he arrives in Grafton to tell "a few yarns" on December 3.

"It's not a rigid format where I sit and tell the same stories every night. It's pretty opened-ended and I'll be feeling how it's connecting with audience and how I feel on the night as to what I'll be talking about.

"I used to sing and scream to release my same fears and same hopes and get my aggression out. Now it's just coming out in different ways."

Barnes said it has been a while between visits to Grafton but he was looking forward to coming back to the Jacaranda City.

"I love it up there. We used to go and stay with Don's (Walker) family and go swimming in the river, go to the rodeo. We did all sorts of things, I'd spent a lot of time up there. You know I've pretty much sung about Grafton every night of the week during my career."

Barnes is referring to Cold Chisel classic Flame Trees, written by Walker about his home town, which has gone on to be an Australian classic.

"So yes, Grafton does has a special place in my heart because of that.

"It's a beautiful part of the world. It's gorgeous up there during Jacaranda, it's one of the most beautiful times of the year."

Barnes said he couldn't remember playing the Saraton before but was looking forward to a more intimate live show.

"I haven't played live for a while actually, so coming into this theatre to do this is going to be great."

Beside the verbal stories Barnes will naturally encompass a great deal of music from his life into his show and he will be bringing some of the family along to help him out.

"My son plays piano and drums, my son-in-law plays guitar and upright bass, and my daughter Mahalia is travelling with me too, so depending on the song, some will be acoustic and some will be electric."

So will that include that Grafton song?

"Well, if I told you that I'd be ruining the show. Let me put it this way. There'll be a few pleasant surprises for you Grafton people. It's a fond place in our hearts and we're really looking forward to it. It's going to be an interesting night. You'll love it."

And while the book and this special tour is taking up most of his time this year, Barnes says he hasn't forgotten his rock 'n' roll roots by any means.

"I'm already in process of writing new album and Cold Chisel are talking about writing some songs for an album in a year or so.

"I don't think I have to do one or the other now, I think I can do all of it. They go hand in hand.

"Writing this book has made me feel more open about writing lyrics.

"Actually I think I sing better since writing this book, which is really odd.

"It's certainly a lot more raw, lot more honest. Hopefully I'm a bit more in touch with what I'm feeling."

Barnes said he had been seeing a therapist for years "who sits there and listens to me talking" and was there while he was writing the difficult book.

"The thing is, people think you're weak if you're getting help, but for this sort of stuff everybody needs help.

"This stuff was killing me and getting help gave me the tools to get me through and deal with it.

"It doesn't matter whether you are a rock star or a painter or plumber.

"I've got a lot off my chest and set my life on a course for improvement for growth and part of that growth is communication and talking with other people, which is what I'll be doing in Grafton.

"People often talk to me a lot about being a screamer, but there was a lot of stuff I wanted to scream about.

"A lot of stuff I had to scream about.

"There's still stuff in there but not quite as much now."

  • Jimmy Barnes will be performing at Grafton's Saraton Theatre on December 3. Tickets on sale at the theatre or online.


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