OLDER AND WISER

You Am I’s Tim Rogers is bask­ing in a more ma­ture out­look with­out deny­ing his past, writes Iain Shedden

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

On the sur­face it’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter spokesman for a dis­cus­sion panel ti­tled The Male Mon­ster from the Id than Tim Rogers. A singer with a rep­u­ta­tion for con­sis­tently rewrit­ing the rock ’n’ roll life­style man­ual, the You Am I front­man and mu­si­cal mul­ti­tasker is surely best placed to dis­cuss the role of the male stereo­type in all of its rock glory.

That’s why Rogers, 47, is on stage with fel­low artist Adalita, once of Magic Dirt, Amer­i­can writer Holly Ge­orge-War­ren and mod­er­a­tor Bec Mac at A Rock & Roll Writ­ers Fes­ti­val in Bris­bane, a two-day talk­fest broader than its name sug­gests, to shed some light on what it is to be a rock star and on mas­culin­ity’s evo­lu­tion within that do­main.

But Rogers, an Aus­tralian rock icon whose rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes him, isn’t here, this time, to shake his rock ’n’ roll tail-feather, to flash his torso or to spill testos­terone over the mosh pit. He’s here to ar­tic­u­late, in an amus­ing, con­sid­ered and charm­ing fash­ion, that while he is still OK with be­ing a mid­dle-aged en­fant ter­ri­ble when the mood takes him, there is an­other Tim Rogers be­neath that ve­neer, a troubadour tak­ing stock of it all, a man who has moved on.

“I wanted to ex­press that I have more in­ter­est­ing things go­ing on,” Rogers says af­ter­wards, nurs­ing a cup of tea at his nearby ho­tel. Yes, tea.

Rogers, whose ca­reer has spread into film, theatre, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio since his band You Am I took Oz rock by the scruff of the neck in the 1990s, has long been seen as an Aussie torch­bearer for the ar­che­typal male rock singer tra­di­tion, a front­man carved from the same mould as Bon Scott, Jimmy Barnes, Chris Bai­ley, Doc Nee­son and even the orig­i­nal wild one, Johnny O’Keefe. In so do­ing there have been pe­ri­ods when drugs and al­co­hol have been Rogers’s friends as well as his en­e­mies, in­dul­gences that have con­trib­uted to his glam­orous rock ’n’ roll im­age as well as his un­do­ing. And now, as he pre­pares to re­lease a new solo al­bum, An Ac­tor Re­pairs, in a few weeks and a semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal book later this year, the singer is grow­ing up in pub­lic.

“I want to en­joy get­ting older,” he says. “I’m only 47. I’m not over any kind of hill yet. I just want to be a de­cent per­son.”

The lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Rogers oeu­vre, An Ac­tor Re­pairs is an ex­am­ple of the singer’s cur­rent re­flec­tive state. Orig­i­nally de­signed as a stage mu­si­cal, this stripped-back af­fair is writ­ten through the prism of an ac­tor’s fi­nal bow, but in songs such as The Bug, One More Late Night Con­ver­sa­tion and Youth there’s also a theme of let­ting go of the past.

“That was the orig­i­nal idea,” Rogers says of the mu­si­cal theatre project, “but I was just try­ing to show off. I didn’t re­ally want to write a stage show. It in­trigues me, but I re­ally had no stom­ach for roundtable con­ver­sa­tions with dra­maturges and ac­tors.” The word “ac­tor” is given ex­tra em­pha­sis, an ironic wink, per­haps, to his own cre­den­tials in that ca­pac­ity.

Aside from his mu­si­cal prow­ess as a solo artist and as You Am I front­man, as well as nu­mer­ous singing col­lab­o­ra­tions with, among others, the Bam­boos, the Hill­billy Killers and Tex Perkins, Rogers has been no stranger to the stage and screen as an ac­tor. His cred­its in film in­clude Jane Cam­pion’s Holy Smoke and Michael Kan­tor’s The Boy Cast­aways, along­side Me­gan Wash­ing­ton. Kan­tor also di­rected him in Mel­bourne in the Malt­house Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of Ge­org Buch­ner’s play Woyzeck in 2009, in which he played The En­ter­tainer. He also ap­peared, al­beit as him­self, in the stage mu­si­cal based on his al­bum What Rhymes with Cars and Girls. Be­ing at the com­mand of a script is not his ideal en­deav­our.

“I don’t have a lot of dis­ci­pline per­form­ing,” Rogers says. “Stick­ing to scripts and stick­ing to char­ac­ter are dif­fi­cult. I hadn’t had stage fright in a decade and then when I did Cars and Girls last year I needed to be sta­tion­ary for an hour and a half and I needed to hit marks. The dis­ci­pline scared the shit out of me. It was ter­ri­fy­ing.

“Ac­tors are in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters,” he says. “I can say that be­cause I’ve been told that I can’t act. There’s an in­ti­macy in do­ing film. You’re in­cred­i­bly in­ti­mate with peo­ple for a cer­tain pe­riod of time ... and then you go. Run­ning into peo­ple that you worked with is like run­ning into an ex-lover.”

Bump­ing into old flames might be more of an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard to Rogers than to some of his con­tem­po­raries, but there are parts of his his­tory as a rocker, as a bon vi­vant and as a man wrestling un­told de­mons that have been much more con­fronting.

Back in You Am I’s hey­day, af­ter the al­bums Hi Fi Way (1995) and Hourly, Daily (1996) had gar­nered nu­mer­ous awards and thrust the band to­wards in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, Rogers was, by his own ad­mis­sion, in a bad way. He cred­its his band­mates and in par­tic­u­lar You Am I bassist Andy Kent, who is now also the group’s man­ager as well as man­ag­ing Rogers, for help­ing him through the hard­est times.

“It’s good be­ing man­aged by some­one who has seen you at your worst,” says Rogers. And by worst he means sui­ci­dal. Rogers, born in Kal­go­or­lie in Western Aus­tralia and raised in Perth, Ade­laide and Syd­ney, fea­tured in sev­eral early line-ups of You Am I from 1989 on­wards, be­fore the Syd­ney trio of Kent, Rogers and drum­mer Mark Tu­na­ley re­leased their de­but al­bum, Sound as Ever, in 1993. Tu­na­ley was re­placed by Rusty Hop­kin­son for Hi Fi Way and re­mains the band’s drum­mer today.

You Am I’s rep­u­ta­tion as a no-non­sense punk pop force was leg­endary by then and Rogers was the fo­cal point and the at­ten­tion-get­ter, the ar­che­typal rock ’n’ roll bad boy that he felt he wanted to be, but he was also burn­ing the can­dle at both ends, some­thing that was des­tined to catch up with him even­tu­ally — and it did.

“I made a very mis­guided faux sui­cide at­tempt in Toronto in 1997,” he says. “It was a cry for at­ten­tion from an id­iot, but I lac­er­ated my­self to such a de­gree that I had to be taken to hos­pi­tal. Then I got driven back to the ho­tel. Andy and Russ’s way to han­dle it was to just crack open a beer and play video games. I couldn’t move my left arm be­cause it was so cut up. We didn’t ac­tu­ally talk about it and we never have.”

That was not his low­est point, how­ever. That came in the early 2000s, when his short mar­riage to Span­ish phi­los­o­phy teacher Ro­cio Gar­cia Ro­driguez col­lapsed and the sub­se­quent di­vorce and dis­tance from their daugh­ter Ruby when she moved with her over­seas.

“I was very con­cerned about my daugh­ter,” says Rogers. “That was the worst. I see pho­tos of

Tim Rogers, top; and with Me­gan Wash­ing­ton in The Boy Cast­aways, left

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