Tim Rogers: last of the bohemians

Tim Rogers has written a new book. Photo: James Brickwood

Tim Rogers has written a new book. Photo: James Brickwood

Tim Rogers is sitting in a dark, moody bar in St Kilda reflecting on his 47 years – 27 of those as lead singer and guitarist in the band You Am I – and the book he’s just written.

It’s not just the slightly louche, hideaway aesthetic that makes this the perfect spot to meet. This is his home-away-from-home, and where he happened to meet his partner – whose name is Rosemary but is referred to in the book by the nickname, The Hurricane – who has, he writes, “A deep, wholesome laugh that I want to be surrounded by for the rest of my days”.

This bar – “feels more like a speakeasy”, he writes – is as much a character in the book as any of the colourful humans who enliven it. Indeed, it’s rare that you’ll find Rosalyn Russell, Katherine Hepburn, Christopher Plummer, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Scott Thompson of the North Melbourne Kangaroos in the same book.

 

 

Why did he decide to write it? “I needed money,” he says. And because there was a lot to write down. “People approach and say the most odd things because people are moved by music. When I tried to collate what’s been said to me I thought, ‘I’d like to represent this somehow’.”

Detours is a revelation, the first work of a born writer. It is wry, sharply observed, sensitive and hugely funny. (I’m still laughing at his tale of being “part of a gift” to perform at a 50th birthday, when a muted response to his own songs prompted the birthday guest of honour to ask, “Um … do you know any
Cat Stevens?”)

Signs are this could be the start of a great literary career. This self-described “distant dad, delusional footballer, singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band, long distance walker and a very light sleeper”, who is said – by at least one fan – to resemble Rod Stewart, says he has 100,000 more words of fiction in a drawer.

It’s good news.

The book’s life began with a desire to visit his father Adrian Rogers in Kalgoorlie to watch some footy with him, and to write about it. “It’s an expensive place to get to, I thought ‘I’m going to try and write about it and see if there’s a way I could sell an article to cover some expenses’,” he says.

 

Photo: James Brickwood

Photo: James Brickwood

 

“The only thing I had to prove with this project was that I could, possibly, write. I didn’t want to set anything straight … I just wanted to write about things that I’m concerned about, and to do it well.”

He did. It is a wild ride of a book, an insight into a life the rest of us might, enviously, call bohemian.

He writes – movingly – about his 17-year-old daughter who lives in New York, and – hilariously – about his life on the road. He debated about whether he should write about his daughter. “When someone is the first thought in your head and the last when you go to sleep, it’s difficult not to write about them.”

Tim had wanted to be in a band from the age of 14. “Not because I wanted to write songs or purge my soul of its demons, or even find an outlet for my burning creativity,” he writes. “I equated my desire to be in a rock band with a similar desire to be in the Hole In The Wall Gang from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Tim is a wordsmith on and off the page, and over a long career in music there have been plenty of opportunities for ruminating. “We were driving back from Newcastle with the band the other day, the van full of drinks after the show. At the halfway point between Newcastle and Sydney I realised that we’d been having the exact same conversations for 27 years, which is shocking in itself, but the greater shock was that I didn’t mind one bit.”

Tim’s book is an insight into his wide range of cultural interests, including film, TV, sport, fashion and the “simple pleasure” of going to a bar alone with a book, or sometimes talking with the barman “about which member was our favourite from Bananarama”.

He has lived a life which has involved some traditional accompaniments to bohemia. He talks about drinking as “the polka-dotted elephant wandering around the room” and writes that, on some mornings with his partner, “I catch a flicker of fear in the corner of our unfocused eyes as we try to make sense of what happened the night before.”

Tim has a long and deep relationship with the suburb of St Kilda. When he first came here for gigs in the early 1990s he would head for Topolino’s in Fitzroy Street for an after-show pizza, and would haunt the suburb’s thrift and vintage boutiques and second-hand bookstores. One day, years later, a local said to Tim: “Geez, son, it’s good to see one of the last bohemians still around the suburb.”

Tim soon developed a distinctive dress code. “I no longer stepped out as if I’d just been to a garage sale curated by Status Quo – denim was given over to velvet, and no neck of mine would be exposed without being adorned with a kerchief. With a fedora at a rakish angle, and jewellery a must,
I looked like an oafish Quentin Crisp.”

 

A young boy, a bucket and a dream..

A post shared by YOU AM I (@youami_gbtflou) on

 

For years, Tim has been part of a group who gather on Wednesday afternoons for a football training session on a St Kilda oval, just a torpedo punt from the beach. On one occasion, he writes, while having a post-training dip, “Six of us were waist-deep in Port Phillip Bay, arms folded across chests puffed out in desperate vanity, imagining ourselves as young AFL players being filmed by news cameras.”

The reflections in the book emerge from hard experience, not rock-star dilettantism. He prefers the friendship of those who have also known hard times. “If I’m in the company of someone who is dismissive of a waiter, well, they ain’t my kind of company,” he says. “I’ve worked as a waiter and cleaned hotel rooms and dressing rooms in a theatre – which is why we never trash hotel rooms or dressing rooms.”

Tim writes about the rock life he’s lived so long. “You’re a stranger in a strange town and it happens 200 nights a year. Your whole day revolves around doing a show. It dawned on me that it’s not a very regular way to go through life but it has been my life for 30 years.”

It’s time to thank Tim and brave the evening. As I leave, I ponder his words about his partner, The Hurricane, who waits tables at his favourite bar. “Her manner at work is that of the saucy head nurse at a mobile surgical army hospital. Not flirtatious but sexy, and more than capable of inflaming or dousing a situation with sass and charm.”

Like I said, a wordsmith.

DETOURS \ by Tim Rogers is in bookstores now.

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