Aussie rock legend Jimmy Barnes tells he nearly ended it all
IT may have been the sleeping tablets. On top of the emptied minibar. On top of the cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine Jimmy Barnes had ingested to escape his demons.
But the morning after the night before, when the rocker saw the dressing gown belt tied around a wardrobe rail in the ensuite of his Auckland hotel room, he was confronted with the reality he had attempted suicide.
As he reveals in Working Class Man, the sequel to his best-selling Working Class Boy memoir, he had no recollection of getting out of bed and trying to take his life on that night in 2012.
Confronting the evidence and confessing to wife Jane made him change his life forever, so he could keep living.
"At that point, I was becoming really, really aware of the damage I was doing all around me, everywhere around me, all through family, friends, career, myself, everything. And there seemed like there was no way out for me. But I wasn't thinking I've got to end it," he said.
"I remember thinking 'I'm not going down, I am not going down. I'm gonna fight.
"The incident in the prologue of the book ... I'd been up for days, eight days, no sleep. I was taking cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, booze, uppers, downers. Anything I could get my hands on, basically.
"Jane and I were fighting, of course we were because of the state I was in, the state we were in, and I just wanted to get to sleep.
"I had everything from the minibar stacked beside the bed and I was washing down sleeping tablets, trying to get some sleep because I knew I had to work the next day.
"I woke up the next day, I went to get dressed and that's when I saw the dressing gown cord tied around the rail and I realised….'Oh f ...'.
"I didn't think I thought 'I'm gonna go kill myself.' It was more a curiosity of how the hell do people do that, it can't be that easy.
"I don't know why it happened … the sleeping pills with the booze, that combination that has killed a lot of people."
His wife did not see what her husband had attempted. It was a big suite and she had her own dressing room, but when he told her two days later, the family knew everything had to change.
With the benefit of hindsight, Barnes believes his lifetime of self-destructive behaviour, provoked by running away from the memories of a childhood of family violence, abuse, addiction and poverty, had been a continuous and subconscious suicide mission.
He had tried rehab a couple of times, had meditated with monks, sought counsel from wellbeing guru Deepak Chopra.
Every period of sobriety would end with Barnes back to where he started, consuming such a gobsmacking volume of alcohol and drugs he later joked would shame a Bulgarian weightlifting team.
After that morning in Auckland, he reached out for help and finally found a therapist who could guide him through the painful and confronting process of reconciling with the horror of his childhood, which he would eventually share in the Working Class Boy memoir last year.
"It was part of the long wake-up call but one of the final straws. I kept relying on everyone to help me, and Jane to be with me, and it was all hinged on relationships and trying to control everything," he said.
"Finally I just said 'I've got no f … ing control.' I let go of everything and thought I can either fight like this, and twist and turn trying to hold onto all this stuff in my head, or I can get myself together and have a look at it all. If I can pick myself up and I can look at myself in the mirror and I felt I was doing OK, everything else would fall into place."
The Love Story
Working Class Man begins with the early days of Cold Chisel and travels through Barnes' wildly successful solo career, the making of his family with Jane, connecting with other children from his sex and drugs days before he even joined a rock'n'roll band.
It is also a love story, one that began the minute he spied Jane Mahoney at a Canberra gig Chisel was playing with The Angels in November 1979.
While she was initially infatuated with this wild man of rock, his hedonistic lifestyle was not to her tastes and the diplomat's daughter left to join her family who were posted with the Australian delegation in Tokyo.
He wrote the now Chisel classic Rising Sun in an attempt to win her back. But before she returned to the man who has now been her husband for 37 years, she had to contend with her parents discovering too much information about him.
Barnes had been on the front page of the now defunct scandalous tabloid Truth, which touted a week-long expose of his love life.
"That was very unfortunate timing. They wrote s ... about everybody. Someone I knew who was writing for them at the time rang me when I was in bed one night, probably drunk and passing out, and asked 'How many girls do you think you've slept with?' Barnes recalled.
"I told him 'Oh f ... off, you idiot, I don't know ... thousands' and I hung up.
"The week before I was going to Japan, I was walking past the newsagent and it had the poster The Thousand Girls of Jimmy Barnes.' I thought "Thank god Jane's not here'.
"I went to Japan and of course the embassy gets all the newspapers And they had been reading it all for a whole week before I got there.
"I was going out for dinner with Jane and her parents for Shabu-Shabu - I'd barely been in restaurants and was just hoping whatever the food was, it wasn't still alive.
"Before I could eat a mouthful, Jane's dad says 'I've been reading about you in the paper.' I took a big gulp and then I back-pedalled."
But there had been other women in his life and long, long before Jimmy met Jane.
Barnes had long tried to maintain a relationship with his son David Campbell, whose existence he had known of since his mother Kim fell pregnant.
In 2007, he would discover another daughter Amanda and then the following year, Megan would contact her birth father.
Paternity tests confirmed they are his daughters. Barnes said the second he saw each woman, he had no doubt because of their resemblance to his sisters.
The rocker credits his wife for supporting him when the women contacted him and welcoming them into the extended Barnes clan, which includes their children Mahalia, Eliza Jane, Jackie and Elly May and their grandchildren.
"And now I have even more grandchildren, thanks to Amanda and then Megan. The girls were all from the same period in my life as David, before I was in a band, I was wild before the band," he said.
"Jane was really helpful, encouraging me to do this, to find out. And welcoming to the girls. I now had five other grandkids, big ones. And now I've got a great grandchild. They are now part of the family.
"And it's different. They are really good people and we're really close, but of course they haven't been brought up by us so there is a different way of relating and we are still learning how to do it. I am so glad they are in our lives. And hopefully we are bringing some peace to theirs as I try to fix this trail of destruction I left behind."
Working Class Man also lifts the veil on so much of the mythology which swirls around Barnes and Chisel. Like the origins of his famous headband.
Most diehard fans are well aware of the story but maybe not of the twist in the headband tale.
"Jane had run away from me because I was too toxic when we were first dating. But obviously we loved each other and we were on the phone all the time," he said.
"So I went to Japan to visit after recording the East record and one day I was walking around and there was these protest rallies and everyone was wearing these headbands. Someone told me they said slogans like Fight For Freedom and Death Before Dishonour.
"I grabbed one of them, and depending on how you roll it, you can display the different slogans.
"I thought it was a good thing to bring home, I didn't know what I was going to do with it but when I arrived back in Australia and we were doing the cover shoot for East, I thought I would wear it for the photo in the bathtub.
"I wore it for years and years and then about 10 years later, a Japanese guy came up to me and asked me to sign an album. I signed the cover, tell him "All the best' and he says "By the way, you've got your headband on upside down…'
"I tried to explain it away with 'ah, it's a southern hemisphere thing, I did it on purpose'. No, I'm an idiot."
When Barnes quit Cold Chisel and they completed their Last Stand farewell tour, he launched straight into his solo career and landed at No. 1 with debut album Bodyswerve.
Determined to have a shot at the American market, he signed a record deal there and went to Los Angeles to record his second album For The Working Class Man.
As he finished the album, he received an offer many rockers would have found too hard to refuse.
"During that period I was asked to join Deep Purple, Van Halen and Little Feat, all within a few months, I was the flavour of the month," he said.
"I came back from the studio on the final day and Jane was waiting to go to the shops to buy some things on our last day there and told me to look after Mahalia and EJ.
"As she left she says 'By the way, Eddie Van Halen rang for you'.
"So I call him back and he asks me to come over to his house because he wanted to ask me something.
"I explained I couldn't leave the house because I was babysitting, and half an hour later, there's a knock at the door and these two guys come in very worried-looking and Eddie says they're looking for a singer, David Lee Roth had left the band.
"I told him I didn't really want to join another band, I was just starting my solo career and I'd like it see that through.
"But I was really flattered, I really like Van Halen.
"I got word when Sammy Hagar left the last time they were trying to get hold of me again."
If Working Class Boy and the Songs and Stories tour which followed helped Barnes shine a harsh spotlight on domestic violence, Working Class Man highlights the life-threatening toll of mental health and substance abuse.
Barnes reached out for help. Two decades after the death of his friend Michael Hutchence, he wishes he had insisted the pair catch up after bumping into the INXS frontman the day before he died.
The family were living just around the corner from the Ritz Carlton hotel in Double Bay; Barnes was in the middle of a particularly indulgent period of drug-taking and partying.
"I don't blame myself at all but I remember with Hutch, I was living around the corner from the hotel where he hanged himself. I spoke to him the day before … I'd seen him in the street. He looked tired, worn out. Me too, I was doing my own s ... and fighting my own addictions then," he said.
"We both said to each other we would catch up at the end of the week. I should have said 'Let's stop and have a cup of coffee.' I'm not saying I could have saved him but maybe I could have been a voice of reason.
"Don't take your friends for granted or that everyone is going to be OK. Just reach out.
Life is too precious. I've been at times when I thought I had nothing else left to give and I had destroyed everything around me but I was so wrong.
"It takes a moment of clarity to see how much you have and how much you have to do. Kids grow up and they still need you. Partners fall in and out of love but they still need each other. Friends need you here. And you need to get out there and do more stuff for yourself. You should fight for every breath you have."
Working Class Man by Jimmy Barnes, published by Harper Collins, available from October 23.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp