Jimmy Barnes
Jimmy Barnes

Rock legend grapples with his demons

THE pain of a poverty-stricken childhood marred by violence is hard for anyone to shake off.

Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes tried for many years, numbing his anguish with an abundance of alcohol, drugs and wild behaviour.

In recent times, he has beaten his "demons" by writing about his life in a two-volume autobiography, laying bare the disappointments, drug-taking, violence, shame and desperation of a man frequently "out of control".

Working Class Man is the second volume, released last month.

At the start of this book, 17-year-old Jimmy leaves his childhood home in Elizabeth, Adelaide, with his new band, Cold Chisel.

Despite all the chart-topping records in the years that followed, both with the band and solo, the fame, adulation and good fortune, Jimmy's "demons" stuck relentlessly by his side.

For him, writing his autobiography was part of the healing process.

"It allowed me to put some of those demons in their place at last," he said.

"The sooner I open up and let this poison out, the better things will be.

"It's taken 60 years and I'm still afraid, but I have to put some things back on track before it's too late."

Jimmy felt an overwhelming need to "get over" his painful childhood experiences to benefit his family, especially his grandchildren.

"If I didn't, they would have to struggle with demons that I had brought from my childhood into theirs," he said.

"If you want to change the way you feel about yourself, especially when you feel as bad as I did about myself, then you have to do things that you are proud of.

"Singing gave me a sense of being worth something.

"I used to go to church so I could sing in the choir."

His first bestselling book, Working Class Boy, is a harrowing story of a Scottish migrant boy from Glasgow, growing up with his parents, Jim and Dorothy Swan, and five siblings in an impoverished and violent household.

It was a tough tale to tell. Drunkenness, child abuse, fighting and the shame of his deprived circumstances come into play.

His alcoholic, abusive father was not a good role model.

"He'd send me to neighbours to borrow money," Jimmy said.

"I swore I would never be like my parents."

Jimmy's affection for his mother, Dot - who gave birth to five children before the age of 21 - is all too obvious from his writings.

"My mum was a tough woman," he said.

"I can only guess what her life was like. Her life was atrocious.

"(My father's) problems got worse and she was 2000 miles from support.

"The safest I've ever felt was when she held me in her arms."

Dot died in September 2016, before Jimmy's first book was published.

"I'm glad she didn't have to read (the autobiography), because she lived it," Jimmy said.

"She wouldn't have liked to think that she's damaged us."

The damage, the demons Jimmy speaks of, has taken its toll.

"It's been a lifetime battle to get over it," he said.

"I've had a lot of therapy for years."

The love and support from his "darling" wife Jane, children and grandchildren have helped. In his battle against alcoholism and drug addiction, Jimmy has had times of clarity.

"Love, peace and quiet was all I really wanted," he says.

The Barnes family spent some time in France after a financial collapse.

Even there, Jimmy was still "troubled".

His adult life has been a roller-coaster ride of career successes and disappointments, of riotous behaviour and self-destructive tendencies.

Many of his records have topped the charts and his fans adore him no matter what.

"I had been bigger than anyone in the country," he said.

"And I had gone from all that, from having the world at my feet, to being on my knees in front of my own family, with nothing to give."

Now, as Jimmy travels the country promoting his second book, his long-lasting "road to ruin" has fortunately taken a turn for the better.