Rediscovering Jimmy Barnes

In the early 80s, Cold Chisel was a big deal. They were my first real rock band. By the time I was 20, I had seen them 3 times. I grew up in mid-sized town in New Zealand. Bands rarely came there, but Cold Chisel did.

As is well documented and recounted by Jimmy himself, in those days, he was well out of control. He was the charismatic, screaming lead-man. He would regularly drink a bottle of vodka on stage during the set.  I always preferred the quieter, talented, and unassuming Ian Moss and would wait in anticipation for the lights to lower and to hear the opening riff of his rendition of Georgia on my Mind.

In 1983, I attended the Cold Chisel Farewell Tour at the Dunedin Town Hall. I remember queuing for tickets with high anticipation. No phone or internet purchases in those days. In usual, Jimmy form, he had polished off his routine bottle of vodka by about three-quarters of the way through the performance.  The audience watched nervously, as he climbed the wooden ladder at the side of the stage, unsteadily making his way up to the balcony ledge, to sit and scream the chorus of “Forever Now”, 2.5 metres above the crowd below. As he made his way, the microphone cord stretched and the sound cut out. Furious, Jimmy, clumsily made his way back to the stage, picked the microphone stand up, and threw it into the crowd. A young woman was hit just above the eye cutting open her forehead. Jimmy stormed off the stage, followed by the rest of the band and that was the last we saw of them.

This was the way that I always remembered, Cold Chisel. I never bought an album or saw Jimmy as a solo act.  Cold Chisel disbanded.  Their music remained within the iconography of Australian music. Many songs, including Flame Trees; Khe Sanh , Cheap wine, and When the war is over becoming classic Aussie anthems.  

In the intervening years, Jimmy has done much soul searching. He has written a couple of books and many songs about his upbringing and early years, his mistakes and realisations. 

Then along came Covid and I rediscovered Jimmy. Gone was the Jimmy of the old days, the egotistical, off his face, screeching lead-man.

Here he was every night on Facebook, in his home surrounded by his family and friends sharing music, bringing comfort and support to people across Australia and the world during the lockdown. Jimmy has formed a team of collaborators. Followers have watched as he has shown his support, encouragement, respect, and love for his wife, Jane as he amplified her to be the front person of the Jane Barnes Band.  Jimmy and his team have created a movement of followers underpinned by strong values of caring and supporting others. At last count, the Jimmy Barnes page had over 560,000 followers on Facebook.  Jimmy is no longer the lead-man. He is the real deal. Authentic. He is a true leader.  Who would have thought? Oh…and he is still pretty good!

Dianna Howell April 2021 Certmgr MIML MAPA

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