This morning, I finally finished reading Jimmy Barnes’s harrowing memoir: Working Class Boy. As much as I could write about the book, Jimmy Barnes summed up his reasons for writing the book so well:
“I want people to read this because I know there are other people out there, just like me. People who think they’re alone in life and that their cards have been dealt and that there is nothing they can do to change anything. That’s how I felt too for a long, long time. I nearly killed myself because of it. But now I know there’s always time for change and there’s always a better path. You just have to look for it.
This book was my first real step in looking for hope.
Peace and love
In many ways, Working Class Boy echoes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and it has been a great read with meaningful insights on living with adversity. Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and philosophical insight you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music. Working Class Boy covers the ins and outs of his tough and brutal childhood and is something of a prelude to his second book, which will cover his career.
Jimmy Barnes was born as James Swan on the 28th April 1956 in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, Scotland and went on to find success as the front man for Australian rock band Cold Chisel. From there, he has also had a very successful career as a solo artist. He grew up in a violent, impoverished family where his father blew his pay packet on alcohol, leaving his mother scratching to feed the family with whatever she could find. Not that she was an angel. She could throw a punch along with the best of them and was as tough as nails. He writes:
“Mum was tough, too. Sometimes I think that she thought she was tougher than Dad, which might have been a mistake. When she physically fought with my dad after he came home drunk with no money to feed us, she was the one who wouldn’t back down. She would throw herself at him, hitting him with anything she could get her hands on. Night after night she was the one who ended up battered and bruised on the floor, not him. But she just kept getting up.“
She even did childbirth tough:
“I was born in that very kitchen. My granny made my mum scrub the floor with a brush to take her mind of the contractions. It killed two birds with one stone. She didn’t notice the pain as much as she had a clean floor. ”
In 1962, when Jimmy was 6 years old, his family immigrated to Australia settling in Adelaide. Unfortunately, things for the family didn’t improve with a change of scenery and their battles continued. His mother left his father but finally returned marrying Reg Barnes, the guardian angel who stepped in and loved those children like his own.
Yet, his demons pursued him and he was gripped with fear. He takes us into this space throughout the book but most poignantly in the Prologue:
“From the moment I start to drink, I feel absolutely nothing. When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed.”
While the book definitely delves into his dark side, there was also love joy, and family and it wasn’t all bad. There does seem to be a glimmer of hope there somewhere, which may just be the fact we know “Barnsy”not only survived but also had a great career and family. He became a success.
So, the book has a very strong tension between the public success of his music career juxtaposed against a brutal childhood Barnes was blessed to survive. It is probably this tension which gives the book much of its force a long with Barnsy’s down to earth, personable wit. After all, you feel like you’re sitting down having a yarn together as you read his story and get to know the man inside the rock legend.
While I would recommend Working Class Boy to anyone, I would particularly recommend it to men battling with depression or adversity. Despite its horrors, it really is an uplighting story of success against incredible odds…a great Christmas gift.
Have you read Working Class Boy or have a Cold Chisel of Barnsy story? I’d love to hear from you.
 Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2016 p 358.
 Ibid p. 11.
 Ibid p 13.
 Ibid p I.