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working class boy : the early life of jimmy barnes

Just finished reading WORKING CLASS BOY the first instalment of the story of James Dixon Swan, aka – Jimmy Barnes. As usual I am about six months behind the times, the book was published to much fanfare last year, ironically when Barnsey was doing publicity for the book at various venues in Sydney I was in Glasgow. In a pub, about ten minutes from Cowcaddens, the rough area that Barnes lived in until the age of five.  That’s just how life is sometimes, but back to the real story.

Barnes’ home life in both Glasgow and Elizabeth, SA (where he spent most of his youth) was shambolic, the family lived in poverty and violence was commonplace. The stories he tells make your hair stand on end, the two bottles of vodka a day that became a regular feature of his later life start making sense. His substance abuse was not the usual garden variety abuse of the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll crowd. Barnes was in need of more anesthetizing, to banish the memories of his troubled upbringing. Yet he tells it with such candour and humour that the reader is drawn in to the grey streets of Glasgow and South Australia willingly and we are happy to take the journey with him, and to some pretty dark places.

The ten pound pom deal probably sounded great on paper, but the reality was that the great life that the migrants imagined was hampered by a ridiculous housing shortage and families came out here to shocking living conditions. The Barnes family lived in Nissan huts, which were made of tin and they swapped one tin hut for another for two years before moving into a proper house. The family moved to Elizabeth on the northern outskirts of Adelaide, but in spite of living in a more solid brick home, the same problems of earlier years still existed. Extreme deprivation is a frequent feature of his upbringing, as his father frequently disappeared on payday and did not re-surface until much later with nothing but a hangover. Barnes’ mother was frequently found crying in frustration and desperation about feeding four children.

Now normally when a muso or actor/comedian writes a detailed account of their life, the minutiae of their lives can be completely and utterly snooze inducing, no matter how funny or entertaining the person usually is. Happily Barnsey’s book is completely engrossing, well written (despite a few clichés) and laugh out loud funny. Like a lot of Scots, Barnes is a natural story-teller and he reverts to the Glaswegian of his youth brilliantly (admittedly with a little help). This book has been a long time in the making, but earlier attempts didn’t end up working out, which is probably just as well, as the experience now will definitely be a cathartic act necessary for closing the door on his past.

 A great read, now looking forward to part two, as WORKING CLASS BOY finishes when Barnes has just joined the newly formed Cold Chisel.  

Published by Harper Collins rrp $45.00  



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