Features October 6, 2020

Killing Time with Jimmy Barnes

Killing Time with Jimmy Barnes

2020 has changed almost everybody’s relationship with time.

Anecdotally, we’ve likely all been told that the speed of time seems to accelerate the older we get – ‘Where does the time go?’, they say. And we’ve all been in fights in pubs, cafes or, perhaps most aggressively, in internet forums, about time.

  • Is it real?
  • Is it actually happening now?
  • Can we bend it?
  • Alter it?
  • Rewrite it?
  • Travel in it?
  • Kill it?

And speaking of pubs, Australian music icon has been in plenty of them, as have many Aussies as they contemplate how to pass the dull moments. The in between moments. The seemingly insignificant moments.

Killing Time, you could say.

But have you, reader, killed time with Rod Stewart as he gradually shifts a grand piano across the mezzanine level of a hotel, until it is balanced precariously on the railing between two floors? Just for the shits and giggles, as security gets increasingly anxious and aggressive?

Or have you committed to taking your clothes off in front of a giant crowd, and then promptly forgotten about it?

Probably not, but Barnes has.

Just two of the many and varied ways he has passed the time on the road, as detailed in his third book, Killing Time, out this week.

Barnes admits he’s spent a lot this time running. Running from gig to gig. Activity to activity. Life high to life low, and then back away from the low, and away from the demons.


There’s not many places to run in 2020 though. COVID makes running, travelling, gallivanting, or any kind of literal and physical escape nigh impossible.

So now, Barnes has to kill time with his own thoughts.

“Instead of trying to run away and keep one step ahead of everything, I’m sort of enjoying being in the moment,” he tells The Music Network of his current relationship with time. “If you can sit with yourself in the present, you’ve got all the time in the world. Just enjoy the moment, you know?”

Unlike his first two books, Working Class Boy and Working Class Man which track Barnes’ time though his traumatic childhood and then exploding music career, Killing Time jumps all over the place – a time machine rocketing through his life.

One chapter you’re with Barnes as he watches Stewart flirt with danger via the precarious piano, and the next you could be in Thailand as the locals struggle to give him a haircut. You’re at a bikie festival in France, and then you’re in his childhood town of Elizabeth in South Australia as he grapples with his present relationship with his past.

It’s a more relaxing ride than his previous efforts, but that’s not to say the process was easygoing.

Barnes tells TMN that writing, and promoting, books is a full-on process. Indeed, he says he almost had a breakdown following the promotional efforts associated with Working Class Man.

“It’s like anything, when you create something, if you want to market it, it takes work. If you want to get the word out to people and spread the word, whether it’s music or whether it’s a book, you’ve got to be prepared to put in the hard yards,” he says.

And, of course, you have to have something to say – which not everybody does.

Even if you’ve had an apparently interesting life, your book might be a time waster.

“I’ve got a lot of mates who’ve tried [to write a book], and they’ve ended up being boring,” Barnes says. “I think what you’ve got to do, not that I’m an authority, but I think if you can keep it as authentic as you can, [it will work].

“Lots of friends who’ve tried to write, and I did this at the start, where you sit there and you go ‘Okay, I’m an author now. I’m going to write’, and you go ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times’,” – he laughs. “You’ve got to write in your own voice. It’s like singing. You’ve got to do it with feel, and with what you feel and pour yourself into it.”

It’s easy, he says, to spin a tale to a drunken, enthusiastic crowd in a pub when they’re killing time and looking for a laugh – but when someone’s at home, turning to your book for a sober escape, and you’re not there to offer further context, the story needs to be good. And you need to tell it well if they’re going to while away the time buried in the pages.

No amount of screaming or facial animation or chiming in from an enthusiastic audience will help the story get across the line.

“All my mates that tell stories in the music business, it’s all when they’re drunk or they’ve had a few drinks, and they’re big timing and making it all ‘Yea, well this happened to me’. It can’t be about that [with a book]. It has to be about stuff that needs to be shared,” he says.

And much of what Barnes has shared over the years has been his demons. So what terrorises him now that he’s confronted the times gone by? What keeps him up at night – wastes the time he could be spending sleeping?

It’s the moments he’s missed, he says.

“I’ve faced a lot of demons in my life, but there’s still a lot more to do,” he says. “I just want to be a better person.”

He recounts the moments he’s said ‘No’ to kicking the football with his grandson in the yard because he’s too tired from the day’s work. A moment in time he can’t get back – but which eats up further time as he wonders what could have been.

“You think ‘I should have just done that’. The moment I’ve missed. A moment of you I’ve missed,” he reflects. “But you’ve just got to savour the moments that are presented to you. Life is there unfolding in front of you all the time. And that five-minute kick of the football with your grandson might be the thing that he’ll remember forever, and that you’ll remember forever. You just don’t know unless you get up and do it.”

You might be exhausted, he says, but if you’ve got the time, why not kill it?

Killing Time is out this week via HarperCollins.

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