Our heroes shouldn’t be perfect. They should be heroic because of their faults, not in spite of them. A couple of weeks back at The Corner Hotel, Matthew Richardson and Tim Rogers showed why they both richly deserve the ‘Hero’ badges a great many of us have pinned to their chests. We know about their achievements and what they can do. On a Thursday night recently, they spoke about their anxieties and imperfections with as much candour as they did their ‘wins’, and did it with such a spirit of generosity that everyone in the room felt lucky to be there.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from both Tim and Richo in the lead up to the night. Great entertainment certainly, and genuinely interesting conversations of course, that’s the whole idea. I think I expected that perhaps there might be a tendency towards showmanship (we had a full forward and a lead singer after all) and that they might, to some degree, be in performance mode. We got plenty of that, but what we got at other times, genuinely floored me. At one point I felt like we’d all had the wind knocked out of us such was their level of honesty.
I’ll start with Tim. I’ve often thought as I’ve stood watching You Am I, or listened to one of Tim’s many great records, that he willed himself to be great. He immersed himself in music (he told us of his Eureka moment hearing ‘Start Me Up ‘ in the dentist’s chair as a boy) and created a world all of his own where anyone was welcome – you just had to believe in it as much as he and the band did. He had a surfeit of natural talent to begin with of course, but watching You Am I in their early years it always felt to me that this was life or death for Tim. There was no faking it. He was in so deep that it seemed that the only way for him to keep his head above water was to pour every piece of physical and emotional energy he had into his songs, his guitar playing, his singing, his stage performances, his interviews, his life, until there was no distinction between what he did and who he was. All the greats have that. It’s hard to imagine him protesting that ‘Music doesn’t define me you know…’.
Tim’s knockout moment in PN#2 came for me during a new segment we introduced into the show called ‘Mongrel Punts’. The idea was for Tim and Richo to talk about one decision they had made in their careers, a risk they’d taken, or a cliff they’d jumped off without knowing what was at the bottom that changed the direction of their lives. We thought it might be a good ice-breaker at the start of the second half as everyone settled back in after a break. Francis led off with the question to Tim – had there been a particular moment or decision he had made in his life that stood out as being particularly important or life changing?
‘When I was young’ said Tim ‘I became seriously mentally ill…’
If it was possible for an already silent room to fall any more silent, it did. The room collectively sucked in a breath. Tim talked about how when the opportunity came for You Am I to go on their first proper tour all those years ago, he was not in a good way. He was heavily medicated he said, and he worried about what going on tour would mean. How would it would affect him? What would happen if he ran out of medication? What if he took himself off it? How would it affect everyone around him? It was, by all accounts, a terrifying thought. It made him anxious; he wasn’t sure what it would mean. Ultimately ‘though, he said, in amongst all of those concerns he kept thinking about that one hour on stage every night where he had some a kind of peace and everything flowed in a way that it didn’t a lot of other times. He chose touring.
Tim didn’t have to tell us that story. He could have talked about weighing up different record deals, or given us a broader brush stroke version of giving away university to pursue playing in a band, but he didn’t. He took us right in, and he looked us in the eye and told us that story because he felt it was important. Thinking about it later, it felt to me like an act of generosity, of philanthropy. It can’t have been easy to do, but he had a point to make, and it was worth making.
“Live a life with heart” he said.
To say that Matthew Richardson wore his heart on his sleeve out on the field during his playing days would be to repeat what has already been said a thousand times before. It’s become a cliché to describe his playing career that way, but of course, it’s true. As he said himself on stage with a wry smile (and admirable self awareness) “I did express myself with my body language out on the ground I suppose”. Cue laughter. I always loved that about him watching him play. He had so much rock star about him. He just couldn’t control himself sometimes. Everyone in bands loved Richo during his playing days. Importantly too, along with Brett Kirk, he had the best haircut in the AFL by a country mile.
It’s pretty obvious from watching Richo in the media that he’s a good person. Strangely similar to Tim in some ways, albeit in a different context, Richo isn’t faking what he does. He is living it, just as he did on the field. To me his stellar personal reputation was further justified when I first made contact with him about Presentation Night. Someone he had never met before was approaching him to come and be part of an untried concept where two people have a chat about music and footy on stage in front of 500 people. What could possibly go wrong? Exactly. In addition we offered to mock up a picture of him as Josh Homme to advertise the event. Alarm bells may have rung. The fact that he actually even replied in the first place is something for which I’m extremely grateful.
Getting him over the line to be a part of the show took time. We sent a few emails back and forth. I tried to keep mine brief, not always successfully. He did fine in that area. Richo planned to come to our first show in July to watch Bob Murphy and Paul Kelly and see the show for himself. Then he could decide whether he was up for it or not. That seemed entirely reasonable- we didn’t even know if it was going to work ourselves. On the night of the first show he was sick and couldn’t make it. No problem. We stayed upbeat. Time moved on. We knew that Tim with Richo was the only pairing we wanted, it was worth waiting for. Then time started getting tight. We had to decide whether to go ahead or to pull the pin if we were going to make advertising deadlines and all the rest of the show business frippery we try our best to cover up to make everything looks seamless. We’d had such a great run with Bob and Paul the first time around that we didn’t want to let the standard drop by having a pairing that wasn’t quite right. Francis and I had a chat. With no word yet from Richo we decided we should make a call. If we didn’t hear back within the next day we’d call it off. It was a relief to say it. We’d keep working on the next show and get off Richo’s back. He works every single day during the football season. We’d talk over summer and see what we could come up with then.
Early the next morning I received an email:
Ok mate let’s give it a go
It was a good way to start the day.
I hope the big number 12 won’t mind me saying that prior to the show he was extremely nervous, and said as much. It was obvious before he said it. Backstage he looked at our run sheet over and over again. Tim didn’t. Instead he told fantastic stories about his life music, football, everything, walking around the room, drink in hand. It was the show before the show. Richo joined in from time to time, but was focused on what was about to happen. He wanted to be prepared, just like a game of footy, or a live TV cross. It was fantastic to watch. Not for a moment am I suggesting that this was like watching him in the lead up to a big game, but it did offer the smallest insight into the type of personality who wants to do everything they can to play perfectly. The part that was unnerving, I imagine, is that for all the preparation, just like footy, no-one really knew what was about to happen. We had our conversational topics mapped out as as road signs, but like structures and zones in footy, there was really no way of knowing whether or not they were going to work until the show began.
In the little room to the side of the stage, we went over the segments we’d mapped out together again, and looked through all of the visual cues we had lined up (Rob Lowe in the Collingwood rooms after a game anyone?) in order of appearance. The idea ‘though was to not be too prepared because without spontaneity the show can’t work. There have to be moments – like the one described earlier – that no-one sees coming.
The clock ticked over to 9.00pm. It was time. Tim poured Francis and Richo a drink, and one for himself. They raised their glasses together. It was a nice moment. People who are good at what they do always make sure that everyone in the room feels a part of the band, one of the team. It’s important. A new team was about to walk out on to the field for the only time, a supergroup formed for one night only. Our man Clinton on the Front of House cued the intro music (‘Hotline’ by Reggie Garner since you asked) and on they walked, one by one.
When Richo came on it was clear that a large portion of the house were yellow and black. It was a heroes’ welcome to say the least, an open hearted embrace of the man who thrilled and frustrated them in equal measure, and ultimately become one of their favourite sons. He looked enormous up there. He looks enormous anywhere. The nerves he mentioned earlier were on display to a degree, but he wore them endearingly well. In a Twitter exchange the night before he’d joked with Francis that he needed an early goal or could lose confidence. He needn’t have worried. In the eyes of most in the room he’d already kicked a couple just by turning up.
After five minutes or so, all signs of those early anxieties were gone. He talked about his pride in wearing the last Tasmanian State of Origin jumper (which he brought in to show us) in spite of being comprehensively beaten and being told by coach Robert Shaw that they had disgraced the sacred apparel. He played ‘Berlin Chair’ written by the man sitting across from him in the ‘Grand Vinyl’ segment (‘Sorry Timmy, there was no way I wasn’t going to play it’.) He started asking Tim questions, and they, with Francis, fell effortlessly into conversation. Of course, Richo was great at it, exactly as everyone knew he would be. He talked about his love of the Tigers, and of seeing You Am I for the first time. Of how nearly did his own head in at one point during his playing days by looking at online forums and seeing just how scathing the comments could be.
After the show, Richo professed to having had a great time. He totally went with it as soon as he hit the stage, and gave himself over to the way the conversation takes on a life of it’s own. The show itself is a pretty simple concept, but it can only work if the people on stage having the conversation go into it with a spirit of generosity – towards each other, within themselves, to the idea itself and to all of us in the room hanging on their every word. One of the main ideas behind these shows is to give the people involved an opportunity to speak about things that mean something to them, that make them who they are as people, and how what they do defines them. I realised after the show that the idea of doing this wasn’t easy for Richo. He took a massive risk, and put himself in an uncomfortable place. He did everything he could to get himself ready, then dived in, hoped for the best and delivered beyond what was expected.
Okay mate, let’s give it a go. Live a life with heart.
Richo and Rogers. Heroes.
Footnote: Duglad Jellie has written a fantastic piece about this show on his excellent Tiger Tiger Burning Bright blog. It’s a great read, beautifully written, insightful and personal.