" I can't live my life through ..." he says, trying to answer a question
that suddenly seems irrelevant. He grits his teeth. "Some guy is ... Well,
this story could have an interesting end to it."
Rogers story does.
At the age of 34, Timothy Adrian Rogers is the embodiment of rock'n'roll glory
for several generations of music fans. At a time when new artists treat ordinariness
as some kind of proud badge of authenticity, Rogers is the last guitar gunslinger
in town. He's a magnet for mythology, the bastard child of Pete Townshend and
Paul Westerberg, a musician who's never seen a stage he didn't believe he could
own by virtue of his considerable ability.
Rogers writes, sings, plays and carouses with considerable swagger. He could
easily have adopted the boast of Paul Newman's "Fast" Eddie Felson
in The Hustler as his credo: "I'm the best there is. Even if you beat
me, I'm still the best."
Like the rarefied few he should be compared with, Tim Rogers can't be pinned
down. He can be unfailingly polite and circumspect or uproariously loud and
entertaining. Most days he's a fount of conversation, but catch him at an off
moment or rile him and the shutters go up. He can exude an air of exclusion
bordering on the hostile. There are, in short, many versions of Tim Rogers.
You can add them all together, but it's always a different total.
"Frank Sinatra had this thing about not wearing rings, because 'I know
who I am'," relates Rogers. "I admire that, but I need a reminder." Inked
on his slender chest is the reminder: an image of two hands entwined, locked
in prayer, that comes from a Mexican painting. "I love the image," he
explains. "To me, it has both desperation and confidence, although I generally
see it as desperation. I'm often trying to contain myself, ground myself, and
that picture sums it up for me."
On the heel of six You Am I studio albums, Spit Polish is Rogers' second solo
set. Credited to Tim Rogers and the Temperance Union - Melbourne musicians
Shane O'Mara, who co-produced with Rogers at his Yikesville studio in Yarraville,
Stuart Speed and Ian Kitney - it arrives at a time when You Am I are without
a label, but it's unconcerned with the machinations of business. The foe on
Spit Polish is Rogers' own songwriting, a source of both pleasure and discord.
As he gently sings on the opening Some Fellas Heartbreaker: "Don't you
go thinking that a song can get him through/I know what those things can do."
" It's the torment of not being able to express it any other way," he
says. "I've been told, by family and others, 'If you can put it in a song,
why can't you talk about in a conversation?'. Not being able to is a real pain
in the arse. It leaves you with a lot of hurt. You've been given this incredible
opportunity to put words and music together - and I'm very fortunate to be able
to do that - but it leaves you with a lot of difficulty in your dealings with
On Damn Songs, a country-flecked lament that is one of the album's defining
cuts, Rogers and Lisa Miller trade observations about the vagaries of putting
your life into three chords and three minutes. "Wrap up guilt inside rhymes," she
offers, in a tone that suggests it's not enough to populate your life with
tunes, no matter how good or successful they are.
" It's not," he says. "Unfortunately for me it is, but it's really
not. For some horrible reason, writing makes you feel better, but it's really
selfish. You love those songs 95 per cent of the time, but the other 5 per cent
you hate the fact that you can't do it face to face."
Damn Songs came to Rogers one night in the suburbs of Madrid, as he was taking
out the garbage in the apartment building where he and his family - his wife
of five years, Rocio, and their young daughter, Ruby - spend several months
of each year. They also visit Rocio's parents in a small village 160 kilometres
north of Madrid, and both environments afforded Rogers the time and distance
to pen Spit Polish.
" There's a lot of space to think; you don't have to fight for it like in
Melbourne," explains Rogers. "I get up, have a brandy and coffee at
the local and get short shrift from the local old guys - although I think they're
warming to me. I'm the only six-foot-three loon you'll find until the centre
of Madrid. But I'm from Kalgoorlie and now I live in Spain for four months a
year. That's big."
Rogers met his wife when You Am I played a Spanish festival as part of a European
tour. The day after, driving through France, he sat in the van smoking hashish,
trying to calm himself as he marvelled at her beauty. His "gals",
as he describes them with palpable affection, are the cornerstone of his life,
but co-existing with them is an itinerant lifestyle and a long history of living
out the rock'n'roll dream that so fascinated him as a child. The hints of grey
in Rogers's unkempt mane have been well earned.
" Being in a rock band can be really difficult. For them, first," he
says. "When you're doing the thing you love, you're away from the ones you
love. When you're with them, they're shitty at you because you're itchin' to
play guitar. There are days when I'm completely blasted by two o'clock and I
keep it going for the next three days. There are others when a good day involves
having a great show and just hanging out with the girls. There's no perfect day."
Recently, Rogers watched a video of the 1996 ARIA Awards, where You Am I's
third album, Hourly Daily, swept the night and the band closed proceedings
with a prime rendition of the Easybeats' I'll Make You Happy. Looking distinctly
unhappy, however, was a young Tim Rogers.
" Russ and Andy made very nice speeches, but I was this scowling, pretentious
meerkat at the back," he recalls. "I should have just said, 'You made
the right decision'. Why would you walk on and not shake anyone's hand?"
In several ways that night was to be a watershed for You Am I's fortunes. Despite
stubborn resistance from commercial radio programmers, You Am I's critical
acclaim had moved towards commercial success. Hourly Daily and its predecessor,
1995's Hi-Fi Way, one of the definitive Australian albums, had both debuted
at No.1 on the charts. With a swag of unwieldy ARIA awards as the icing, You
Am I's label, rooArt Records, was bought by BMG Records, with Tim Rogers as
the No.1 asset.
You Am I were touted as the next big thing overseas. Rogers was photographed
by Who magazine as one of the year's most beautiful people; he had a small
role in Jane Campion's Holy Smoke; and the band recorded their fourth album
in Los Angeles, with heavyweight American producer George Drakoulias (Black
Crowes, Primal Scream). But the band's relationship with their international
label, RCA Records, was to be a fractious one.
" It turns my stomach now, the way we were lied to," Rogers says evenly. "I
was in the early stages of my marriage and it wreaked havoc with that, and that's
why Dave Novik of RCA Records deserves to be publicly flogged. These people think
they can f--- around with young bands and mould them, and they don't realise
what they're doing. It destroys lives."
As the band's publicist, Novik would vet Rogers' songs, continually demanding
more hooks and giving his charge's use of idiom and wayward charm short shrift.
And while they focused on overseas success, You Am I's standing declined in
" I've said in the past that we missed out, but we didn't miss out at all," claims
Rogers. "We had a chance and we took it. We've got people around the world
- not many - who like us. You Am I was never meant to be a big band. We're great,
but it's very rare that great things become successful."
Rogers was such a compelling rock-star-in-waiting that no one, including the
vocalist himself, realised it might not be the best position for someone who,
as he puts it, "overdoes it". As he openly admits, "there was
potential for me to do a lot more stupid things and hurt a lot more people".
You Am I's decreasing sales locally also led to problems with BMG, which came
to a head just under a year ago when Rogers asked Ed St John, the managing
director of the multinational's Australian division, if he could release Spit
Polish through Festival Mushroom Records. He felt the solo disc didn't have
the commercial potential BMG needed. St John agreed, even though, as he now
says, "I had an interesting legal issue with it, because Tim was contracted
The pair, however, disagree about what then eventuated. Rogers feels that having
acquiesced on that point, St John then chose to deny the band's request for
$25,000 in tour support - which would have allowed them to tour the US, where
a small indie label, spinART Records (no connection to rooArt), was releasing
their most recent album, Deliverance - and then decided to drop the band altogether.
" They're not connected," says St John. "On every album they released,
large amounts of money were lavished on recording budgets, marketing, tour support
and videos, and in each case the sales were too low to justify these costs and
we lost money. We had already funded one international tour, so when a second
request came in, I declined. As cruel as it sounds, all business has to be based
around the idea that you spend money to make it back, so at some point it becomes
necessary to say no to a band that isn't making money."
While they also don't agree on why You Am I left BMG, they do agree it was
for the best, albeit on different grounds. Rogers is happier dealing with independent
labels, and St John no longer has the band's unrecouped debt to the company
as a financial stress. BMG was probably never the right home for You Am I,
as the company's strength is marketing and selling commercial pop acts. Unfortunately,
they were finally able to do this with Australian talent, just as the split
with You Am I became public knowledge. Tim Rogers out, Australian Idol's Guy
Sebastian and Shannon Noll in, was an easy divide to draw.
But at the end of a long Australian tour, still upset about the loss of US
tour support, Rogers saw one of the TV show's judges, Mark Holden, at Adelaide
Airport. He made an ill-judged attempt to communicate his displeasure.
" I saw him walking around, and having been drinking for 48 hours, I thought
I could say to him, 'We only needed $25,000 to tour America'. I idiotically thought
I could explain this to Mark Holden, but because I'm an idiot I grabbed him and
said, 'For the cost of putting you on TV for five minutes, my band could have
toured America'. Because I put too many a 'f---s' in, he gave me this look, and
if somebody gives me that look, I'll go off.
" It was just stupid," admits Rogers, who, along with Holden, was spoken
to by airport security. He's somewhat embarrassed, but not about to repent. "I
don't feel any remorse, because it was all lightweight. I'm glad I didn't knock
his teeth out, because he's got a family. What would his kids have thought?"
It's a handful of steps to the exit, but it takes Tim Rogers right past his
perceived foes. He strides towards them, a line of tension balanced across
his shoulder blades. It's as if he's about to play a show, as if he's preparing
himself to be Tim Rogers. After all these years, none of us know what it is
to be Tim Rogers, just what it takes and what it gives back. Maybe Rogers himself
doesn't know, but what he won't do is refuse to carry the burden.
Smiling, the man speaks just as Rogers draws level. "Excuse me, Tim, sorry
to bother you, but I was just telling my friend," he says, nodding at
the woman on the stool next to him, "about how I paid a fortune at Covent
Garden once to get a Triple J Hottest 100 CD that had Heavy Heart on it so
I could play it for my wife. You have to let me buy you a drink."
The pressure lifts. "Sure," replies Rogers, and within five minutes
he's deep in conversation with Matt, who's celebrating his final week at a
media company with Sue, one of his clients. "I first saw you in '91," she
tells an increasingly humble Rogers, "at the Hopetoun Hotel in Sydney."
Within 10 minutes it's on to rounds of shots, and Rogers and Matt are talking
over each other as they trade Kiss memories and debate whether it's right to
attend the latest farewell tour (Rogers against, Matt for). More shots, then
a ragged volley of Kiss's Shock Me by the two fans: "I'm feeling low so
get me high/Shock me/Make me feel better."
And for a moment the record deals and the album sales don't matter, there are
no songs to wrestle with and soon he'll be with his wife and daughter. Tim
Rogers hoists his glass. "Salute," he declares as the glasses clink.
Who could deny him at least that?
- Craig Mathieson