A self-described “lanky, shaggy D-list” celebrity and dandy who strives to be Noël Coward but fears he is Steptoe, Tim Rogers, lead singer of You Am I, reveals that these days the “swagger” in his walk comes from two knee reconstructions. “This is who I am, take it or leave it. A middle-aged man without much more going on than a deep thirst.”
That “deep thirst”, for acceptance, approval, freedom from anxiety (“my little friend”), and the alcohol and drugs to which he turns for relief, runs through Detours like a river. “Alcoholics”, Rogers and his lover tell themselves, go to AA: “We’re drunks.” There is less bravura in the story of how once, after an epic hangover and attempted OxyContin cure, Rogers picked up his daughter from kindergarten. Her teacher insisted on accompanying them home. As though needing to put semantic distance between himself and the memory, he tells the story in the third person: “He’d actually believed that the teacher was charmed by his louche, cavalier attitude and bonhomie.” Months later, when his wife kicked him out for good, he learnt that the teacher had in fact been fearful for the girl’s safety “in the care of a man whose pupils were pinned as if all hope was squeezing from his mind”.
You Am I has been a star band of the alternative scene since its first album debuted at No. 1 in 1995. Rogers’ lyrics are scattered throughout the book, and there are anecdotes about touring, bandmates and shows. But Detours is much more about Rogers himself: the books he reads, or promises himself he will when he’s less wasted; his love of footy; his first infatuations; his love for his daughter; and the self-doubt and compulsions that have at times nearly crippled him. A memoir in fragments, it jumps about in tone as well as time and place. At times it feels like he’s trying too hard to impress. Eyes “erupt with brilliance like blue cocktail umbrellas”, a man moves like an “aggrieved arachnid”. It didn’t really hook me in until about the hundred-page mark. Yet this latest addition to the growing genre of Australian rock memoir is honest and raw, sometimes heartbreakingly so, and occasionally very funny at the same time. After delivering what he’d thought was a virtuoso performance of “Pinball Wizard” to friends at university, one remarked: “Noice, Timmy. Noice. But you ain’t much of a singer, are ya?” CG
HarperCollins, 352pp, $35
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 16, 2017 as "Tim Rogers, Detours". Subscribe here.