by Nicky Busch
There’s a screech of brakes. A white Kingswood does an illegal U-turn and the offending driver is soundly abused by the occupant of an expensive car who’s narrowly missed being wiped out. Tim Freedman, singer, songwriter and keyboard player with The Whitlams, sticks his shaggy head out the Kingswood’s window and lets rip with a stream of expletives, poetic in their fluency.
He enters the Bondi restaurant looking like a Country Road catalogue boy who’s been sleeping on the streets for a month. His shirt and trousers are just a bit too loose and crumpled, his face is creased and unshaven and the aforementioned hair is pointing skywards. He doesn’t look like a stereotypical Romeo, but Tim has agreed to spending an evening eating, drinking and talking about matters of the heart and loins with the J Mag.
Charming and cheeky, Tim’s always had a stage presence that incorporates sexual suggestion. He explains his view of the way he comes across. ” If I’m hurting and I put those feelings into a song, I think the female audience appreciates it. But that’s more sensitivity. Up on stage I don’t think The Whitlams have ever tried to be sexy. More unavoidably blokey. I mean I played the piano and Stevie played the rogue larrikin, so if you like that sort of thing… maybe you should be reading Bukowski.”
Asked whether he has ever consciously used sex to advance his music career, Tim looks exasperated. “We are a poor Sydney band on our own label, eking out a living, so if I have it hasn’t worked. Whether I’ve used my career to advance my sex-life is an entirely different proposition.”
At this point Tim, who has been scanning the wine list with some interest, asks who is paying for the meal before choosing a bottle. Explaining we’re a fledgling magazine with no entertainment allowance to speak of and that we shall both be paying for the bill, Tim scales down his choice from the Grange to a more moderately priced white wine. Never one to deny the pleasures of the flesh, Tim likes to eat well, drink well and is a keen admirer of the opposite sex. But when it comes to admiring other men, and even fellow male performers, he is diffident. “I can’t see men as sexy at all. Why not? Because I equate sexy with the sexual act and I don’t want to have sex with men. I don’t find them attractive. Charismatic maybe.”
“Women seem to be able to appreciate other women as sexy more than heterosexual men can appreciate other men. Maybe men have been socialised out of bisexuality. The sex act is near the surface in the act of viewing for men. Maybe not for women.”
What about the allure of the stage lights, sweat and rock’n’roll? “I don’t find performers sexy per se, I find people in the street sexier, girls on buses (looks around the restaurant)…it’s fairly random. Maybe because I’m familiar with the process, or maybe because I’ve seen the ugly fuckers up close after their shows. I know that people often glow because of the medium through which they are observed. Oh, and anyone with red hair is sexy.” Tim at this point brandishes a flower that he has liberated from the vase decorating the table and declares himself a romantic.
“Love and sex are well-springs when it comes to writing. I don’t necessarily write better songs when I’m in love. I write love songs when I’m in love. I write the most when I am on the way in and on the way out. On the whole, I write with more intensity of emotion. I feel acutely aware of the luck of life when I’m in love. Love makes me want to celebrate life while it lasts, because I know how tenuous it is. Love makes me want to do everything and one of my favourite things is to write songs.”
Tim smiles coyly when asked how he thinks groupies fit into the wonderful world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. “We don’t have groupies, we have ‘special friends’, and what they have are adolescent crushes.
He laughs, saying “On a more general level, maybe it’s because it’s a one-way mirror – like a hole in the dunny wall – through which you can check out the object of your desire with impunity. Impunity is sexy.”
What else is sexy? Tim sings: “There’s no aphrodisiac like lonliness, youth, truth, beauty, fame, Chris Abrahams and a bottle of scotch.”
“Music is seductive. On a dirty unhinged night: PJ Harvey’s second album Rid of Me; in a girl’s bedroom with lots of candles; Portishead or Mazzy Star; drunk and happy; late night albums by bands like the Lounge Lizards – seamy jazz that reminds me of New York, the sexiest town I’ve ever been to. In New York, you can imagine everyone putting out under the right circumstances – everyone’s so brash. Seduction is a grope in the back of a yellow cab in the rain with a bellyfull of Irish whiskey and black jazz in your ears. That’s sexy. Great music, drunk in the rain. You feel like you’re at the centre of the world.
“I find Melbourne a sexy town. It’s a talkie town with pubs where conversation is possible. It’s so cold you want to go to bed with someone. Getting to the skin after four layers of clothing. I think I could grow old disgracefully in Melbourne.”
Tim looks out at the view of Bondi Beach; crashing surf and moonlit beach.
“Sydney – the beach is too sexy for me. I think of the Hummingbirds song: I wish I was dead from the waist down.”
Is sexy music necessarily successful music in terms of record sales?
“I think sex is a mainstay of the music industry. At the mass market stage, it definitely sells records. At the cottage industry level, it’s more about musical merit. If you’re seen to be trying to sell music with sex, you would be regarded as tacky by the cognoscenti who dictate taste in the first instance. You’ve got to attract the illuminati before you reach the nubility.”
Tim grimaces when asked to describe what inspires his lyrics and his music. “I don’t think I write seductive songs, although I do write about sex. The Hamburgers song is a light fantasy piece about a fast-food shop gigolo. The latest song I’ve written is called I’m Not Ever Coming Out – it’s about a gay guy who loves women….The last relationship I was in was a well-spring; wanting her, getting her, and breaking up. Love is an inspiration, more than sex. Met my Match, although it uses sexual images, isn’t about sex, it’s about falling in love. I think it’s good to try and write about sex from a different angle. Songs that are private letters to someone else can be so trite. They don’t move me, they piss me off. I write fantasy pieces or try to get to the bottom of something. You’ll Find a Way used messages an ex-girlfriend had left on my answering machine – I suppose you could call that ‘slice of life’ songwriting. Yech, so you could say I’m more interested in what’s behind the veil curtains than the act of parting them.
“I tried to write an album of aggravated assault ballads last week but no-one would collaborate. If Nick Cave is going to take the piss out of himself – and his audience don’t notice – then I might as well take the piss out of him too. It’s now an album of tax dodge ballads, with a bit of jay-walking thrown in.