Warning: This article discusses suicide and depression and could be distressing to some readers.
Jimmy Barnes is on a mission to get men to speak up about their problems and end the cycle of family poverty and abuse, writes David Skipwith.
Jimmy Barnes knows more than most about hard living.
For nearly 50 years, he lived a life of wild excess, as the Aussie rock legend enjoyed a hugely successful career while using drugs and alcohol to try to outrun his demons. The remnants of a harrowing childhood marked by violence and sexual abuse.
Seven years ago, he tried to take his own life in an Auckland hotel room. It was the wake-up call he needed to change his life. Finally, he was forced to confront his pain and heartache - and deal with the addictions that were slowly killing him.
Having cleaned up, the former Cold Chisel frontman now wants to help break the cycle of family poverty and abuse that he endured and which continues to destroy lives on both sides of the Tasman.
After baring his soul in two best-selling memoirs, Barnes is back with his 17th solo studio album, My Criminal Record.
The new album further confronts the struggles and nightmares of his youth, but Barnes wants to show people there is a way out of the despair.
"I haven't particularly got a criminal record but I thought it was criminal the way I was brought up," Barnes explains over breakfast at a city cafe.
"I thought it was criminal that families had to live in poverty and it was criminal that we had to live with so much domestic violence and abuse.
"Half my life we spent hiding while my parents were fighting and my dad was beating the s**t out of my mum. We were starving, we were abused at home, sexually abused, emotionally abused," says the 63-year-old.
"And the big thing is there are still so many families in New Zealand and in Australia that are still living with that.
"There are a lot of social issues that we need to address and My Criminal Record addresses some of those about people feeling lost."
His first rock album since 2010's Rage and Ruin, My Criminal Record has Barnes looking back at the places, times and memories he spent much of his life trying to escape. The 13 tracks include two covers that sum up Barnes' ability to survive and endure – John Lennon's Working Class Hero and Bruce Springsteen's Tougher Than the Rest.
In the opening title track, Barnes could be reading from the script of an Aussie version of Once Were Warriors when he sings: "I come from a broken home/My mamma had a broken heart… My daddy had a problem/ But he always seemed to find himself a drink/When he finally hit rock bottom/ We didn't know how low he'd sink."
The current radio single Shutting Down Our Town gives a nod to the battling blue-collar South Australian town of Elizabeth, where Barnes' family settled after moving Downunder from Glasgow in 1962.
Set up as a new satellite city to Adelaide, Elizabeth was built around the Holden car factory, with streets named after iconic models such as Torana and Commodore. The factory eventually closed in 2017 and Barnes remains concerned for out-of-work families struggling to put food on the table, and the knock-on effects of such hardships.
"Elizabeth is a place where nothing really grew, including the kids, especially emotionally. It was a tough place," he explains.
"There was a lot of violence and social problems, family problems that we had to put up with. I constantly ran away from home to get away from it and I had nowhere to go.
"I joined Cold Chisel when I was 16 and I never looked back."
Life, outwardly at least, seemed to get only better. Barnes let the good times roll as Cold Chisel recorded eight studio albums over a decade before splitting in 1983.
A solo career quickly took off with nine No. 1 albums in Australia (15 in total), making him the country's most successful artist.
His notorious reputation as a hard drinker grew in tandem and his wild behaviour was widely accepted and even celebrated.
"People use to watch me and they were living vicariously through me. I could do anything I wanted and people go 'this is great' and then, actually, I was encouraged.
"I thought for a long time the only way I could make music and be successful was to be wild. I thought if I wasn't wild, people wouldn't want to see me but that was really the big mistake."
The catalyst for change came when his past and long-standing problems eventually caught up with him during a visit here seven years ago.
"I spent a long, long time running from my past and it got to the point where it nearly killed me, in this town, in Auckland.
"It freaked me out enough to start really putting in the hard work. These issues festered and boiled away to the point where they nearly killed me."
Having lost musician friends like former INXS singer Michael Hutchence, Barnes insists he never really wanted to die. He believes such destructive behaviour is often a cry for help from men unable or too embarrassed to articulate their feelings.
"I spoke to [Hutchence] the day before he died. And I don't think he meant to die. He may have been too out of it and just made the mistake to try and he succeeded.
"I have had a lot of good friends who have killed themselves ... and I think, like me, it wasn't something intentional. I think it was accidental and their problems just got too much for them and they weren't as lucky as me."
He now hopes others will learn from his experience and wants to convince men to speak up before they reach a breaking point and harm themselves or their loved ones.
"There's a huge men's suicide problem [in New Zealand], huge domestic violence problems here.
"I've spoken to a lot of people here who have gone through the same things. Its stuff that is embedded in our societies.
"Suicide is a big issue with young men and it's involved with a whole bunch of other issues - poverty, domestic violence - it's intertwined.
"There's a lot of guilt in men and men don't talk about anything, so if they feel guilty about something they lock it away until it kills them or they go berserk.
"Besides suicide, we have to deal with the deeper social issues. Men have to start talking and open up, because men aren't just killing themselves - it's killing women, it's killing families.
"In Australia, one or two women a week are killed because of domestic violence and it's just f***ing out of control.
"It's highlighting men's issues but men's issues are everybody else's issues as well. We have to do something about it."
Barnes believes it's the government's responsibility to do more to help improve support for struggling family's and protect those suffering abuse.
"Every kid should be getting meals in schools, every kid should feel safe, every family should have support. If mothers are being beaten, they should have help getting away and [have] places to go, because there's too much violence and it's causing too many problems.
"The obvious problems of domestic violence are really, really bad, but the other problems that come with that are suicide, either with the men who are perpetrating these crimes or the families who can't take it anymore or the kids who are subjected to it.
"The government has to really start [helping] and social services has to be better."
Barnes is looking forward to sharing his new material and messages with Kiwi audiences once more, and although he still enjoys the odd drink, touring life isn't what it used to be.
"I have a whiskey now and then. But I used to be a maniac so I'm not like that anymore.
"In those days I would never drink for the taste, I would drink to get f***ing hammered. I don't do that anymore.
"I like being present, feeling - even if it's hard - I like feeling things. It's a different life now. It's good."
Who: Jimmy Barnes
What: Shutting Down Your Town tour
When: From September 25
Where: Dunedin Town Hall; Christchurch Town Hall; Spark Arena, Auckland
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.