Tim Finn, OBE, has been making great Kiwi music for more than four decades, first with Split Enz, then in Crowded House and as a solo artist. He performs in White Cloud, a show about being Pakeha, in this week's Auckland Writers Festival

1. What does being Pakeha mean to you?

I agree with Michael King who essentially said that if you live here and love the place, and are not of Maori or Pacific Island descent, then you are Pakeha. When I was a boy, a Pakeha was of British descent only. I guess I didn't question it, it was just another word for me/us to distinguish me/us from Maori, but along with that came the Irish Catholic thing, and being from Te Awamutu, Friday night gatherings, certain unforgettable songs, holidays at the Mount, a weird, faintly traitorous longing for a cobble-stoned street at twilight and a lamp-lit game of soccer, shared bedrooms, familiar meal rotation and corporal punishment. But I always felt like there was a spring tightly wound inside me, propelling me outwards. I no longer feel like that, and really enjoy being here now.

2. How is age treating you?

Sixty is an implacable number, before which I cowered. Sixty-one feels like the start of something. I am now, like many others, on that last stretch of open plain, before the low hills that guard the sea. There are no more mountains to climb. I am being treated fairly. I swim laps most days and that makes a difference. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be, so mirror-wise, all is looking good.


3. Do you ponder your mortality?

I don't dwell on mortality but it's there every day now. You feel that time is running out and that it's not endless. We're all in a bit of denial, I think, and it's quite a shock to really face it and approach it. It's something that runs along as an undercurrent. Not a morbid feeling, more a deep realisation forced on you by sheer weight of numbers. There are two kinds of people in the world - those of us who are living and those of us who are dying. You can't imagine it until you go into it, I think.

4. What brings you the most joy?

Kids sleeping soundly, a lowering of the lights and a shared feeling of a job well done, or at least heartily attempted. Oh, and a new song on the way.

5. And most heartache?

Loss of loved ones. The White Cloud show has a lot to do with my mother. She was 2 when she came to New Zealand from Ireland and we felt like we were in this Irish ghetto in Te Awamutu. Everyone was of Irish descent and Catholic. When we were working on the show, which is really about the experience of growing up in the North Island, I was walking through the city one day. I was thinking of the song White Cloud which runs through the show and there was this tinkle on the ground. I looked down, and it was an Irish 20p and I thought that's Mum saying "come on, get on with it".

6. Has money made your life easier?

Of course, although there's a trap in easy. It can lull you to sleep and there's this thing of needing to wake up, as opposed to people struggling just to pay their rent and feed their kids. I fight it. It's amazing to me still that I've been a musician for 40 years or more. In my 20s I wouldn't have believed that was possible.


7. What do you know about love?

That it means wanting someone else's happiness more than your own. Everything else, so-called, is all drama and confusion. And lots of fun sometimes.

8. What is the lyric you are most proud of having written, and the one you wish you had?

Straight off the top of my head, "I'll never see her face, between us there's too much space" [from Split Enz's Poor Boy]. And "In my life, I love you more" [The Beatles].

9. Does anything about your earlier music career make you blush?

I'm happy to own it all. Our kids love watching and listening to the old stuff. I take my cue from them. Hermit McDermitt has been getting a good thrashing lately.

Both my kids are very musical. They love it. No, I never pushed it. They just see all the fun that their parents are having with it and join in. They don't understand the hardships and struggle music can be. They don't want to know about that stuff.

10. When have you been at your lowest in life, and how did you pull yourself out?

My early 40s were a low point. I think that's true for a lot of people. You kind of run out of steam for a while. But thanks to meeting the magnificent Marie Azcona, and starting a family, I pulled through and started to relax. What kind of father have I been? I've been around quite a bit. I was lucky because it came for me when I was not touring so much. I get involved a lot. Being older as a dad was a good thing for me - not being quite so self-centred - although it was still a shock. I'd had so many years to please myself. But it was the making of me.

11. Have your ideas about spirituality changed?

As a child, you don't really have a choice as to what you practise or even believe. Then as time goes by your major influence becomes your own experiences. My ideas have evolved accordingly. I am someone who prefers to have a path, a daily practice that wakes me up. At some point in the day I'll do a bit of meditation and visualisation. I've been doing it regularly for about eight or nine years. It's a huge battle still but some days are better than others. The seed was planted by the Beatles to some extent.

12. What is left to achieve?

I'm interested in helping to create theatre works, writing songs for characters and situations, rescuing unsung lives and touching the mystery.

White Cloud: Tim Finn in the Auckland Writers Festival.

This Saturday, 8.30pm-9.45pm, Limelight Room, Aotea Centre.