Q&A: Tim McKew


Sunday 27 January 2002

Tim McKew

Back from the dead: Tim McKew

Melbourne cabaret artist Tim McKew, 45, was stopped dead in his tracks in 2000 by a heart attack. A double bypass operation later, he's back with a debut CD called Lazarus, celebrating 25 years of cabaret.

You've called your CD launch "Tim McKew turns 25: A night of cardiac cabaret". That's got to be a world first...

The CD is called Lazarus and it's about being back from the dead. A heart attack is a life-chaging event, but I like to approach it with a little humour. The title track features the Bleeding Heart Gospel Choir - actually, it's just me and a few mates. With the heart attack, I felt like I'd been given a second chance. Now I'm back from the dead I'd better finally get this CD done.

Was it the hard-living cabaret lifestyle that precipitated a major heart attack?

Well, the norm for me was 4am nights, gigging and carrying on afterwards. I was a heavy smoker - more than a pack a day. I haven't touched one since the heart attack. Most of my friends smoke and I just say to them, look what happened to me. My decadent days are over. I'm going to the gym now. I would never have seen the inside of a gym before.

You had house guests at the time of your heart attack but didn't wake them. Why?

Well, they didn't have cardiac equipment in their car, did they? I realised I was having a heart attack, so I called an ambulance, opened the front door and wrote a note for my guests saying, " I believe I may be having a heart attack. I will probably be in hospital when you wake up." Then I collapsed and died for a couple of minutes until the paramedics revived me.

What else has come from the heart attack?

I've been in talks with the Quit foundation and the Heart Foundation. I spoke to the chief executive officer of the Heart Foundation about maybe using my song and a bit of humour to get the message across. They haven't used humour before. We'll see what unfolds. I'll be performing a song at the launch called The Girl with Emphysema. I feel a bit like the anti-Marlboro Man.

How do you describe your work?

It's social/ political cabaret. I'm not Bob Downe and I'm not the Wiggles, I'm an area unto myself. At the start in the 1970s they either loved me or hated me because I was pretty confronting. I was doing Bertolt Brecht and songs about religion, usually in drag.

Can we hope for some more of that during your night of cardiac cabaret?

The CD features a song called Once Upon a Time, which is my tribute to queer history. It's a very Caribbean-sort-of-edge techno - Tim goes techno cabaret. I was saying to my piano player, I hope we don't become the Pet Shop Boys. The song honours gays and lesbians who have gone before who have won us the freedoms we enjoy today. I performed it at the opening of Midsumma in my Carmen Miranda outfit. It's only Carmen from the waist up - so I was Rio from the waist up and Berlin from the waist down. It's very camp but informative.

I hear your career on the stage was sparked by a stint as a child star ...

When I was young I was in Brian and the Juniors, hosted by Brian Naylor. There are great shots of me standing next to Brian in a cowboy outfit. I was the only kid that frowned. I thought, why should I smile? So I was the serious Junior. The last track on the CD is called Rainbow on the River and it's me singing at age 12, introduced by Brian. He asks me, "Do you think there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?" I say, "No". It's very sweet.

What's your career highlight to date?

I helped introduce cabaret to Shanghai back in 1998, in the city's only gay bar. I think they were expecting Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Instead they got the Dowager Empress singing My Way.

You intended to cut a record for 25 years and have only just done it - how hard was the process?

Putting the CD together was a miracle in itself. I didn't have any money, but a few friends donated to the cause. Then it was a matter of finding a studio, and we eventually chose one out in Bundoora that specialises in heavy metal. But they liked what I was doing - "You died and you came back! Cool!" We ended up doing two days of recording, and three days of mixing and mastering. We didn't have the luxury of doing take number 10, but it gives the CD a real, live feel.

What next?

Making a living would be nice. I'm going to live in Europe - to Hamburg in Germany. I have some contacts there. I'll leave in early May. I want to be overseas for eight months, work and then come back here for holidays. I thought, I didn't come back from the dead to live in Melbourne.

Tim McKew turns 25: A night of cardiac cabaret, January 27 (CD launch) and 28, Chapel off Chapel. Show enquiries: 8290 7011. CD enquiries: 9419 1158.







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