Smile, you're on home video
September 28 2002
Neil Finn has been around for some endings, some small deaths. When Split Enz ended in 1983, they played their final gig at Melbourne's Festival Hall and Finn stage-dived into the audience, or at least into the chairs as no-one tried to catch him. Before the encore he went backstage and cried, and later that night, after "14 tequila slammers, I threw up everywhere", he once said.
When he pulled the plug on Crowded House 13 years later, it was against the backdrop of the Opera House on a spring night that drew several hundred thousand people. Although he stayed composed throughout the night, plenty in the audience, and some band members, cried as the show, and the band, ended to the sounds of his best-known song, Don't Dream it's Over.
So maybe there's no surprise to hear that Finn would spend a lot of his last year on the road with his wife, Sharon, and sons Liam and Elroy.
"What would be a really fine way to spend that year would be to go on a big tour and spend my time in front of an audience," says Finn, 44. "Take my family out with me if they were willing to do it and just visit the people I care about around the world, play shows. I can't imagine a better way to spend my last year. There you go, solved."
But a year of mini-Opera House concerts with that level of emotion could make it almost impossible to enjoy, couldn't it?
"Well, only if you told people. [And if I did tell people] I'd feel like an arch manipulator," he says. "I think it would be better not to [tell], because it would overwhelm the immediacy of the experience. I don't know if you could have a religious service every night, and it would be like that."
The always ordered, always organised Finn has begun to consider death in more than the abstract lately, and not just because his mother, Mary, died two years ago.
"Up until 35 or so I never gave it a second thought really because I was blessed and not having to deal with death that much in my immediate family. Then, as you get a small litany of peculiar medical things, you begin to think you're not as invulnerable as you thought you were. I've thought about it heaps since then but at the moment I find it quite good to consider it every day."
Maybe it's coincidence, maybe not, but both musically and personally, Finn has changed over the past five or six years. His albums have been less constrained by form and the perfect moment, and he has become a less intense and demanding person to work with.
"I think I'm happier than I was about five years ago, not dark as much," he concedes. "I've managed to get rid of a few of the stupid things that used to bug me. There's a small amount of wisdom that creeps in the door post-40 so I'm enjoying my 40s."
There might be the temptation then, having acquired this "small amount of wisdom", to share it out with one last album, that summary of more than 30 years playing music. But Finn, while sure he would want to record something, thinks the Big Statement may be best avoided.
"Maybe what I'd do is finally get around to editing all my home videos," he laughs, revealing that he has almost obsessively filmed every aspect of his adult life. They're piling up at home along with the thousands of hours of rehearsal tapes and original versions of most of his songs, put down in raw form and "in many ways for me emotionally more powerful than any records I've made".
Finn's always written, even during the last months of his mother's life when he put his second solo album on hold but kept working on the soundtrack to the New Zealand film Rain, a film that deals in part with death. "The film was quite a good outlet for some of those emotions," he says. "It's kind of bleak but not hopeless. It was not an easy time to apply myself to it but it was good for the work: it was informing the process emotionally."
Watching his mother die, and the way she dealt with it, has influenced the way Finn would approach his last year. "In some ways it's made it less intimidating for me to see someone go through it. The way she maintained her dignity, her sense of humour and her strength really right through to the end, and her spark right through to the end, was inspiring. I hope that I could face it with the same mentality.
"She had really strong Catholic faith but she didn't obey any particular cliches of finding great comfort. I'm a lapsed Catholic and I was wondering whether that was something that would confront me, but Mum was quietly confident that she was going somewhere really good and I'm sure she did despite my ambivalent feelings about it all. The priest came to her a few days before she died and said, 'Mary, is there anything?' and she said, 'No, I'm OK, He'll look after me'."
I tell Finn - who says, "I don't think I'm going to be walking around somewhere with palm trees in my physical form" - that I'm a lapsed Catholic also, but that my non-Catholic wife is sure that at the last moment I will recant and grab that last chance.
He laughs, and says: "Sharon says the same thing to me: 'You'll go back; they all do'."
Neil Finn spoke to Bernard Zuel.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/09/27/1032734319615.html