really interesting feature on hester, depression, the local music scene ...
revealing comments midway thru about the relationship between paul/nick and neil ... http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/04/02/1112302282135.html
There was a dark side to Paul Hester that had long troubled his friends, yet no one was prepared for his lonely death last weekend.
Paul Hester was in his element making Crowded House's first album in the US. Unlike Neil Finn, the early-to-bed front-man who tortured himself with worry, Hester found much to amuse himself in the weird characters and opulent recording rituals of 1980s Hollywood. There were parties, pot and personal encounters with rock legends such as Jim Keltner. The drummer, who had played with Elvis Presley and John Lennon, thought the three-piece "Crowdies" sounded a bit like the Beatles, and thanked them for letting him sit in on their record.
For a Glen Waverley boy about to hit the big time, it was about as good as it gets, and Hester, whose jokes had the same magical timing as his music - "It is stupid comparing us to the Beatles. There were four of them. There are only three of us" - drank it in without getting drunk.
He may have shared the same birthday as Elvis, but he did not have the King's liking for excess and trashy display. He did not booze, get lost in the groupie scene or fall for the old trick, money and fame. When he was eight, he wrote in his diary that he wanted to be a famous drummer, but added that he did not want to get into trouble with the police.
His favourite Beatle was Paul, but his quick mind and ironic take on pretension suggested John. Like Lennon, he had talent to burn and the kind of intelligence that cannot ignore the underdog.
It all meant that living in LA was "intense but great - like being in the Partridge Family on acid", Hester later told the band's biographer, Chris Bourke. "We were like kids, it was wonderful." Hester was "mum", the one who cooked and cleaned and did the shopping. And yet, as bassist Nick Seymour told Bourke, there was an edge to the domesticity. "I think he (Paul) has a major chemical imbalance. He's always at extremes."
The tearaway grin that fell from his face wasn?t showbiz, but a handshake into the heart of the crowd."
Seymour was not the only one with concerns. Singer Deborah Conway, who had been Hester's partner before he left for LA in 1985, was also aware of a dark side. She and Hester had shared a rambling old five-bedroom house in Rockley Road, South Yarra. She was there the first time he streaked on stage - during a Split Enz concert - and, although she loved the playfulness, she sensed a sadness. Last week, as the world wrestled with Hester's death, Conway agreed with fellow musician Stephen Cummings that their friend evoked comedian Tony Hancock, who killed himself in Sydney in 1968. "The sad clown, not a bad comparison."
No one knows what was going on in Paul Hester's mind when he took his life last weekend. Even his family and closest friends, who were familiar with his depressive moods, thought he was OK. Conway, who saw him two weeks ago, had made firm plans to meet him, as had another Melbourne singer, Sophie Koh. Shaking her head at the event she cannot digest, Conway says she was so shocked at the news that she suspected foul play. Her reaction was complete disbelief, then rationalisation. "I suspect he might not have entirely meant to kill himself," she says. As the shock turned to anger ("How could he do such a thing?"), Conway, like so many others, most of whom never knew Hester, felt numbness, and an ocean of loss.
It is a wave that is engulfing many as the reality of Hester's passing sinks in. He was not just a drummer boy, but a quirky, brilliant communicator who touched thousands. Neil Finn may have been the Crowdies songwriter, but Hessie was its sounding-board. Fans watched for his antics as much as they listened for Finn's words. The tearaway grin that fell from his face wasn't showbiz, but a handshake into the heart of the crowd.
It grasped deep into the psyche, not just because Crowded House was as close as we got to a new Beatles but because Hester was the kind of larrikin Australians embrace. Like Ringo Starr, a drummer he admired, he stayed true to his beginnings. He took the piss, rather than drowned in it, had (just four) serious, rather than serial, relationships, drove an old Holden, and lived in an Edwardian bungalow. Hester swam and sang, and played golf, as well as the fool, and seemed to have survived rock'n'roll with his bank account, and the best years of his life, relatively intact. So why did he walk into Elsternwick Park a week ago and hang himself?
Conway shrugs: "You never know. It is a case-by-case thing." She still wonders whether it could have been a cry for help. "Paul never spoke to me about it (suicide)," she says. He did, however, discuss it with another friend, explaining that he would never go through with it because of his daughters, Sunday, 10, and Olive, 5. "We talked about it," the friend says. "Paul said, 'I love my girls too much. I would never do it.'" Clearly, Bogut was in such despair last Saturday that even this critical concern was somehow either overridden, or put aside.
Melbourne University's Professor Pat McGorry says the trouble with depression is that it can be so bad it erases memories of the good. "You lose the optimism that treatment can help," he says.
McGorry, who heads Orygen, a youth mental health service in the western suburbs, has an inclusive view of depression. He believes it is "extremely complex" and can't be reduced to a simple formula.
Fellow psychiatrist Professor David Copolov, from the Mental Health Research Council, agrees: "No one, to my knowledge, just sees depression as a biological disorder. Real social and emotional factors are involved. You can't say something is entirely psychological or biological, though you can say that the suffering is real."
McGorry says intervention does work for adolescents making the transition to adulthood. He refers to recent research suggesting that the more toxic strains of cannabis now being grown hydroponically can be a predictor for psychotic illness, even suicide, among teenagers. Not smoking dope is a protective measure against mental breakdown, the studies find. No research, however, has been done on adults, and McGorry thinks mid-life crisis is a risk factor for suicide, particularly for men aged in their 40s and 50s.
He says: "It can be a feeling of 'What do I have to live for?' It is an enigma as to why some people kill themselves. Research shows that family history is important."
Was this one of the factors, perhaps? One close friend, referring to the years of therapy Hester went through, says: "It is very personal stuff. What do you do in analysis? You talk about your childhood."
Chris Bourke's book Crowded House: Something So Strong has many references to cannabis-smoking. He records Hester saying how he "completely lost his way" for a week or so when the band first went to the US. "Like dial-a-pizza, top-quality Californian pot would be conveniently delivered by 'the rabbi'," Bourke writes. He quotes Hester's reaction to Jim Keltner: "And Jim leans over and says, 'Can I have a toke on that?' Sure, go ahead."
Dope smoking, of course, is common in society, as well as in bands, and there is no evidence Hester ever got involved with hard drugs. But by the time the band was big, and touring was a chore, Hester was in trouble. He spoke about it to Peter Wilmoth, a former housemate and author of the book Glad All Over: The Countdown Years, in 1996. "The blackness was a huge factor for the boys to overcome," Hester told Wilmoth. "It was there and I was very much responsible for it . . . It is hard for the band to cope with that every day. I was like a frustrated two-year-old unable to express myself. I didn't know how to tell them my heart wasn't in it."
As well, Hester was fed up with the promotional side of performing. Sometimes - like during the 1986 US tour when he signed a poster: "F--- Ronnie (Reagan)" - it was his mischievousness; other times, he was bored with the repetition, or resentful about the huge disparity between the money he and Seymour got, compared with Finn.
"He just got sick of it," Conway says. "Playing second fiddle or whatever, though that was not the way it was. He was the strongest personality onstage. But as the songwriter, Neil got the money. That's why Neil lives in a mansion in Auckland while Paul lived in a little house in Elwood."
In his book, Bourke says that, at times, Hester and Seymour found it difficult to pay their mortgages. "Paul and I were just getting by at home, on the places we'd bought," Bourke quotes Seymour saying. "Paul was under pressure. He used to ask, 'What the f--- am I doing this for?' " Hester became paranoid about touring. He developed what he called a leaving phobia. He told Bourke: "It strung me up, the day before I left, I'd be in depression." He talked of panic attacks and freak-outs, and began to wander off stage to go to the toilet or talk during performances.
Perhaps he was distancing himself from the music, and the comic character he had created. In his book, Bourke records a 1967 school composition in which eight year-old Hester wrote: "I act rather stupid just to impress my friends. I would rather be a quiet little kid who just sat there and did a couple of funny things but not act stupid." This was when he could already play drums and entertain with his antics.
More than 20 years later, he told Bourke: "It was just at the end that I lost my way." What had seemed funny, like coming on stage in a Santa suit, only to strip naked, soon became something more serious.
Bourke records that the other band members became more perturbed by the way Hester would disappear into his hotel room for a "smoky session watching basketball videos". Bourke quotes bassist Seymour: "I thought he'd gone mad. I thought he was allowing the dark Paul to take him over."
They tried to support him. At Eindhoven, in Holland, Bourke says the crowd sang to him Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. It was ironic, because that was his speciality. But something was unravelling. He was drifting. People began to ask what was wrong with him. This was about the time Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain killed himself, an event that, Bourke says, disturbed Hester.
Australian writer Lawrie Zion, who was in the US when Hester finally quit Crowded House in 1994, has written of his friend's state. "Hester, despite his outwardly easygoing manner, had long been uncomfortable with the demands of being in a touring band, however successful," Zion wrote last week.
Afterwards, Hester told the ABC's Andrew Denton that rock'n'roll stardom was not what it was cracked up to be. "I gave up rock'n'roll so I could take up sex, drugs and rock'n'roll," he said.
Jeff Kennett, chairman of the national depression awareness organisation beyondblue, says that Hester's death highlights the need to help sufferers: "Paul's tragic death falls clearly into the category where he had everything to live for yet, internally, he was just bleeding."
While Hester was undoubtedly suffering, he was not unaware of treatment. Friends say he had taken anti-depressants for a time and found them useful, and had had lengthy periods of psychotherapy. "I recommend it to any 30-year-old man," Hester told Bourke. "Once you get to 30, you've got a bit of emotional baggage and I think you owe it to yourself to go - your mates can't help you."
He went once a week to unload his "most outrageous, deadly thoughts". "It was amazing. I had to get it off my chest with a completely independent person. He had no concept of Crowded House, hadn't really heard of us . . . It helped me work a few things out," he told Bourke.
Hester discussed depression and its causes and treatment with close friend John Clifforth. Clifforth, a doctor who met Hester in 1978, says: "It's no secret he was in therapy for a long time. He was interested in men's issues, how men neglect themselves." Clifforth remembers Hester's thoughtfulness, energy and passion for causes, including indigenous culture. "He thought about this stuff. He looked at consumerism and wondered how to make it more genuine. He could whip up people with a vision, hope one week, and the next sit at home screening calls saying he was having a bad day."
Hester did not feel he could make Clifforth's recent 50th birthday. "He just wanted to be alone, recharge his batteries," Clifforth says.
Like other friends, Clifforth was shocked by Hester's suicide. "Paul was like Peter Sellers with his brilliance," he says. "He seemed to be getting very productive. He was very excited with a number of projects. He was like Michael Leunig on speed."
Peter Wilmoth says Hester may have been "the most down-to-earth famous person you could meet", but he was troubled by aspects of success. Conway says Hester had a wonderful sense of the absurd and could handle fame, which seems true, but it is remarkable how many of his close friends liken him to entertainment giants who died prematurely.
Tony Hancock, as has already been noted, killed himself and Who drummer Keith Moon (the person Clifforth says Hester evoked when he first saw him drumming) drank himself to an early grave. Maybe it is that, as Jeff Kennett suggests, creative people and artists suffer a disproportionate amount of depression. But, unlike rock burn-outs, Hester was no narcissist who wanted to live hard, die young and leave a beautiful corpse. Apart from bouts of smoking cannabis, the usual excesses of rock'n'roll simply did not apply.
Could it be, as author William Styron wrote, that we all harbour something he called "darkness visible". Pat McGorry goes back to Freud and the notion of loss as a trigger for mourning, a normal state that, if not dealt with, can fester into depression. "Perhaps there are some who fail to grieve over their mid-life loss," he says. "These are central issues in literature, for writers like Camus." Camus famously wrote that the central, perhaps only, question is, s life worth living? Like Hester, he appreciated the absurd. He argued for an acceptance of reality that includes passion, and the subversion Lawrie Zion says marked Hester's humour.
Stephen Cummings knew Hester and his moods. The two of them, along with good mate and entertainer Brian Nankervis, regularly went for a swim at the St Kilda sea baths. "It was a guys' thing," Cummings says. "We'd swim and talk. Paul could be really moody, really closed up and closed off. Mostly we talked about flip things. I'm four years older than him and he liked to talk groups like (Cummings' band) the Sports."
Cummings feels there is a disconnect between media images and reality that confuses rock stars as well as their fans. "It is an age of grand gestures," he says. "Thank God, I was not that successful, and have to keep working. It helps you integrate into the world. In some ways, Paul didn't have to do that." Cummings recalls Hester really liked one of his songs, Fell From a Great Height, which has the line "something broke inside of me".
Clifforth talks of the way Hester could "turn it on, light up a room". "It was an amazing capacity and he really enjoyed it," he says. "He made others feel it and if he had not been able to, no one would give a ****."
Hester was best man at Clifforth's wedding. They saw each other every week for 25 years. Like the others, he emphasises just how much Hester enjoyed life, and imparted it to those around him. He could laugh at the irony of coming back to Melbourne after making it in the US only to find a sign beside the stage of the Middle Park Hotel reading: "Split House". And when Neil's big brother, Tim Finn, joined the band around 1990, it was Hester who, Bourke records, had the wit to deadpan, "Now we'll have someone to blame if the record stiffs".
Sadness, as Nick Cave notes, has a bad reputation. "We can't live if we are completely impervious to sadness," he has said. American poet Anne Sexton felt "creative people must not avoid the pain they get dealt". It is an idea with a long history. Philosopher Spinoza felt that sadness recoils from desire, and it is desire (for life) that is the real anti-depressant. Nineteenth-century neuroscientist George Gray thought it was a gradual "unlearning of optimism". Now sadness is confused with depression, and thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain.
But while most scientists have turned away from notions such as soul-loss to describe the numbness that comes with depression, British biologist Dr Lewis Wolpert thinks it is a useful term. "With such distress we are at the very heart of being human," Wolpert writes in his best-selling Malignant Sadness. No one has yet found the cerebral substratum of passion and discontent.
Hester was aware of his moods and the treatment available, as well as good ways to live. As far back as 1989, he could admire a distinctly non-rock'n'roll lifestyle. As Bourke records, he got close to the founder of '60s band the Byrds, Roger McGuinn, describing him as a "clean-living dude who ate almonds and enjoyed playing and travelling with his wife". He told Bourke: "He had this untouchable, happy thing going down."