I’m one of those people who daydreams about being interviewed in important news outlets and being asked to rank my “Top 5” this and “Top 10” that. I’ve already shared my song list if I’m ever asked to come onto BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Disks and narrate my life. And if I’m ever asked to list my favorite comedian, I have no doubt whom I’ll pick: the wacky Australian singer/songwriter/comedian/actor Tim Minchin.
I got to thinking about Minchin while scrolling through some old holiday-themed posts on this blog. I was curious to see what sorts of topics I’d written about during holiday seasons past, and came across a post from December, 2010. In it, I recommended that everyone rush out and buy Tim Minchin’s (then) new CD. My husband and I had just gone to see Minchin perform live, and I wanted to shout to the rooftops about him.
For those of you who don’t know Tim Minchin, he’s the guy who wrote the lyrics to the blockbuster show Matilda the Musical, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Until the pandemic hit, this show was still running in London’s West End, and has also toured internationally. He also wrote the music and lyrics to Groundhog Day The Musical, if (gasp) you happened to miss Matilda. (Don’t.)
Matilda put Minchin on the global map, but I first got to know him when he was still up and coming as a song-writing comedian here in the UK, where he got his start. Here’s how I described him back then:
He’s a bare-footed, mascara-wearing, red-haired Australian: funny, irreverent, profane, absurd and just a little bit mad. What I like most about Minchin – apart from his hysterical lyrics – is the unadulterated joy he seems to take from his work. He really looks like he’s having a ball up there on stage, and his enthusiasm is infectious. More importantly, when you watch Minchin perform… you get the sense that this oddball decided early on in life that he wasn’t going to give a toss what other people thought about him. He was going to choose a path – in this case, playing the piano bare-footed – that worked for him. And if he looked and sounded weird, so be it. He would be true to himself.
All of that still holds. But a funny thing happened in the ensuing decade: Tim Minchin grew up. He moved back to Australia with his family. And his latest album – Apart Together – is actually serious. I know this because I heard Minchin interviewed recently on BBC Radio 4.
He’s still funny and odd and irreverent. But he’s also a middle-aged, married Dad. So, for this album, he decided to write about the kinds of topics that confront us all as we age: love, fidelity, and the meaning of success. Some of the songs recount the temptations he’s faced with other women while on tour. These are intermingled with lyrics sharing his disappointment with LA (where he lived for a while).
One critic described the new album as “Randy Newman-esque.” It’s an apt comparison. I love Randy Newman. Newman is also quirky and writes a mix of the the absurd (“Short People“), melded with the serious (“Lost without You“). (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I also listened to a Radio 4 “mastertapes” interview with Randy Newman not long ago. Are you sensing a pattern here?)
I find it deeply comforting when our pop culture icons age alongside us, instead of trying to remain forever young. Bruce Springsteen also comes to mind in this regard.
How about you? Which of your favorite performers have accompanied you as you age?
Tim Minchin photo via Wikimedia Commons