Being on the wrong side of 30, I’m very familiar with Gary “Angry” Anderson. Particularly his place in the music world as the loud-mouthed front man of Rose Tattoo, his crazy “bad boy” days, his charity work and youth advocacy. But before our interview last week, I had no idea of the deep-seated spiritual beliefs that form the crux of the man known as Angry.
Angry is a walking contradiction: a 69-year-old family man who still rocks out; a “no-bullshit” humanitarian who is sometimes labelled a racist; a survivor of depression and sexual abuse; and a non-religious, yet passionately spiritual man with unyielding faith.
Raised by a mother who was a “dogmatically practicing Roman Catholic”, spirituality was something Angry resisted for a long time, particularly in the form of organised religion, which he states led to her being trapped in a bad marriage.
“I’ve never taken her to task over it because I know how important religion is to her. But it taught me the value of faith, and that was an amazing thing. Even as a teenager I used to look at her, and she’d be sitting there with her eyes closed, she’d have her rosaries in her hand and I knew she was praying. It got her through.”
He mentions that his mother now has dementia, something which was only brought to light recently after the passing of Angry’s stepdad, who kept her illness hidden to protect the family. His mother is now in a home, and often asks Angry to come and get her. “She says: ‘I’m better now, Gary, come and get me.’ [Dementia] is not the same as just losing your memory. It’s been tough.”
In contrast to his mother’s Catholicism, Angry’s views on spirituality cannot be as easily defined, and have evolved organically over the years from extensive study and reading. He recommends a few of his favourite books, including Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, and ironically, the Bible.
“I remember when I was a kid, I belonged to a church for a while. It was a way of dealing with kids on the street in those days… I remember talking to a young minister, he was the first person who gave me the idea that you’re not supposed to take [the Bible] word for word verbatim. He was the first person who asked, ‘What is the meaning within the story?’
Angry describes the New Testament as “a wealth of fabulous information”, and considers Jesus an inspirational example. “And you know, there’s enough evidence around to suggest that the life of Jesus was real. Whether he was the product of immaculate conception is another matter. You know, I can’t accept that.”
While he has never been one to shy away from his opinions, his openness about his spirituality and humanitarian views have come at the cost of losing some of his old-school, hardcore fans. They liked him better when he lived by his name: the angry bloke who would headbutt amps until his forehead bled.
“When I was doing television a couple of years ago, I got accused of being a softy. A bleeding heart. ‘Angry’s gone soft on us, a goody-two-shoes,’” he says in a mockingly high-pitched voice. He adds that one disgruntled fan told him: “he no longer sounds like Angry Anderson, he sounds like my dad.”
I say that it’s strange when people hold on to an artificial concept of a person, before Angry interjects: “I’m not going to criticise them because it’s more about them. I didn’t reply or retaliate, I just thought to myself, ‘You know what? I’m acknowledging my growth; I just hope it happens to you.’
“One of the great things when you get to my age is you get to a point where you say, ‘I have my opinions, I’m not afraid of them, and I’m not afraid to express them.’ I was reading Jack Nicholson’s biography, and he said, ‘You are who you are, people can either accept it or they can fuck off.’”
You know what? I’m acknowledging my growth; I just hope it happens to you.
Rather than worry about what people think, he tries to focus on enjoying the simple things. “If that means nothing more than realising that each day is a gift, isn’t that enough? Of course it is. The whole experience of life is valuable.”
I reply: “Not to be wanky, but it’s a beautiful thing.”
He laughs. “Absolutely! And it’s not being wanky at all, it’s just being real. One of the things I subscribe to is accepting what life gives you.”
One of his greatest moments of acceptance was the unexpected shift into the realm of fatherhood, which became a pivotal moment in his life. “You know, I never wanted to be a father,” Angry explains. “I had a very destructive father, and he was also mentally ill. He was a physically violent and deeply flawed person, he inflicted a lot of pain on myself and my mother, and on other members of the family.”
He adds: “But this is why I accept the wisdom of the divine. I was at my lowest point, the most infamous part of my career, when The Tatts were overseas and we were all struggling with drugs, alcohol and bad behaviour. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I needed to be liberated from that slavery. It was at that point my then-partner fell pregnant with our first born. It was basically the end of one thing and it insisted or necessitated that I become something else.”
Angry’s boys are now 25, 27, 29, and his daughter is 34. “I’m still learning about them, from them and with them, all the time. I spend a lot of time with my children.”
His own childhood is a topic he doesn’t shy away from, marred with the trauma of sexual abuse. He approaches this subject matter-of-factly in his youth work. “I’ve had kids say to me, ‘You’re a victim of a paedophile,’ and I say, ‘Yeah’, and they say, ‘Well, how do you possibly cope?’ I tell them, well, you either do cope or you allow yourself not to, and then you’re a perpetual victim.
“I remember talking to a trauma surgeon years ago, when I was working with hospitals, and he said, ‘You know, trauma is an amazing thing. It can be life-changing and people can become better for it.’ Trauma can release people from years of being trapped inside, it can be conducive to something very positive.”
I mention to Angry a clinical psychologist and research scholar by the name of Dr Lisa Miller, who claims that the other side of pain is spiritual growth, and ask his opinion on that concept. “Yes, I have to agree,” he says. “Only because that has been my experience. I don’t know if it always has to be that way.”
He pauses before adding: “One of the things I say, particularly when speaking at schools, is don’t expect a painless life, because that’s a life not lived. We’re led to believe that we’ve got to avoid pain. But to have a full life, you can’t just experience one emotion, like love, or peace. You have to experience all the emotions, and then you’ve lived a full life.”
“So you have a full life now?” I ask.
Angry replies: “Absolutely. Really.”