30 Jun 2017

Tim Minchin: music making and social activism

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 30 June 2017

Social activism isn’t something Australian composer, lyricist and comedian Tim Minchin tries to focus on too much. But his tune ‘Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ has come into the spotlight again this week following Australia’s highest ranking Catholic being charged with alleged historic sex offences by Australian police.

Tim says it’s his most overt piece of activism.

Last year Cardinal Pell was asked by a Royal Commission to return to Australia to answer questions about allegations of sexual abuse, but the Vatican said he was too ill to travel.

Tim wrote the song to help fight for justice for those who say they suffered abuse by Catholic priests in Australia.

All the money raised by Minchin's single went to abuse survivors who were flown to the Vatican from where Cardinal Pell spoke to the Royal Commission.

It’s had a real effect, Minchin says.

“People come up to me in tears in Australia all the time,” Minchin says. “The damage is immeasurable.”

But it made Minchin a target. He says he was attacked by some cartoonists and commentators, and some members of the Catholic Church in Australia.

He says there’s no doubt Catholic people who admired Cardinal Pell felt bullied by his song. And while he doesn’t want to be “that person”, it comes down to doing what he believes is right.

Tim Minchin's 'Come Home (Cardinal Pell):

“If the cost is that I get a whole lot of hate [from] idiot columnists that I don’t respect anyway … and I upset some people who are still adherent to the hierarchy of the Australian Catholic Church … But on the other hand I get these endless letters of people saying, ‘I always knew my dad had suffered but he never talked about it and your song came on the radio and he … talked to me about it for the first time’ … I’m like OK, that’s fine. That was a good act.”

Anti-intelligence is a key theme of Minchin’s work. It’s the basis of two characters in his musical Matilda, which is coming to Auckland in August.

The Wormwoods are Matilda’s parents. Mr Wormwood sings ‘all I know I learnt from telly’ while Mrs Wormwood says ‘what you know matters less than the volume with which what you don’t know is expressed’.

For Minchin, Mrs Wormwood represents what’s happened in the post-digital age, where all information is treated equally.

“Depending on what website you read you can believe some insane stuff and you just stay in that community and have your poorly-formed opinions vindicated and exacerbated by bubbles.

“We are all in our bubbles and somehow we have to … teach people how to pass information and to understand that there is such a thing as truth. And there are such things as experts. And there is such a thing as data.”