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Fingers crossed all will be good sports

by Bernard Zuel - The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2009

Undeterred by the threat of becoming persona non grata, Stephen Cummings has produced a page-turner, writes Bernard Zuel.

So this is how it ends. Stephen Cummings has been playing music for nearly 40 years, written a couple of novels, done some journalism, helped flog Medibank ("I feel better now" - he does every time the royalty cheque comes in, thank you) and, with the Sports and his solo career, has racked up enough crucial musical moments to fill a classic-hits radio station playlist.

This month he publishes Will It Be Funny Tomorrow, Billy?, an often hilarious if occasionally uncomfortable memoir with sex and drugs, bad behaviour and really, really bad behaviour, unfettered opinions and brutal honesty. It's not so much "tell all" as "Oh my God, did he really say that about (insert name of famous musician/manager/TV personality/parent) in print?".

So, Stephen Cummings, are you happy with the notion that you may never work in this business again? "Well, the industry part of it has never been that helpful to me. They've just sort of taken," he says after an initial splutter. "I don't really see people from the music industry, frankly. I don't go out much. They don't enter my life very often so I've got little to lose."

Well they, or their lawyers, may be entering his life more frequently in the near future. "They [the publisher and its lawyers] have taken a hell of a lot out of the book," he says more confidently. "Everything that's left in there, well, you know, you've got to be able to take a joke.

"Are they going to sue me? I have nothing. If they sue me I'll have to get a [benefit] concert going I guess," he laughs. "I might get the Oils to reform for it."

As long as the Oils haven't read the chapter about them. "Well, that's just stating facts."

This is true. In fact, most of the book is just stating facts. It's just that a lot of these facts aren't the kind of things that people normally say outside private bitching sessions in their homes. Cummings roars with laughter at this.

"I say I make no moral thing on this, I'm just stating a fact. So I think that's all right. But it's the most unlikely people who are the ones who will sue you. Other people, like Michael Gudinski, he has a thick hide and hopefully can take a joke. And I say good things about him, too."

This is the Michael Gudinski who has been one of the most powerful men in the Australian music industry for 30 years with a record label, touring company, publishing, and Kylie Minogue. He released albums from Cummings's band the Sports and briefly managed them.

He also is variously described in the book as "an offensive and abusive bear of a man", the Moriarty to Cummings's Holmes, having "an attention span the size of a bee's dick", "all about power" and someone who "totally screwed us financially" as well as a lover of music, a passionate man and the only person who made the Sports money.

In one of the funniest parts of the book, Cummings describes in detail how tempted he was to throw Gudinski over Niagara Falls during an uncomfortable and unhappy American tour made all the more uncomfortable and unhappy by Cummings being a complete prat. The story culminates in this exchange. "He caught himself on the rail. Then he barked: 'You'll get a big fat f---ing surprise if you try to push me over Niagara Falls.' I shrugged my shoulders. 'Well, I gave it my best shot. But you're too f---ing fat."'

In truth, there isn't really that much in here which could be actionable, except maybe for those who find reports of their hardly secret drug use a touch worrying. "But I don't think someone like Steve Kilbey would take offence at that. It happened," Cummings says, oblivious to the fact I hadn't mentioned a name, let alone the founding singer-songwriter of the Church who produced an early Cummings solo album.

"Steve Kilbey is a straight-up person, like him or hate him. I also say he is a very nice person and I admire him. It's just that having your producer nod off while you're singing for a couple of hours, and gradually slump on to the recording desk is, you know, a bit demoralising."

The thing to remember for anyone who's crossed paths with Cummings and is tempted to go to the index to look up any scurrilous references (a waste of time, by the way, as there is no index) is that whatever Cummings may say about others, he says much worse about himself.

In this book, the usually private Stephen Cummings is broken down into little pieces and stomped on - the fat kid with no confidence, the snotty young star, the insecure narcissist, the destructive paranoid, "a pop singer with hang-ups"- by the now very public Stephen Cummings.

"I could have been more brutal [about myself] than that," Cummings says. "But I thought, 'No, I have to go to school and face the parents of my youngest child's friends and they may think I'm really weird'."

Stephen Cummings weird? Heaven forbid.

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