FOR the introduction of his autobiography, John Paul Young could have chosen from a huge number of anecdotes about fame and fabulous times.
After all, John Paul Young is a pop music icon. He is so well-known in this country that he doesn't even need to use his name. Say his initials - JPY - and just about everyone can immediately picture the star performing on Countdown, or they can instinctively sing the chorus of "Love Is In The Air".
But in JPY: The Autobiography, which is about to be published, the singer begins the tale of his life with a story about scrounging in a park in Swansea in the 1980s with his long-time keyboardist and dear mate, Warren "Pig" Morgan, desperately searching for a bundle of money that had fallen out of a pocket the night before, when they had made a toilet stop on the drive back to Sydney after a gig in Newcastle.
"I started thinking there's so many stupid things that have happened, and that one just shone out," he laughs.
That anecdote says a lot about John Paul Young, the man. If you were from another planet and meeting him for the first time, you would think he is an everyday bloke, perhaps the sheet metal worker he began his working life as, not the internationally famous performer he would become.
He is modest, unassuming, and a delight to yarn with. I should declare that I consider John a mate. Then again, everyone who meets John Paul Young is treated like a mate. That's just the way he is.
As his friend and the face of Countdown, Ian "Molly" Meldrum, writes in the foreword to the book, John Paul Young "is so humble, it's easy to forget that he's one of the biggest pop stars we've ever produced".
John also has the ability to separate the public from the private, so that he can have a quiet life with his wife and partner of 47 years, Lynette, in their Lake Macquarie home, where they have lived for more than three decades. "JPY" can step out of the limelight and be simply "John", pottering around in his garden, messing about on his boat, or fishing, which he loves to do.
It makes one wonder why he would risk blurring the line between public and private by detailing elements of his life in a book.
"[It was] something I was never going to do," John says, explaining he had been put off by "the enormity" of writing a book.
"I did it because the publisher approached me. I thought to myself, 'Well, if there's a publisher who thinks it's worth doing, then maybe I will do it'."
Yet for someone who has been in the industry for almost half a century, the juggling act before a word was written was working out what to put in, what to leave out - and what could be remembered.
"I genuinely had black-outs of stuff," JPY says. "I had to be educated again with Google!"
So the man who has provided us with some unforgettable songs had to remind himself about what he had done.
"I had three Top-10 hits in 1976. I had to read about that to realise that," he says. "Things like that all became ... a bit muddled up. Between 76 and 80 was really messy. Just so many things happening.
"The number of times I went to Europe, I was struggling, I couldn't think, what happened at what time, because I must have gone back and forth at least a dozen times [in those four years]. So it really was a bit crazy."
John Young was born in Glasgow in 1950. In recent years, another famous Scotland-born Australian singer, Jimmy Barnes, wrote about his early life in Glasgow. But the memories in John Paul Young's autobiography are not so much of harsh experiences in a gritty city, but warm family times.
"I had a funny conversation with a Scotsman at the RSL, and he was from just outside of Glasgow. He was quite furious about Barnsey and his take on Glasgow. He said, 'I know he had it tough, but we all had it tough in Glasgow!'," Young laughs.
"It was self-evident [Glasgow] was tough, you saw tough things happen around you. But maybe because I was quite fleet of foot, it didn't worry me too much, because I always knew I could run!"
He grew up in a melody-filled household, with his mother singing and his father a piano accordion player, but John Paul Young never imagined making a career from music.
"That wasn't anything you wanted to aspire to, because you already had it!," he says. "I never really looked at it as me being able to do it, with me being able to have the courage to get up in front of people. Having the courage to do it in front of my family was pretty daunting. But I knew I had to if I was to remain part of this family! I had to know how to sing."
During a visit to Glasgow in 2001, John was taken along to a family karaoke gathering: "I was terrified. Any singer would be terrified in a place like that, where all these 'normal' people have these voices to die for!"
The Youngs migrated to Australia when John was 11. Living in western Sydney, young John's passion was cars. The only reason he began singing was that his mates formed a band and they appointed John the vocalist. He "reluctantly agreed", so that he could hang out with his friends.
"If somebody had said to me back then there's such a thing as a roadie, 'You could be a roadie and still hang around', I probably would have done that. I would have been the singing roadie!," he says. "It was only through their pushing ... that got me there."
The first gig the band, called Elm Tree, ever did was at the Ingleburn Scout hall. After the band performed The Beatles' "Back in the USSR", the teenage singer thought, "I can do this!". Even if he was "petrified".
"I can still see the floorboards, because that's all I looked at. I couldn't even lift my head up," JPY recalls.
Thousands of gigs later, John Paul Young says he still gets nervous about performing in front of an audience.
"The odd thing is, the higher you go, the better the lighting gets, and the less you can see them!," he laughs. "When the spotlight's on, you really only see that spotlight!"
The autobiography gives an indication of how interconnected the Australian music business, or community, was, and, JPY says, still is. Elm Tree did a gig with a Hunter Valley group called Velvet Underground, which featured two future members of the Ted Mulry Gang and a guitarist, Malcolm Young. That guitarist would go on to form a band with his younger brother, Angus. The band is AC/DC.
Those Youngs were no relation to JPY, but incredibly they did live just a few streets away in Glasgow before they too emigrated. The tales of the two Young families continued to cross in the music industry.
John Paul Young would go on to work with Malcolm and Angus' older brother, George. Along with Harry Vanda, George Young was one half of arguably Australia's greatest songwriting partnership. The pair had tasted pop stardom as members of The Easybeats in the 1960s.
In the next decade, as a songwriting team, Vanda and Young would help create the next generation of idols. And in the mid to late 1970s, there was no bigger homegrown idol than John Paul Young. From "Yesterday's Hero" to "I Hate the Music" and "Love is in the Air", JPY rode the airwaves.
But this was a pop star who was to be not just heard but seen. With his cheeky boy's grin and mop of wavy hair - and a sailor's suit - John was a scream-inducing staple of Countdown.
Unlike in the lyric of "Yesterday's Hero", where strangers ask, "Haven't I seen your face before?", Australians saw John Paul Young's face everywhere. He was a national pop hero.
"It's a bit of a blur," says JPY. "It all happened so madly. I trusted the people around me. I was a cork bobbing in the ocean, and I went whichever way the tide took me. I was also a bit of plasticine that could be moulded into this, that and everything else. And I didn't mind being that, because they had a better idea of what was going on than I did."
Yet what comes through in the book is that John Paul Young cared far more about making music than being a star. When he recalls his first single, "Pasadena", he talks not so much about the excitement of hearing himself on the radio but his concern about reaching the high notes in the song.
"I eventually succeeded but to this day I never take those high notes for granted, they still need my utmost attention and respect," he writes in the autobiography.
And then there's that famous "star-making" incident on Countdown, where he was dragged off the stage and his clothes were torn to shreds by the teenage audience while he was singing "Yesterday's Hero". JPY reveals in the book that, unbeknown to him, that was all set up by Molly Meldrum and his crew. While this one incident thrust him into the spotlight, the singer wasn't happy about it. After all, "My shirt was ruined."
"The important thing to me is singing in tune," JPY says. "I don't care about anything else.
"That's why getting dragged down off the stage at Countdown was, you know, so much frippery, and puffed up, f---ing nonsense!"
The memoir explains how John Paul Young was given the nickname "Squeak", and how he ended up in that sailor suit for so many of his performances. While one chapter is titled "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll", there is no sex to speak of and relatively few references to drugs.
JPY explains that is not his kind of book.
"Leave it out. To protect the innocent and the guilty!," he laughs. "That might be another book on my death-bed."
Through the stories he tells, the refrain of JPY's memoir is that his feet are on the ground. It is something he learned as a boy in Glasgow. He doesn't big note himself but saves the praise for others.
He has devoted a chapter to those behind the scenes who keep the rock show rolling, the road crew members: "That's where the reality is, and I guess I always gravitate to the reality of the situation. I've got nothing but admiration for those blokes."
Yet JPY admits at the height of his fame, he didn't keep his feet on the ground. He was living the rock star's life, and, as he writes, Lynette warned him, "If you don't wake up to yourself, you're going to die a very lonely old man."
He is "very grateful" for that advice from his life partner, "for that and many other things".
"She's helped keep me grounded. Because there were times when I started getting too big for my boots, getting carried away with my own self-importance. Especially in the '70s, because that's when it was all happening."
John Paul Young is a contented middle-aged man, whose music is still sung and played. And one song , in particular, continues to resonate.
From the soundtrack of the film Strictly Ballroom ("A production that ultimately saved my career," he writes) to the Sydney Olympics and weddings and birthdays, "Love is in the Air" is a song in not just JPY's life, but ours.
The reason that song works, he says, is that it makes people happy.
"As a matter of fact, when I think as far back as I can, the songs I like, the songs that instantly grab me, are the songs that I find myself ...," he pauses and smiles. "Songs that make you smile."
"Does that song make you smile?"
"Absolutely!," he replies. "Everything George and Harry put in front of me made me smile!"
John Paul Young is still smiling, about his career and his life. He is still busy performing, with a string of concerts this year. And having gathered his thoughts and memories for the autobiography, he figures he has a lot to smile about.
"It is indeed a fortunate life," JPY says. "To be swallowed up by the mighty machine and come out the other side reasonably sane, I think that's the great thing.
"I can't think of a better time in my life than right now... I can just go and do a bit of work here and there. You're known for what you've done. And I can still do what I'm known for."
JPY: The Autobiography, by John Paul Young, is released by New Holland Publishers on May 1.
John Paul Young is in conversation with Scott Bevan on Thursday, May 2, at Royal Motor Yacht Club, Toronto, as part of Scott's "Stars of Newcastle" fundraising effort for Cancer Council NSW. For bookings and more details go to: www.rmyctoronto.com.au
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