It’s easy to make grand presumptions about superstars, but too often, those presumptions are completely wrong. In Kate Ceberano’s autobiography, I’m Talking: My life, my words, my music she reveals the real story – her greatest career insights (and regrets), life as a mum to Gypsy, 16, and how her own mother and Grandmother shaped her world…
Kate Ceberano is undoubtedly one of Australia’s icons. The pop, cabaret and jazz singer, songwriter and performer’s career spans more than 30 years. She is one of Australia’s most awarded musicians, her highly acclaimed performance as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and recording, with John Farnham went platinum four times. And there’s also, Kate’s autobiography, I’m Talking: My life, my words, my music. Within its pages, Kate shares her very personal, honest and insightful journey through her childhood, life as a young musician and performer, family relationships and being a mum to Gypsy. But she also talks frankly about hurtful events that occurred during her career, as well as some very cool meetings with Tom Cruise, Baz Luhrman and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence (a must-read). Here’s her story, why she wrote the book, and what she discovered along the way…
Your autobiography, I’m Talking: My life, my words, my music, is very personal. In it, your mother shares her story about falling pregnant at age 15, and the adoption of her son. How did this affect your own mother-daughter relationship?
“I am so grateful Mum was so brave and offered to tell her story in her own words. For me, discovering her son (Bey) answered a lot of questions about her. I always sensed there was something not right. I didn’t relate to her as a mum, [more like a teenage friend]. My Grandmother lived with us and was more the ‘mum’ in the sense of making lunch and getting me off to school. My family was quite a united and supportive force. My Grandmother stayed around my mum because it was a confusing time in her life. My mother was traumatised and unexpressed because of what she had been through, and really propelled me towards a career and to do what I loved. [My daughter] Gypsy is being raised in a similar supportive and loving environment – in a big old house in Melbourne with my husband, mum and my stepfather Ben, who is also my tour manager. We are a collective!”
“Dad and baby me.”
How did your mum encourage your music and passions in life?
“I was raised without fear. Both my parents and grandparents were incredibly loving and supportive of everything we did – my brothers and I were all encouraged to get out there and do what we loved. They would chaperone me to performances and escort me everywhere, and I just wanted to get out there and get on with it. They supported the potential in all the children.”
“Mum at age sixteen with Grandpa Doug and Grandma Kath in Trafalgar Square. A street photographer put the parrot on her shoulder and a monkey in her arms.”
Kate and her brother, Phil Ceberano, on the road again! A very musical family…
There are a lot of home-truths in the book, including living with alcohol and your first sexual experience. How do you feel about your daughter, Gypsy, reading it?
“I’m not interested in Gypsy reading the book until she is in her teens – how would she assimilate the words at age 10? (which was her age when it was released). I would never lie to her – if she ever asked me about anything, I would tell her: ‘When you are older, I will give you all the information.’ My Grandmother always gave me all the truth, but in her well-mannered Generation’s style. The truth in the end is the best.”
How has your experience affected the relationship you share with your own daughter?
“My daughter and I have the best relationship in the universe. She understands what I do and why I do it. She is supportive of the culture and life we have. It’s similar to my childhood, where Gypsy is being raised by two sets of parents. She is really quite innocent, whereas I wasn’t. She loves music, fashion, make-up and all the things that 10 year-olds do.”
What advice do you have for other working mums?
“Parents do what they have to in order to survive in this world – to feed our children, pay for extra-curricular activities, live… A lot of people try to gauge how well they are doing as parents by how awesome their kids think they are. But we live in a modern world – there are things we have to do and look after for survival, [like work]. I try to show my daughter how to survive with love, tolerance and understanding, and to give her a great life.”
You mention in the book: “I’m over fifty and I’ve never felt quite so happy in my own skin.” How did you find this confidence?
“In my early years I felt out of my depth, travelling for my music with much older people. I didn’t think I had the understanding or maturity to cope. There was that condescending, ‘She’ll get it soon,’ attitude. But I remember clearly some positive words Malcom McLaren [Sex Pistol’s manager] said to me. Malcolm was lamenting that I was too much like another artist he’d just worked with, Annabelle Lewin from Bow Wow Wow. I asked myself, ‘What is the authenticity of myself?’ I learnt a valuable lesson from this. I was experimenting with that in the public eye for quite some time. Brave [Kates’ 1989 hit album] was a big experiment – Nick Launay, my producer, taught me to possess my own viewpoint, just be it – don’t talk about it so much! It took me a very long time to work out..”
Your book is so honest and heartfelt. What led you to write it?
“I was working quite a lot with the media and I felt like there were these assumptions being made about me. I wanted to describe the environment in which I was raised. There’s a lot of experience behind what I do, 30 years, so yes, there is a confidence, but that has been hard won.
In the book I wrote about all the things I have ‘done’. Some of those things were not great, some were dangerous, and at that time I couldn’t cope with those things. But as I write in the book, if you can hang in there and get through all the rides – some nice and some traumatic – then you can really enjoy your art. I feel free to make art again – and on my terms.
As a parent, I am alarmed when I talk to kids and ask them what they want to do when they grow up. They tell me what they want to ‘be’, whether that’s famous or a profession, but not what they want to ‘do’ in life.”
Read it! I’m Talking: My life, my words, my music by Kate Ceberano is available as an e-book and in print.
Listen to it! Kate’s album, Kensal Road
*This interview took place at the time of the book launch