YEARS BACK, AS A JUNIOR reporter, one of my rounds was something vaguely but enthusiastically called the university of the third age. This, we were told, was for people who’d had their youth, who’d had their “productive working lives” and now in this third stage of living – post-familial obligations, post-financial drains, post-giving a shit what everyone else expected – could explore new areas of study, develop new skills, or begin a completely different career.
Yeah, there was a whiff of the hippie dreaming about it but if smart-alec junior reporters got past patronising “that’s nice grandma” comments they might have seen beyond the cheesy nomenclature to the potential, not just for stimulation and contribution, but for fun.
This bit of history comes to mind today talking with Art Alexakis, no one’s idea of a retiring grandpa – not when you’re probably still shouting along to Santa Monica if it comes up on classic hits radio – though maybe not your idea of a psychologist and life coach either. But here we are.
Now, let’s clear one thing up: he is not calling this part of his life the “third age”. But Alexakis, husband and father, survivor of an often-traumatic childhood and periods of addiction, famously someone who became and survived being (in his early 30s, a bit older than usual) a star of the grunge years as founder/singer/songwriter of the band Everclear, and as he revealed a few years ago – and in the song The Hot Water Test – a man dealing with slowly encroaching multiple sclerosis, is ready to take your calls as a life coach.
He is still making music and in fact, with Brendan Brown of Wheatus in support, will be touring Australia as a solo artist all next month, a year on from the most recent Everclear tour here. Nonetheless, Alexakis, with a psychology degree in hand too, has hung out his life coach shingle.
For? For guidance. Self-actualisation maybe. Success. Better choices. Smarter self-care? Tell me sir, am I in the right area?
“Life coaching is not therapy. That’s not what I do bro,” he says. “I do counsel with people, because I’ve lived a lot of life and I work mainly with creative people, people who make a living in the creative arts, but coaching is me helping you figure out how to reach certain goals.”
You’d have to figure he’d come with some useful experience at the very least, so do his previous “ages” mean he understands himself better now or does he just have better tools to explain himself and us?
“A little bit of both,” he says. “My tools, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been clean and sober for 34, going on 35, years and I’ve worked my program more at some times than other times. Even though not having used or drunk in 34 years – it’ll be 35 in June – there are times when I let other things take the place of addictive substances, like sex and power and control and anger and rage and shame. They all create dopamine, right? But in the last four or five years I’ve really worked my program and I’ve got a really great relationship with my sober fellowship and with my family and with my band, everyone around me.”
And the fruit of this? For a start “I feel like I’m making really good choices in my life right now”, and that’s no accident.
“I have the tools that I’ve learned through my fellowship and going through therapy, and going back to college for classes towards my psychology degree. And three years of master life coach training, which is super intense,” says Alexakis. “I think a lot of it is just what you would call, I guess, wisdom, though that’s a pretentious term to say about yourself, but it’s knowledge that you’ve learned. Let’s call it wisdom.”
Was taking this course of study for himself, so he could be better? Or did he go into it with the view that he would be at the end of it someone who would be a resource for others?
“It’s mostly the second. You’re calling it being resource; in my world we call it being of service,” Alexakis says, comfortable with the language of recovery. “That’s something that’s a huge part of my program, a huge part of my life. My wife [Vanessa Crawford] and I are both like that, we both sit down and have serious discussions about what we’re going to contribute to, timewise and moneywise, because it’s important to us from a political and social point of view. And a compassionate point of view.
“But I’d like to think I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been sensitive to others. Both of my kids grew up going with us to work on holidays at homeless shelters and feed people. I wanted them to see the other side of life. The side of life I grew up with in the housing projects when we were getting government food," he says.
"They don’t know that life, and I don’t want them to know that life intimately, but I want them to be more respectful of the life we did provide for them. It’s hard what that line of wanting to give your children more than we grew up with but then still leaving them with fire in the belly. It’s a challenge.”
As well as fire in the belly, if we’re even half decent humans we want empathy from our children, but that isn’t really possible just by telling, just by saying you should care more about people. So how does he recommend doing it: is it exposure, is it example, is it putting them in that situation and saying this is what it’s like, and hoping they absorb it?
“I think it’s partly that, telling and explaining, but backing it up with your actions, because kids can spot bullshit a mile away. When I meet people now and they say what they say, I judge them not by by what they say they going to do but what they actually do. And then there’s the bad people who say they are going to do bad things and a lot of people are like, nah he’s not gonna do that. Guess what, he did. And you know who I’m talking about.”
We do, Art, we do.
It’s not irrelevant that a certain former vainglorious president has come up today as ego is another topic at the core of recovery and life coaching, and art for that matter. Alexakis takes my call sitting in his home studio/office, a room liberally decorated with gold and platinum records – “all my metal” – and other awards around him. Not for Alexakis any longer the embarrassment or performative self-effacement that sees proof of achievement or recognition hidden away in basements and toilets, or parents’ homes.
“They sat in storage for most of my life: I never put them up in my house, I always thought that was gaudy,” he says. “But when I got this office and studio, I was like, yeah, it’s time to put them up. I’m proud of it man. It’s stuff that I achieved. And this is the right place for them: you walk into a studio, you want to see platinum records, you want to see what they’ve done there. And this isn’t a studio I hire out, this is just for me and my band.”
And in the room next door his wife has her space for running yoga classes and Reiki, which is homely but which can sometimes be a problem. For her that is, not for noisemaking him. “My wife’s like, really? Time for you to go to Starbucks and take a fucking break.”
As a marital compromise, he and Crawford have worked on “sound baths”, immersive sound compilations made with gongs and bells and glass bowls, to enhance her more meditative classes. “It’s pretty cool,” Alexakis says then adds with a chuckle, “It’s pretty stone hippie. But I’m 61, I can be a little bit of both I think at this point.”
Ah, yes. It’s fair to say that while he may have tendencies, this is definitely not a classic hippie. If you’ve read this and thought maybe you might investigate hiring yourself a rock life coach, well, don’t check your availabilities just yet.
“I’m very expensive,” Alexakis laughs. “Trust me.”
Art Alexakis and Brendan B. Brown play:
FEBRUARY 1 - Cleveland Sands Hotel
FEBRUARY 2 - Miami Marketta, Gold Coast
FEBRUARY 3 - Kings Beach Tavern, Caloundra
FEBRUARY 4 - The Backroom at Chardons Corner Hotel, Brisbane
FEBRUARY 8 - Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide
FEBRUARY 9 - Freo Social, Fremantle
FEBRUARY 10 - The Carine, Duncraig
FEBRUARY 11 - Dunsborough Tavern
FEBRUARY 15 - The Wool Exchange, Geelong
FEBRUARY 16 - Chelsea Heights Hotel
FEBRUARY 17 - Brunswick Ballroom, Brunswick
FEBRUARY 22 – Waves, Wollongong
FEBRUARY 23 Crowbar, Sydney
FEBRUARY 24 - Ettamogah Hotel, Kellyville Ridge
FEBRUARY 25 - King St Bandroom, Newcastle