Tuesday 28 May 2013
His disability, cerebral palsy, may be the most common physical disability in Australia, but musician TJ James is a man of uncommon talent, persistence, professionalism and, most importantly, love for Jesus. TJ and his wife Lucia moved from Canberra to Sydney in 2010 with their daughter Hannah where TJ planned to release his fourth album.
I was born in 1973 with mild cerebral palsy (CP) caused by a lack of oxygen during birth. CP affects motor skills; its effects vary in severity. In my case I suffered hemiplegia, which means that only the left side of my brain and body are affected.
I like to think that having a more developed right brain hemisphere has allowed my creative brain to take over, making me a better musician.
I am not from a Christian family, and I was never really encouraged to think about spiritual things. But being born with cerebral palsy, I grew up realising that it’s ok to ask for help and to look outside of yourself for the answers you need.
I used to watch US evangelists on TV. I didn’t understand much, but I remember being interested in knowing more. My grandmother had a friend who was a nun and she came to visit once. I said to her, “I like God., I’m very interested in him.” At seven or eight years old, I asked Jesus into my heart, but I’m sure I didn’t really know what that meant.
I was 18 when the first Gulf War broke out in 1991. I really thought the world was going to end. I walked 10km into the centre of Canberra to a church, determined to get a Bible. I needed to know what was going on. Instinctively I knew that Jesus was the answer. I started going to a church, but it turned out to be quite a strange group with some weird teaching. It wasn’t a good experience and it drove me away from God for several years.
At college, where I studied a double major in music, I met a Christian girl. We saw each other for about nine months, but our lives were headed in different directions—I think God broke us up. After a few years we talked about getting back together, but I knew that if I was going to work things out with her, then I needed to get my relationship with God sorted first. I started going to her church and was baptised in 1997 when I was 24. She and I are still good friends.
I had started busking around Canberra in 1992-93 taking every opportunity to play and perform. I think of busking as a paid rehearsal. I have always been very proactive, wanting people to hear my songs and to respond to my music. And I have also been able to contribute to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance from my sales, which makes me very happy.
I met my wife, Lucia, through church. We didn’t really get along very well but found ourselves thrown together. I used to busk around Woden where she worked, and sometimes she would give me lifts. We realised finally that we were meant to be together—it hit each of us like a tonne of bricks—and we were married in March 2001.
Just after we moved to Sydney in June 2010 my wife became very unwell, and I was caring for her and our three-year-old daughter Hannah, as well as caring for myself. I suffered an episode of depression that was so bad that at times I didn’t want to live. During our most difficult times there was pressure on me from my family to separate from Lucia for a few months. They thought they were doing the best thing for me, but today they still don’t understand that we only got through it because we were committed to each other and were relying on Christ.
Hannah started school this year, Lucia is returning to work and we have survived, to the glory of God. I hope that the relationships with my family will be restored.
I came to Sydney expecting to release my fourth album but it was delayed until November 2012. It’s called All The Pieces Fit because it reflects the hard time we experienced, and that God’s faithfulness brought us through it. As with my other albums, 20-30% of sales will go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
My dream for this album is that I will reach a new audience, and achieve higher sales with online distribution. I am so blessed to have my music producer and mentor, Ian Pav. He is a strong Christian man and very successful in the music business. I know God has put me on this path, and I’m excited about what will happen.
I am a musician, not a musician with a disability. People don’t buy Stevie Wonder’s music because he is blind, they buy it because they like it. I want people to judge me by my music. As well as performing and collaborating with other artists, I eventually want to become a songwriter for other people through publishing. I want to be a real help to families who have children affected by cerebral palsy.
Someone asked me the other day, “What’s Jesus to you?” He’s my best friend, my saviour, the reason I’m still here and still married; he’s the reason for our child and the reason that I’m able to write songs and do music. Because of him I have real friends and real relationships. Jesus is the reason I have CP and the reason I want to help others.