A not so trivial pursuit
Terry Newman was keen on proving a point: If a girl pulled out one of her breasts in the middle of the dance floor, everyone would notice. If a guy were to take his balls out, no one would care. In his view, it’s not an anatomic eye-level issue, oh no. It’s purely a gender thing. So at 3am on a Wednesday night, at a bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Terry Newman took out one of his balls and let it hang over his pants. He danced around, smiling with satisfaction, dozens of drunkenly dazed people around. He even took a girl’s hand in a twirl because, balls aside, he is adamant about appearing a gentleman. Turns out he was right. No one noticed.
The 31-year-old Australian who recently relocated to New York is a one man show. Or rather, a two man show: There’s Terry Newman, and there’s Terry Munroe, his “flamboyant” alter ego. He usually comes out when Newman is drunk, which is, well, most of the time. If “commitment” had an antonym, “Terry” – whichever one is available at the time – would be it. “Pursuit” might be his synonym, and his favorite word at that. He pursues recognition, a career, self-fulfillment, happiness, love. Sometime it seems as if all he does is pursue, and has yet to arrive anywhere.
Terry Newman is a pretty boy. Thing is, Terry Newman knows he’s a pretty boy. He is the son of an Australian Caucasian father and a Filipino mother and appears to be a physical mixture of both: Tall, light complexion, meticulously placed freckles, a bit of a slant in his brown eyes, dark hair – always either styled in a cocky-esque mohawk or under a baseball cap, usually black. He walks with a slight, almost invisible limp, the result of adolescent skating and breaking his leg in two places. And yet he walks fast. Abnormally fast. You can try to keep up if you want, but it’s not like he’s going to slow down for you. Which is just another component of the Terry Newman demeanor: You can either be on the same hyper-paced page as him, or you can be literally left behind.
Even his clothes are his own design, as he has started a menswear T-shirt line less than a year ago and adequately named it after his alter ego, Munroe. And if he’s not wearing himself, his outfit adheres to the same strict guidelines: No printed shirts, no logos, careful little tricks like out of place stitching; jeans just baggy enough to remind himself he’s a rapper, cardigans that demand attention. Purple is his favorite color but yellow seems just as likely. He wears a massive gold ring on his right pinky. It says Flip+Skip, his MC stage name. But as much as Newman wants all eyes on him, he just as easily eyes everyone around him. Correction: every female around him. Sitting with his back to the door at a coffee shop in the West Village, he absentmindedly turns his head for every girl that walks in. It seems almost like a tick, something he’s been so accustomed to – he can’t help but keep doing.
He appears comfortable, almost eager, to talk about himself. An interview turns into a monologue, which is just as well, his life story unravels all the same. His parents are urban planners and the family, which includes his younger sister Yasmin, spent most of their lives in the northern, affluent part of Sydney, Australia. He was an overly conscientious kid, he reminisces, and during grade school he was sent home frequently with symptoms later understood to be of stress. Diagnostic CAT scans found nothing wrong, and it wasn’t until the family returned from a one-year stint in Queensland that Newman relaxed. He was ten years old, and under the influence of the young Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff he took an interest in music, later to become a central part of his life.
He was an outdoorsy adolescent, and though a broken leg rollerblading did not bring him to a halt, smashing his front teeth did. Growing up, he also uncovered his artistic side, drawing, branding and creating his own logos. If one were to walk the streets of Sydney these days, he might stumble upon one of the 500 stickers Newman plastered all over the city, on the sides of buildings and on billboards. They look like iPhone chat bubbles – one has “T.” in it, the way he signs all his texts, e-mails and Facebook updates. The second bubble is blank and up for grabs. He once saw someone had written “cunt” in the empty slot. It made him laugh.
At the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales he took a broad design course to hone his skills, mixing industrial, textile, graphic and interior design in the batter, as well as new media and architecture. He simultaneously developed his music aspirations, intensifying his interest in hip hop, writing his own lyrics and in 2002 formed a group, 206Collab, with friends James, Ian and Marc (who later dropped out to become a minister.) The foursome took on the stage and toured in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. By the end of 2006 their first CD came out, recorded in its entirety in Newman’s bedroom, named “What You Waited Years For.” Their tracks were aired on ABC TV and ABC2 among others, as well as on community radio and Triple J, a national broadcast. Favorable reviews in multiple local publications soon followed.
“[Terry] was good. As charismatic as he is in person, when he’s up there it’s bigger,” describes his friend Kevin Kempis, who has been living in New York for the past three and a half years. They met in 2003, at a boutique design studio they both worked for after finishing college. Their manager was the bootcamp commander type, and the two, along with another friend, Drew Foehn, quickly bonded to pull through. They overlapped for a year before Newman realized he was not the 9 to 5 guy and quit.
Work as most people know it has always been a struggle for Terry. James Herlihy, Terry’s band mate who also started a record label with him, hatonrack, in 2005, says he thinks that way of life has gotten Newman in serious debt. Herlihy, 32, who now works at Amnesty International, describes Newman as mostly doing freelance gigs, some that pay well and some that don’t, and intertwining them with more serious stints, working for an agency under contract. He has nearly two dozen examples in his online portfolio and was involved in award winning projects. “He’s very wise,” says Herlihy, “and he’s good at what he does.” But Newman insists he is an artist, and just wants to do his own thing. “I’m narcissistic in the sense that if I do something, I want my name on it,” he says. Getting hooked on the freedom and flexibility in his life didn’t help much in settling down either. “He has a commitment issue,” pinpoints Kempis. “He wants to feel like he can move around.”
His sister Yasmin, a 28-years-old food journalist currently living in Australia after spending three years in LA, agrees. “I admire his drive, his pursuit of creative art, his talent and his desire to do something. He doesn’t follow the Australian norm, he is in a sense a Renaissance man, multifaceted,” she says. “I just wish he would direct all that energy, motivation and capability in a way that he can ultimately reap the benefits. If he could just choose one or two things to focus on he might achieve creative and financial satisfaction.”
Tiffany Hairman, Terry’s best girl friend from back home and his band mate, concurs. “He is so creative,” she describes, “but he tries to do too many things. He should narrow is down and focus, he can really do anything that he wants. When he says he is going to do something – he does it.” 26-year-old Hairman first met Newman a decade ago, and their paths crossed several times since. She is these days the female vocals of 206Collab, whose second CD is now in the works, and a psychology student in Sydney. Another close girl friend of Terry’s, Natasha Adams, 22, says it’s simply a matter of losing momentum. “He has so many things going on because he will start a project and be passionate about it and apply himself all the way, and then at some point it will slow down,” she describes. “It’s not that he can’t follow through, but it’s like reading a book and thinking it’s good, and then halfway through wanting to start another book. The second book seems more appealing now, more interesting. You end up finishing the first book, but later. At some point.”
One of Terry’s virtues, his friends agree, is that he is very aware of himself, knows his faults and is his own worst critic. . Foehn, Terry’s close friend and former coworker from that notorious first ad agency, describes the latter going to a life coach three years back, and she told him he had too much on his plate. “You need to chop them up into smaller pieces,” she suggested. Terry liked the idea, but he has not yet done so. “She gave me financial and social advice,” explains Terry. A self-proclaimed control freak, Newman also keeps two little notebooks on him (though usually he walks with only one out the door, since they don’t fit in his back pocket together.) One is a planner, in which he writes down every morning what he has going for the day, and crosses out whatever’s done. He also keeps people’s names and contact information in there, as he makes it a point to be friendly to anyone and everyone. “He can speak to anyone and be genuinely interested in what they have to say, if it’s a foreign cab driver or someone at a bar,” Adams elaborates. The second notebook is a diary, says Terry, in which he writes lyrics and also “promises to God.”
A year ago, in December 2010, Newman first decided to move to New York. It was six months after his friend Fohen, 31, a programmer, got a job offer in Manhattan and moved. A third friend joined them, Anthony Kim, 30, an architect. Kim and Newman knew each other since they were kids, back in 1993, but it wasn’t until they crossed paths as adults and discovered their joined interest in New York that they bonded. Fohen quickly settled in and made a living, but Terry and Anthony led a different lifestyle. They couch surfed for about three months and blew through nearly 30 thousand dollars in excessive partying and bar tabs, to the point they had to go back to Sydney and re-group. Kim, who has since become one of Terry’s closest friends and describe him as “incredibly loyal,” went back to the architecture firm he left behind. Newman decided to launch his menswear line, but in the U.S. it proved to be too expensive, so moving back made sense for him too.
Back home, Terry spent some time in Bali creating his designs, ten in total. “The ethos is that each style is narrative driven: Man of the Cloth, Man Handled etc., all come from overt personality traits,” he explains. “It embodies a larger-than-life character.” He made 20 samples, two of each design, but is the only one to wear them. Mass production for sale is simply too costly, though he did receive offers for purchase after displaying his work on his website and on Facebook. Maybe he’ll go back to it, he says, but only if he partners up with someone who can take care of the business side of things. He is more the creative one.
Aside from the evolving streetwear-wise, while back home Newman took drama lessons to master his on-camera persona and continued working on his music. Two years ago, a friend of his, Stuart, passed away in a freak electrocution while working in the kitchen of a café. The two had formed a band together, Fallstars, just six months prior to that, with Adams on board. A couple of months ago, Newman decided to create something out of the tracks his deceased friend left behind. The result is a short film, “Island in the Sky,” that Terry put together three weeks before he left for a second round in New York. It hasn’t been released yet. In it, Terry mixes Stuart’s instrumental melody with his own rapping. It was also a way for him to mend his broken heart, and the lyrics revolve around that. Making the film was quite a big production, Adams describes, the crew consisted of ten members and the equipment was state-of-the-art. The idea was all Terry’s, and most of the funding came from his pocket too.
This time around in the land of the star-spangled banner, Terry is determined to do things differently. His friends might be skeptic, thinking there’s no place on earth he will really settle into, but in the meantime, though couch surfing since he got here, Terry is supposed to move into an apartment of his own. Him, the perpetual boy, and three roommates, all girls. He calls himself a rom-com fan, but the romance between Terry and womankind has never been the sappy PG kind. Most of the time, it won’t even be deemed R. He always had a way with the ladies, he recalls, but at some point he took an interest in the seduction community, or as some call it – “The Game.” It’s not just techniques to pick-up women, he says. It teaches men to be masculine. And though he had it going for himself, he wanted to get better. Apparently he got so good at it that he was asked to teach at a “nerdy men’s” bootcamp, for which they pay $2,000 a weekend and learn how to swoon. He refused.
“It’s really a game of arrogance,” depicts Foehn, “and girls fall for it.” Though three women did leave marks on Casa Nova’s heart, most just graze by, unnoticed. He likes the chase and the conquest, not so much what comes after. “I warned him to stay away from any of my friends,” says Hairman, smiling. “He is a great guy and a great friend, but when it comes to girls he is like a kid with a new toy. He would say ‘I just met the girl of my dreams’ and we would be like ‘here we go again’, and as soon as he gets her he moves on to a new toy. He enjoys the drama, the excitement.” Hanging out with Terry seems to bring this to life. There are always girls around, trying to get his attention. More often than not they’re so attractive it’s actually puzzling why they insist on hanging around him, smart enough to know they deserve better. As his friends describe it, girls fall in love with him a little too easily. Those who succeed in getting him to notice get doted on for a while, till the next one comes along. He says he has a thing for blondes. From observation, the color of their hair doesn’t seem to matter.
“You know Ashton Kutcher’ movie ‘Spread’?” asks Terry at yet another crowded bar in the East Village, this time keeping his genitals in his pants. He is citing the much acclaimed movie in which a handsome young man sleeps his way through wealthy women whose houses he gets to spend the night in, having no money for a place of his own. And money does seem to be a little bit of an issue lately, as none of his endeavors is currently generating revenue. He is part of an online website called “Best Clubs In,” and is in charge of making video reviews of the nightlife scene here in Manhattan. He is friends with the people behind the site and does not ask for pay. He recently tried for an art director’s position in an advertising agency in TriBeCa, but it did not come through. Partying every night and waking up at noon do not help much either.
His current hopes hang on his record label, hatonrack. According to him, he and James “are about to launch a new version of the site that will act as a resource for Australian hip hop media”. Both he and Herlihy say hip hop is not as mainstream in the Land Down Under as it is in the States, but their label does have on three other bands besides themselves. Their new site is supposed to incorporate multimedia and be tablet-friendly, and should be made public in the next couple of months. But aside from that, Terry’s mind is never at rest. He has an online portal for freestyle rappers that is in development, called “Here Me Raw.” “I think this project will be increasingly valuable in my future,” he says. He is also generating ideas for different apps: One will emulate bass voice over the phone, as he believes women find deep manly voices attractive. Another is to teach men how to send flirty texts, or even convert regular ones into the seductive kind. He recently took interest in jewelry design and is looking into enrolling in some sort of course to further develop that. And, as Hairman mentioned, 206Collab’s latest album is in its final touches.
Though currently not making any income and despite having a million balls in the air and none in hand, Terry does not appear discouraged. He does appear stressed out though. For all the hot air he carries around with him and the pseudo-confidence, Terry Newman is a very anxious being. To Hairman, all that charisma is just overdoing it as a way to overcompensate. “He is really very sensitive,” she says, and Adams reinforces: “despite the façade, he really is very emotional.” Newman suffers from panic attacks and recalls the first time he had one – he thought he was going to die. He was on a bus and virtually pushed old women out of his way to get off. He has since learned to recognize what it is, but it still won’t go away. Spending substantial time with Terry over the past three weeks, he complains numerous times of chest pains. “Maybe I’m having a heart attack,” he says out loud, clasping left of his left breast, or in other words, not where his heart is.
A walking contradiction, a breathing dichotomy, Terry Newman seems to have it all and yet not grasp at anything real. A young entrepreneur with no golden egg, he’s ambitious but won’t commit, he’s outgoing but not as confident as he would like people to think he is. “He just loves the attention,” says Herlihy. Perhaps he will one day find his niche, feel at home, settle down, though right now he says he doesn’t feel obliged to. “Why do just one thing when I can do so many?” he genuinely asks. Never quite the grownup, it may be very fitting that Terry’s favorite character is Rufio, Peter Pan’s successor. The lost boy.
* This piece was the final project of last semester’s Writing&Reporting class and was written two months ago. It was the piece I had worked hardest on and spent most time on, and it might be the one I am most proud of. But all of it couldn’t have come about without the complete access, unrivaled honesty, and total cooperation of the protagonist, Terry Newman. It’s just fair to say Newman recently landed a new job, so aside from due congrats it is a lesson to everyone — whatever you read is true for the time is was written. Nothing lasts forever. People do surprise you. I’m personally happy I got to meet Terry, he taught me a lot more than this lesson.