Former Men at Work singer Colin Hay on reinvention and optimism
"My fans are getting younger and it gives me life"
Published: March 17, 2011
with Chris Trapper
7 p.m. Thursday, March 17
The Plaza Theatre,
One-hit wonders often look back on their curtailed success with bitterness, anger or downright disregard. Tabloids are littered with stories of these artists' downfall, from Uncle Kracker to "I Wish I Had a Girl" singer Henry Lee Summer. Mark Wahlberg, nominated for a best picture Oscar this year for producing The Fighter, was still referred to as "Marky Mark" on the Kodak Theater's stage during the Academy Awards telecast, a nod to his 20-year-old hit song "Good Vibrations."
But unlike these artists, Colin Hay, former frontman of one-album wonder Men at Work, looks to his past with acceptance and respect, regarding his time as head of the Australian group in the early-'80s as a piece of his musical career that should not be forgotten, but embraced.
"Everyone has to work that kind of stuff out for themselves if they've had something that's been really, really successful," Hay says. "You're gonna end up feeling like you're competing with yourself. But I just decided, I suppose, to embrace it, because it's part of who I am."
Hay's choice to celebrate the international success that Men at Work met with their debut album, Business as Usual, allowed him to continue his career after his star had faded. Unable to ignore the short-lived group's hits - "Down Under," "Overkill," "Who Can It Be Now?" (*two of which scored them a Grammy in 1983 for best new artist) - 57-year-old Hay cultivated an outlook that he's maintained throughout his 11-album solo career that lets him take the past and store it away neatly, where it can silently aid the present without intruding on the future.
"The things that have stayed with me since [Men at Work] are the songs. The songs are the things that people wanna hear," Hay says. "Those are the important things, and they hold up pretty well. Those songs are also part of the present, as opposed to necessarily being part of the past. In all reality, I still do have some kind of competitiveness with the past - with myself - but I feel like it's a reasonably healthy thing."
Hay's ability to dodge contempt proved essential in his evolution as a folk singer-songwriter. When he moved to New York City in 1986 to record his debut solo album, Looking For Jack, Hay felt slightly underappreciated and chose to drop Columbia Records for a deal with MCA. The choice, something he thought wise at the time, proved otherwise.
"In retrospect, it was a really stupid move on my part," he says. "I was offered a deal with MCA by a guy named Al Taylor. He pretended that he really cared about what happened with me. Sometimes you buy into that."
Despite Hay's misjudgment, his optimistic view of the present allowed him to regard this mistake as a steppingstone in his career.
"I was supposed to make two albums for MCA and I just made one that didn't work, so they dropped me. I was quite happy that they dropped me because you don't really wanna be where you're not wanted," Hay says. "I thought [Taylor] was a particular kind of person and he turned out to be completely different. But that happens all the time. It's water under the bridge."
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