Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fresh Starts: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin

Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin


Colin Hay's fresh start began in 1987, with the release of his first solo album. Fifteen years later, after countless TV and movie soundtrack boosts, he fills minor-league folk clubs and hipster arenas - a true success story of the indie age.

But getting back on track after the huge international success of his first band - yes, he's the guy from Men At Work - took a while. For years, Hay toiled under the radar, on his own pocket label financed by the profits from his previous career. And for the better part of decade, it looked like nothing was going to happen. As he noted in a 2011 interview,

"Men at Work really didn't build a foundational audience. We came in as a pop band with enormous radio success; once that goes away and the band breaks up the audience tends to go away with it. You're left with what you want to make of it. When you start out doing those tours, you start again [and] you tend not to attract a very big number of people. I'd play to a hundred people or sometimes less."

In the middle of this slow burn, just before the curve ticked upwards, Hay released Man @ Work, an album calling back to his roots. The album is, frankly, one of the most beautiful I own, and a full half of the tracks are acoustic revisions of Men At Work songs, making the album a fresh start of its own: a sort of reclaiming of the old through the lens of the new, with stripped down guitar and that hoarse, yearning tenor working through the catalog, bringing regret, honesty, humility and tenderness to songs once heard as wild and raging.

But several of the songs on the album are originals. And in the midst of this hodgepodge of backwards and forwards, you can find Colin's ode to the complexities of starting from scratch, rich with the peace and stillness, the frustrations and quixotic futilities of a career going nowhere, a paean to the man on the shore, his dreams bigger than life, his friends' voices echoing in his ears like the surf, still waiting for his ship to come in.

He's already got a plan, you see. He can see it, just out of reach. It's just that it depends on the world to come to him.

And when, a year later, actor/director Zach Braff decided to champion his work on Scrubs and in the soundtrack to Garden State, it did. The Internet took hold of his songs, and started passing them around. Today, a new generation of fans know Colin Hay as a middle-aged folksinger of sorts, whose ability to put words and soulful sound to the eye of the storm of life is impeccable. He releases his albums on Compass, a label better known for Celtic and folk music. And he seems happy, and at peace.

Some of his younger fans don't even know he was that guy from Men At Work. And maybe that's the way it should be.

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