By Alison Baumgartner
Many people’s first taste of Colin Hay’s songwriting was with his 80s hits like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?” when Hay was a founding member and frontman of the group Men at Work. Without realizing it, hearing those songs on the radio and in the movies led many to embrace the lyrics and melodies as a generational soundtrack. That’s was how much Hay’s music permeated lives—it was seemingly everywhere.
But, Hay’s musical career did not end with those 80s chart-topping hits. Arguably, his most enduring legacy is his solo work after Men at Work disbanded, which is a little softer now, less flamboyant, but with melodies that are nonetheless uplifting. Hay’s current tour brings him to The Lincoln Center on March 13.
“I’m always trying to say more with less,” Hay says, which is evident when you see him in concert. It’s hard to believe that one man with one guitar can elicit emotions you’ve almost forgotten you have. “I’m always trying to make myself feel things that make me feel emotional in some way.”
Maybe the way he is able to accomplish this is to be grounded in the present. “It all comes back to trying to deal with alcohol addiction,” Hay says. “It was difficult to stop. It was difficult to be present and calm.”
“When you try to defeat alcohol with willpower, it only works for a certain amount of time, but not on a permanent basis.” When he thought about not having a drink for the rest of his life, he declared it “a very depressing thought.”
“But, I think, I’m not going to have a drink today, and I can deal with that.” With every passing day, he was able to say I cannot have a drink today. To do that, he had to stop looking toward the future, but live in the moment.
This shift to being present perhaps started to express itself with the tongue in cheek “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin,” a sweet song about a man claiming he has a plan for the future, and that it is to wait for things to happen.
But it’s really songs like the popular “Beautiful World” that encapsulates the feeling of presentness which evokes such strong emotions. It’s a simple song that talks gently about the things he likes and, though it may not be enough for him in the future, it’s enough for him now. “There’s a lot to be said about getting out of your own way, and just letting yourself be,” says Hay.
“‘Beautiful World’ was written during that time. Because I was no longer getting messed up. I had a lot of time on my hands. What do you do with that time? You spend it in some kind of ritual. If you’re going to have a cup of tea, make it delicious, or don’t bother.” An electric teakettle or a microwave may speed up the time to make his tea, but Hay doesn’t want that. “I’ll have to spend my time doing other things.”
It’s this sense of humor that makes going to his show like meeting a friend. His songs are nostalgic, yet his presentness makes even his most melancholy songs playful and filled with hope. “I think that my natural state is melancholy with occasional bouts of hopefulness and humor,” says Hay.
Maybe this is what made his music the perfect fit for Scrubs, a TV series dramedy that focused on the very real stresses and comedies of medical life. Hay’s songs appeared in seven episodes and exposed his work to a younger audience. Coupled with his song on the Garden State soundtrack, he went from 80s hitmaker to a legend with indie cred.
So, what can you expect from Hay’s solo show? Hay likens it to going to a party. “You know a few friends will be there, but there will also be strangers you’ve never met before. The strangers are the exciting part,” he says.
Colin Hay’s show has been rescheduled to March 18, 2022. Seats from $15 at LCtix.com.
Please note, this interview was conducted in February 2020.