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COLIN HAY: WAITING FOR MY REAL LIFE (2015) review

January 31, 2017

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written by: Aaron Faulls and Nate Gowtham
produced by: Aaron Faulls, Nate Gowtham and Elizabeth James
directed by: Aaron Faulls and Nate Gowtham
rated: unrated
runtime: 84 min.
U.S. release date: January 30, 2017 (City Winery in Chicago, IL & Amazon, Google, inDemand, Playstation, Xbox and VUDU)

 

I’m not surprised there’s a documentary made about Colin Hay. In fact, I’m quite happy. Some may know the award-winning Scottish-born Australian singer/songwriter from his work in the 80s as the front man for the successful rock band, Men at Work, while others may recall him from the TV show, “Scrubs”. If you can’t place his name, his recognizable voice may ring a bell. If not, after this film, your curiosity should be piqued and your next step should be to seek out a stop on his tour. The career-spanning “Colin Hay: Waiting for My Life”, which premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2015, marks the directorial debut of Aaron Faulls and Nate Gowtham, both of whom have managed to capture the charm, charisma and wit of their engaging subject in a candid and revealing light.

Before delving into the meteoric rise and sudden demise of Men at Work (specifically 1981 to 1985), the film touches on Hay’s roots in Scotland. We discover that his father owned a music shop in a small town there, which certainly influenced Hay early on and also learn why his family emigrated to Australia in 1967. Old photos of a teenage Hay with his family in Scotland and Melbourne, Australia are seen and it’s made clear that, although he stood out with his indecipherable Scottish accent, it was clear that this handsome and outgoing young man was a talented singer/guitarist.

 

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Hay had been playing at festivals on his own and then in 1978 he met guitarist Ron Strykert and the two started playing together, leading the two to co-write “Down Under”. The were joined by Jerry Speiser on drums, John Rees on bass and eventually by Greg Ham on flute, saxophone and keyboards. They named themselves Men at Work after construction signs that appeared near the pub houses they would play at, particularly the The Cricketer’s Arms Hotel, Richmond (a suburb of Melbourne), where they would become regulars.

The band’s constant playing led to word of mouth which earned soon found them signed with Columbia Records, which led to the release of their smash-hit debut album “Business As Usual” in 1981. The album spent an unprecedented 15 weeks at No. 1 on the US Billboard charts from late 1982 to early 1983, making them the first Australian artists to have a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single, “Down Under” (the album’s second single) in the United States Billboard charts . Their first single from that album was “Who Can It Be Now?”, written solely by Hay, played everywhere and with the launch of MTV in ’81 as well, the band’s exposure increased with the energetic music videos for their songs, like “Be Good Johnny”.

While the focus is always on Hay, an overview of Men at Work is expected, since this is how the world discovered him. This is where the film follows a typical “rock doc” formula – band origin, smash success and eventual demise (due to typical disagreements and addictions) – which is both inevitable and necessary to inform us of who Hay is now. We hear from the surviving members of the original line-up, Speiser, Rees and Strykert, as well as Mick Fleetwood, since his manager at the time brought Men at Work to North America and had the band open for Fleetwood. The details of the band’s success and their meteoric rise is fascinating, but I found the stories and information provided by and about Hay’s family and friends much more satisfying. We hear from his ex-wife and his sister, Carol, about how the benefits of the band taking off and Hay himself can be seen reflecting on how his parents processed their son’s success. There’s a certain level of fondness and respect that they all seem to have in common.

 

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The title,”Waiting For My Real Life”, comes from a song that appears on one of Hay’s many solo albums. That’s right – if you were unaware, he’s had quite a prolific solo career outside of Men at Work – that, in my opinion outshines his time with the band. It’s certainly hasn’t reached the height of his success with Men at Work in terms of sales, but there’s more than one way to measure success. It’s in covering Hay’s solo career where the documentary elevates into something unexpectedly engaging and touching, as Faulls and Gotham include clips of Hay live on stage as well as footage from frank conversations in the Los Angeles home he shares with his wife, Cecilia Noel. This time with Hay is welcome, as he presents as his vulnerable and humorous demeanor effortlessly invites allows and invites viewers to embrace him and it becomes quite obvious why his concerts draw quite a crowd.

It wasn’t always that way though. Hay and his tour manager at the time recount one midwestern gig where absolutely no one showed up. He was tempted to play anyway. Maybe his resilience and determination comes from riding the wave of his success with Men at Work and then getting washed ashore and working his way through the tumultuous seas early on in his solo career, which certainly provided some perspective, but it’s clear that this is a man who clings to his creativity.

It’s that creativity that got him out of a funk in the early 90s, when he started performing live regularly at Largo, a nightclub in L.A. Building something of a residency there obviously gave him some consistent exposure, which led to more opportunities, but most of all, people were really catching on that Hay was (is) a great live performer. His humor and storytelling banter with the audience is just as much of a draw as his many songs. We hear from the likes of Aussie actors Guy Pearce and Hugh Jackman, as well as Sia and Wendi Malick. It may seem like hagiography to include famous talents praising another talent, but I found it cool to see these stars talking just as excitedly as I would if I was talking to someone else about Colin Hay.

That being said, I’ve been a fan of Hay since my youth and his music has made an indelible mark in my life. Men at Work’s second album “Cargo” (which included hits like “It’s a Mistake” and “Overkill”), released in 1983, was one of three of the first cassettes I ever owned and I vividly recall retreating into his solo debut from 1987 “Looking for Jack” repeatedly during my high school days. Then in the mid-2000s his appearances on “Scrubs” (where Hay went overkill with “Overkill”) reminded me of his greatness and the inclusion of his beautiful song, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”on Zach Braff’s “Garden State”, provided an awareness that his prolific solo career had never ended. I got into his work all over again and started saw him live a couple times.

I may come to this documentary with some bias, being a fan of Hay’s work, but with assurance I can say that a viewer unaware of the “Man at Work” (ironically, the name of one of his solo albums) will be enlightened, entertained and touched by this film. Even though I’m aware of Hay and his solo work, I certainly learned a few new things from  “Waiting For My Real Life” and have come to an even greater appreciation for a man who continues to maintain a truthfulness, openness and humor about himself.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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