Clichéd as it may seem, it really is the time of year when most of us take stock of what we have, what we have accomplished and maybe appreciate them that much more.
For Hawksley Workman, from the outside looking in, he is by most measures living the dream and has a great deal to appreciate.
Or, in other, more timely words, and as the Clarence Odbody to his George Bailey, it’s a pretty fucking wonderful life, Mr. Workman.
“I need to hear that more often because usually I’m just complaining about the dream, you know?” says the Canadian artist. “But it’s an interesting life, there’s no doubt about it.”
It’s certainly one that he’s made his own, made that much more interesting by not resting, not sitting still, pushing himself, and taking on any new opportunity or challenge that comes his way.
A Juno-winning singer-songwriter, producer, playwright, actor, poet, podcaster and, well, a pretty genuine and genuinely likeable and delightful man, Workman has built a career as varied and entertaining as any other artist this nation has produced in the past couple of decades.
He’ll return to Calgary to spread some spirit with a pair of shows Thursday, Dec. 7 and Friday, Dec. 8 at Theatre Junction Grand.
Workman will be bringing to town his Almost A Full Moon Tour, which features him performing the wistful, heart-full original seasonal fare from his 2001 release of the same name. It is an album that has, over the years, become a holiday favourite for many, as much a part of this time of year as sitting on Santa’s lap or chugging the nog. (Note: neither is a euphemism.)
And as special as it has become to fans of the man, it’s also become that much more important to him. It’s why last year he released an illustrated children’s book based on the lyrics of the album and why he continues to make it an annual concert outing, cementing its place in people’s hearts and heads.
“In the early days of my career, I really, truly believed that I somehow belonged in the mainstream. Of course it took me about 15 or 20 years of the mainstream continuing to spit me out to realize that maybe I never really was meant to belong,” he says.
“But my competitive spirit, when I wrote that Christmas album — and this is going to sound horribly righteous and daft — but I loved Christmas music as a kid, I just loved it, and … when I wrote that record I thought, ‘I’ve really done it. I written a few things here that I believe are special Christmas songs.’
“I hear the Christmas records that have been made by big artists, I just hear — there’s no doubt about it, people are ready to cash in at Christmas, and the horrible Christmas records that get made are really criminal.
“And I feel like I made a special record, and there’s a part of me that believes a few of those deserve to be Christmas classics that people sing and enjoy in the kind of way that I did.”
He explains his belief that the contemporary holiday canon hasn’t really been added to in a significant way since the ’50s and notes that there is a special, undeniable nostalgia to hear Ba-ba-ba-Bing singing some of those old chestnuts, but there’s also room for new traditions, including, hopefully, Almost A Full Moon.
They are, he says, “important” and special tunes to him that he usually avoids playing during his regular shows, saving them for a time when they “mean a little bit more.”
For both of his two Grand gigs he’ll be performing the album in its entirety as well as some more weathery and wintery songs from his catalogue — he is Canadian, after all — accompanied by keyboardist Leith Fleming-Smith, a 24-year-old who’s bringing a “nice energy” to Workman, his music and even the mundane aspects of being a touring musician.
“It’s nice be around that energy because you can be kind of glib about it after awhile,” he says.
Again, glib would seem to denote a state of stasis or even contentment, and artistically Workman is anything but. In fact, he admits that after a recent move to Montreal with his wife he’s enjoying something of a creative burst. He’s currently working on and has almost completed two albums, including one produced by Murray Lightburn from The Dears, and he’s also writing the songs for a new production at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre called Silver Arrow, which is a musical about Robin Hood and which will have its premiere in April.
“It’s always something that’s going on,” he says of the busy schedule, “because I’m terrified that if you get off of the treadmill it will look like it’s going too fast to ever jump back on it.”
Actually, the more we talk, the more it seems apparent that despite the fact his main profession — musician, specifically, or someone in the music industry in general — attracts people who are “chronically dissatisfied,” the 42-year-old is feeling a lot “less rage” these days and “a new willingness to be grateful for what I have” and be willing to offer more.
He’s not afraid of what will happen if he stops, he’s afraid of not fully appreciating the wonderful life he has.
“I’m a lucky guy,” he admits. “I really, really am. And now I understand it.”
And I, I just got my wings.
(Photo courtesy Dustin Rabin.)
Hawksley Workman performs Thursday and Friday night at the Theatre Junction Grand. For tickets please click here.