Tom Wilson’s frame completely fills the doorway as he comes into the dressing room, pauses to grab two bottles of water one of which he puts down in front of me, and sits facing me, our knees nearly touching, big grin on his face as we get ready to chat. Anyone that has met Tom Wilson aka Lee Harvey Osmond (and also of Junkhouse) knows that he loves to delve deep into conversation rather than just skim the surface, and today is no different.
nightMair Creative: Hi Tom, haven’t seen you in about 2 yrs since we caught you in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings playing Wild Mountain Music Fest in Hinton. How you been?
Tom Wilson: (pushing the long curly mane out of his eyes) Really busy! Busy all the time. Doing this (Lee Harvey Osmond) since June with festivals, and then touring pretty straight since September. After this I go lecture a the Banff School of Fine Art (laughs at the idea of him teaching fine art). I also just signed a book deal with Penguin/Random House too so going to do that soon.
nMC: What sort of book??
TW: Well, I tell this same story tonight on stage but you’ll hear it first – I went on the CBC radio – on this program they hand you a piece of paper right before you go on, with a topic that you’re to speak about off the top of your head. My topic was ‘how has a random stranger shaken up your life.’
I told them this story: Three years ago I went on a speaking tour and they gave me a young handler, who said, ‘my family and your family are friends.’. I get that all the time, but she was serious and sincere. My parents are both older, my dad, George Wilson, a tail-gunner was blinded in World War 11 – my parents didn’t have many friends, so I’m thinking she means some other ‘Wilson.’ She says, ‘no my grandmother was Mary Brannon.’ OMG that was my mothers only friend. She says, ‘yes I know. They were such good friends they were there for everything.. holidays, birthdays and even when you were adopted.’ I was like… uh, what??
So from that – I’ve been writing about (Beautiful Scars) and researching the last 3 yrs about where I come from, who my family is. Then I get a call from Random House Books asking if I want to write a book. I said, absolutely fucking not, that sounds like way too much work… but, I’m an author now I guess. (laughs).
nMC: what is your book going to be about?
TW: They wanted it to be a memoir. I can’t think of a more boring title for anything you know.. there are a few people in it.. but basically I’m going to be the hero. (laughs)
nMC: and so you should be!
TW: (laughs again in that deep baritone) What the fuck right? If you’re going to tell a story, you have to be the most interesting person in the story or why tell the story? I’m going to take all the stories I’ve heard in my life and make them all mine.
(drummer Ray walks through right then, ‘so sad‘ he says and smiles, walking out again)
TW: as I was saying (smiles), I’m going to steal everybody’s stories, like Kramer in Seinfeld. I grew up in this fucking household as a kid, in this house with a blind man, and grew up going to the Legions, and War Amps conventions. Santa Claus when I was a kid, had one arm and in that he held a bottle of Labatts 50, and his wife would hold the list of kids names for him, and we’d go up and sit on his lap, tell him what we wanted for Christmas while he sat with a beer bottle in one hand. I had this darkness built into my childhood, and had this immediate compassion for people, and an understanding of people at a young age. A bit more patience with my fellow man because of how I grew up.
My next door neighbour was a drunk and a wrestler. He had this Dodge muscle car – a Super B. He used to get really drunk and knock on all our doors after dinner time, and pick up the kids and take us for rides in his cars (cause that’s what we did in the 50’s and 60’s). He was the ‘fall guy’ and got the shit beat out of him by the other wrestlers like Haystack Calhoon, and Gene Kanaski. He wore these ‘pull up over your gut’ tights.. these ‘I’ll never have sex again’ tights, not like the speedo’s they wear now. One night he shows up drunk to wrestle and gets thrown out of pro wrestling for trying to poke Yukon Eric’s eyes out. He ended up becoming the janitor at my public school.
nMC: you had a very eclectic strange childhood!
TW: laughs, yeah I guess I did. I just thought everyone grew up like that.
nMC: some of that fuelled your songwriting obviously, do you think it also influenced your painting?
TW: Well you know, you have to get it out somehow. I have a busy mind. I started painting in 1977 – started painting after I quit drinking the second time. (Tom’s been sober for 16.5 yrs now). I thought I needed to be pro-ductive instead of de-structive and I had to find something to do with my time that was positive. It used a certain amount of energy that made me feel good about myself. I started by giving them away to charities and auctions like Women’s Shelters and such, then was asked to do a joint show with Michael Stipe and Daniel Lanois and the late Long John Baldry – a very high scale gallery on Queen’s Street West. By the end of opening night, they had all sold for prices of 3, 4, 5 thousand dollars! So I kept painting of course. (laughs).
nMC: your paintings are as eclectic as the childhood you just told me about! Very vibrant and very striking.
TW: What I paint is as simple as I can paint it. I don’t try to make Radiohead music or Emerson Lake and Palmer music, I just make my own music – so I’m painting the same way. Your job as an artist, which I’ve believed for years, is to communicate. It’s not to have groovy pants and cool haircuts. What I’m saying is being an artist is personal goals.. fulfilling those personal goals.
nMC: you said earlier that you are ‘still becoming’ an artist. Don’t you feel like you’ve gotten there yet?
TW: I think that if I feel I’ve succeeded at that, I’ve failed at life. I think I need several lifetimes to get where I want to go.
nMC: not enough time?
TW: you kinda get fucked up by whatever… I don’t blame anything, but things get in the way like drugs, record contracts, moving faster than you actually want to move, having to have hits on the radio, and that kind of thing. It takes a long time to bounce back from all that, and find out what makes you happy in your life. And we all have those problems. We all get delivered to ‘fuck face city’ at one point or another.. i.e. ‘the mall’ (said in an ominous voice). We rely on churches, and corporations, and governments to make us happy (I hope not anymore though!). We expect them to have answers and really, its just getting a chance to find out what makes us happy that counts. And for me, its being 56 yrs old growing up as an only child, and finding out I have 9 half brothers and sisters. I have 2 grandkids, and 2 kids – one of them, Thompson Wilson, is playing with me now both as my bass player, and as the opening act. At 56, I’ve been talking about this because you look back in your life in your 50’s and realize we’ve all created this work of art that cant be… we couldn’t do it again. We couldn’t re-create it the way we did the first time. There has to be some kind of calm from all of us when we look back on our lives. If we start looking back, are calm about it and embrace it, realizing what we’ve created, all those trips ‘into the ditch’ – those trips to rehab, those failures, actually create something that is vibrant, and colourful, and alive. We’re able to look at it and continue on – we don’t have to look at the past and hate ourselves anymore. I speak for myself of course.
nMC: you sound like you’re in a good place right now in your life.
TW: (smiles) I have no problem being where I am…
Thank you very much for your time Tom, we had a really enlightening fun chat with you – could spend hours talking to you! Can’t wait to see what happens with your upcoming book.
And what about the show? In the words of my friend, Sue Tyler of Power 104 Radio Kelowna:
“When I interview people or listen to new music …I find my self wondering what motivates the artist..is it Ego, is it Money, is it attention or is it a deep need for artist expression that comes through in talent. There is really nothing wrong with what ever motivates you ..as long as the end result is great music but there is a certain amount of integrity that comes when you witness that deep rooted emotion and talent. Tom Wilson gave his audience that last night. Live music is the only way you can get that feeling …” -Sue Tyler