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Tom Wilson

A Conversation with Tom Wilson

TW: Hey Frank, it's Tom Wilson.

PM: Tom, how you doing, man?

TW: Well, I'm pretty good. It could be better in some ways, but in other ways I'm fantastic.

PM: Yeah?

TW: I just got Revenue Canada calling me for the first time in eight years.

PM: What does that mean, our IRS, like?

TW: Yeah, that's our IRS.

PM: Damn.

TW: Well, you know, I'm a musician, and also I've been through a bit of a personal hell for a while that I'm out of now.

PM: Right.

TW: And when you're living in hell, you're not really concerned about paying taxes.

PM: The least of your worries.

TW: You're more interested in actually paying your dealer.


PM: Yeah, that's right.

TW: To tell you the truth.

PM: Been there!

TW: Yeah. But now that that's over with, now I can actually pay Revenue Canada.

PM: Right.

TW: We're going to find out what they want, anyway.

PM: Wow.

TW: I've got that. And I'm just in the middle of doing a painting. And I'm having a really busy morning.

PM: You know, I was sorry that the painting on the inside of the record, you couldn't quite see it, the way the plastic case sits. You see an eye back there, but I wanted to tear the plastic off and check out the painting, but you can't really get there.

TW: I know. And my manager said, "You know, you sell these paintings, you give them away as gifts." I sell them for, sometimes, a lot of money. He says, "Let's put one of your paintings on the album cover. We'll be selling these like hotcakes." I mean, the idea is kind of to exploit every bit of your talents, and I respect that. But I just kind of didn't want to use my art that way right now for an album cover. And it's kind of a thing in this business, you've got to keep your stick on the ice, so to speak.

PM: [laughs] That's the Canadian analogy.

TW: That's a Canadian analogy! [laughs] You just don't want to exploit everything.

PM: You got to have some things that are precious.

TW: Yeah, some things. And I mean, I do these paintings--and to tell you the truth, I do the same painting over and over again.

PM: Really? I've known guys that do the same painting over and over. That's amazing.

TW: Yeah, and I write a script from my notebooks and from my song lyrics. And the bigger the canvas, Frank, the more stream of consciousness it becomes.

PM: Damn.

TW: So I just finished an eight-foot canvas that is in my dining room right now. And I'm supposed to sell it to a guy. Here's my other problem is that I'm doing these giant paintings, and I'm supposed to be selling them, but I start liking them so much that I start keeping them.

PM: And it's a whole wall!

TW: Yeah. And God knows, with Revenue Canada calling, I need the money. But anyways, so I'm starting another canvas as a gift to Roseanne Cash.

PM: Wow.

TW: I did a painting for her, and I put it up in my bedroom just to have a look at it to see if it made the grade to give to Roseanne, and I kind of fell in love with the painting. So I have to do another one for her.


PM: That's okay. She won't read this interview.

TW: Okay, good. I mean, if nothing, I'm honest.

PM: So we haven't seen each other I guess since the Blackie gig at Joe's Pub [NYC]. It was eighteen months ago.

TW: That's right, yeah. And I was in a gnarly mood that day.

PM: Oh, I thought you were great!

TW: Oh, yeah? Well, I wasn't in a gnarly mood with you, or actually anyone in particular, it was just I was a little bit road weary, I think.

PM: Ah, yeah, well...

TW: And that happens. But I remember that gig.

PM: Oh, that was a great gig with the Coen Brothers there and all. That was fantastic.

TW: Yeah, that was really fun.

PM: In the context of the trio being there, I couldn't get some background that I wished I had later. Like maybe you'd indulge me a taste and tell me just a little bit about your hometown, Hamilton, and what kind of atmosphere you grew up in.

TW: Well, Hamilton is kind of the Liverpool of Canada, maybe a smaller version of the Pittsburgh of Canada. It's kind of hard-nosed. It considers itself really tough, unless a Hamiltonian is talking to somebody from Windsor, Ontario.


TW: In which case we kind of back down a little bit. Windsor is right beside Detroit, and Hamilton is really close to Buffalo. So I think that you can kind of almost equate border cities as holding a lot of the same personality.

PM: Absolutely. Certainly in Texas and New Mexico, it's true, too, yeah.

TW: Yeah. Well, I'm heading down there. I'm heading to New Mexico for a vacation.

PM: Nice.

TW: I'm willing to find out about that. I grew up in a neighborhood--the Escarpment that I grew up on is what Niagara Falls goes over.

PM: Is it the same Escarpment that Sarah Harmer talks about?

TW: That's absolutely right.

PM: Amazing.

TW: I grew up on that. And she grew up on--actually, if you look off the end of my end of the Escarpment, there's like a horseshoe, and she grew on the side of the other one, on the other side it.

PM: I see.

TW: But the Escarpment goes all the way down to West Virginia, and it goes all the way up to Northern Ontario.

PM: I had to meet some Canadians before I ever heard the word "Escarpment."

TW: I've never heard it anywhere else, either. It's funny, because in Hamilton we call it "the mountain."


TW: But it's no mountain, I'll tell you that. Anyways, where I grew up--a lot of the parents, when they started to have kids, started to move up to the mountain, thinking that it had backyards for their kids, and it was a little more refined, and it had kind of new fresh neighborhoods. But it didn't end up that way. It just ended up a bunch of kids from the streets in downtown Hamilton moved up to the mountain and just beat the shit out of each other up there.

PM: Unreal.

TW: It's really what happened, to tell you the truth.


TW: And it's amazing, because it was a time when I was in like--see, my father was blinded in the Second World War, so we had no money.

PM: Damn.

TW: And I grew up in a working-class neighborhood that had so many divisions. There was a lot of joy in the neighborhood, but at the same time, there was Catholic, Protestant, Italian, Portuguese versus British Isles background. And people from Northern Ontario coming down to work in the steel company, who had never been in a city before. And people who grew up in downtown Hamilton that moved up there.

So the mountain at that time was its own melting pot. And as a result, there was some bonding that came together just because of the neighborhood. And I'm sure that, in another era, and the era that's coming up now, the dividing lines of those neighborhoods are becoming a little more fierce between upper middle-class and working class up there. I know that it was something that affected me and tainted me, and put a chip on my shoulder that I kind of appreciate sometimes, because it got me through the music business for the last thirty years, anyway.

PM: Right.

TW: So that was my upbringing. I think that I'm inspired by the city, and I'm inspired by that era of my own development. I'm not a self-proclaimed outcast, I was just naturally an outcast on so many levels because we were poor, because my father was blind, because I was an only child, because--there were a lot of reasons. And so it kind of helped my creative development and my imagination. And on the streets I didn't really have anyone to back me up, like an older brother, or anything like that. So I've kind of always been a bit apart, and very happy to be so.

PM: Thanks for all that, Tom. Wow.    continue

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