MONTREAL – On May 31, Corey Hart will mark his 52nd birthday, he will take the stage at the Bell Centre for a hometown concert that he insists will be his last, and he will release a ceaselessly candid memoir that even his beloved wife has not read in full.
And yet, if the erstwhile teen idol felt burdened under the weight of this pending convergence of major life events, it hardly showed Monday as he sat down in Montreal to discuss the end of a performance career that has spanned more than 30 years. Looking youthful in a snug V-neck coloured the same sky blue as his eyes, wrists and neck bedecked in jewelry — Hart spoke only of how excited he was to begin rehearsals a day later, how his setlist had swelled to 36 songs separated into two acts, and how he savoured the opportunity to finally perform in front of his four children.
In his book, he relays the wisdom of Quebec promoter Louise Laliberte, who warns that a performer should never pronounce a show his or her last because one just never knows. But Hart is certain. He knows, and the “Sunglasses at Night” singer is closing out his performing career with clear eyes.
“The thing is, Louise knows me — but she doesn’t know me that well,” he said. “When I say, emphatically, that this is goodbye, this is a farewell, this is a full stop as far as me being a live performer, I’ll … prove myself right in the years to come.
“She warned me not to say that it’s my last one,” he said, a smile spreading, “but I never really listen when people tell me what to do.”
Indeed, one word that Hart uses to describe himself more than a half-dozen times over the course of this interview is “stubborn.”
As he lays out in the gorgeously illustrated Corey Hart: Chasing the Sun, it’s a quality that allowed him to succeed in the first place. After graduating his Montreal high school — just barely, he notes — he set off to New York as a teenager uncommonly determined to make it as a singer/songwriter (and only a singer/songwriter, as he’ll explain later), refusing to be deterred by the industry’s initial indifference.
His single-mindedness was understandable given his upbringing. Hart, somehow, always seemed destined for rock stardom, experiencing an atypical flirtation with the industry as early as pre-adolescence. He auditioned for Tom Jones at 10 years old, sang to tape with Paul Anka in Las Vegas at 11, brushed shoulders with Christopher Cross at 18 and recorded a demo with Billy Joel’s band a year later. Guitar legend Eric Clapton plays Dobro on Hart’s debut, First Offense, released before the singer had even turned 20.
BELOW: Watch the video for “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart.
Beside featuring the ice-cold synth vamp “Sunglasses at Night” — a career-cementing No. 7 hit in the U.S., with a video as durably appealing as the Ray-Bans he memorably sports — the record includes another Top 20 American hit in the tender ballad “It Ain’t Enough.”
Listening back now, it’s an undeniably ’80s affair, from the ribbons of lonely alley saxophone threaded throughout, to the Lite-Brite keys and ever-present chorus of backup vocals. But off-trend production flourishes aside, the record is also notable for the fledgling singer’s wildly impassioned vocals and the fact that a teenaged Hart composed all 10 tracks, already firmly intent on real lyrical depth.
As he reveals in his memoir, “Peruvian Lady” was written about the drug addiction that had claimed his father and sister, “The World is Fire” was inspired by the night Hart learned of his dad’s infidelity and “Jenny Fey” documented the depression that enveloped his mother afterward.
Still, most of the press focused on Hart’s appearance, an element the singer reluctantly exploited early on — the cover of First Offense was redesigned for the U.S. with Hart’s top shirt buttons popped open and his pinup-worthy brooding pout dragged to the fore — before growing frustrated by his pop-puff dismissal by music critics.
“I did obviously feel that when I was in my 20s, no one even bothered to notice or make light of the fact that I was a singer/songwriter and that I wrote all my songs and that I didn’t co-write my songs. I was a purist in the fact that all my words and music were from me,” he said Monday.
“I didn’t think that critics really took my work seriously or bothered to delve a little deeper into what I was writing. But I don’t hold any animosity or any anger towards it. They may have delved deeper into it and not liked it at all. So maybe I got lucky, you know?”
The situation didn’t necessarily improve even as Hart proved himself on subsequent albums. Sophomore record Boy in the Box was a greater success than his debut — reaching diamond certification in Canada with chart-topping singles in “Everything in My Heart” and “Never Surrender” — while 1986’s Fields of Fire went double platinum and 1988’s Young Man Running and 1990’s Bang both reached platinum certification.
BELOW: Watch the video for “Never Surrender” by Corey Hart.
His self-titled 1996 reinvention — which he considers the pinnacle of his artistry — also scored platinum certification here but never secured a U.S. release, along with 1998 follow-up Jade. He attributes the situation to record-label politics and calls it a “great disappointment.”
Otherwise, he doesn’t seem to carry many regrets. His insistence upon performing only his own songs did cost him some hits — he notes casually that he had the opportunity to record “Danger Zone” for the Top Gun soundtrack but passed, thus allowing Kenny Loggins to take it to No. 2 instead — but such “foolish career decisions” were made so he could stick to a “certain artistic template.”
“Being true to yourself, in the end, is important,” he said.
He abided by the same ethos in writing Chasing the Sun, an unflinchingly revealing document of Hart’s life and career.
One harrowing section involves Hart’s relationship with his late father, an emotionally withholding man with an insatiable appetite for hard drugs and prostitutes, who died early last decade.
In one wrenching tale, Hart writes of his father dispatching his young son to a sleazy Montreal bar in search of a cocaine fix, a huge wad of American cash clutched in his sweaty palm. Another disturbing passage documents the time his dad hired a sex worker to take the then-14-year-old Hart’s virginity, and the way the teen — unable to go through with the act — was left humiliated.
“Sometimes the truth is painful,” Hart said now. “When I wrote about my dad, I felt good when I ended the chapter because I didn’t know where it was going to go. But the last line of that chapter in the book … it was hopeful and it was reconciliation, and it wasn’t toxic or angry. That’s a good feeling to have.”
In fact, the most difficult topic for Hart to broach was the back condition that led to the “darkest period of his life” between 2005 and ’10. The two large cervical herniated discs he suffered led to “inexplicable, never-ending physical pain” and dozens of medical procedures and tests, which he dutifully documents in his book.
Fearlessly, Hart also reproduces tormented scribblings he left for himself — including phrases like “I am dying!!” and “Never Surrender is a lie!” — and probes the dark thoughts that led him to a gun shop in Delray Beach, Fla., “eye sockets blood-stained,” before he came to his senses and stumbled out the door.
He makes it clear in his memoir that he will not discuss that period of “ceaseless torment” publicly. Asked if his health is OK now, he responds: “There is no simple answer to your question.”
“My greatest ‘to be or not to be’ was do I write about that or not,” he said. “I wrote it because I felt not writing it … would really not explain me properly.”
The book doesn’t, however, include any music-industry dirt, and not because Hart — blessed with a memory as clear and sharp as a knife’s edge — didn’t witness any grime.
“That’s why it’s not a HarperCollins or Random House or Penguin (release),” said Hart, who will sell the book through his website. “Trust me, I got a lot of dirt. … But to me it would have been just disrespectful and hurtful to a lot of people.”
BELOW: Watch the video for “I Am By Your Side” by Corey Hart.
A more pleasant topic for Hart is his relationship with Quebec singer Julie Masse, whom he met at the 1993 Juno Awards. Hart and Masse were both married, but as he put it Monday, “the love and the power of the emotions that I experienced when I met her and her for me, there was just no alternative than to be together.”
After three weeks of dating, she was pregnant. Now, they have four children — 18-year-old India, 16-year-old Dante, 14-year-old River and 10-year-old Rain — and Hart has their names tattooed around his right bicep. Masse gave up a promising singing career and Hart retreated from the spotlight so they could raise their children together (mostly in the Bahamas), and it’s a decision he doesn’t regret.
“We don’t have nannies and our jobs don’t allow us to be with the kids the way we want,” he said. “For us, it was impossible.”
And so it is that he will close out his career with one final show. The enthusiastic reception for the final gig has been validating for Hart, an uncommonly sincere sort in an industry reliant at least to some degree on artifice. Fans, he notes, aren’t coming because they want to see a guy who “looks cool in shades” or looked “cute in a video,” but because the music he wrote “resonated with them.”
Having been in the industry since adolescence, he knows that a successful gig in Montreal will prompt interest from promoters in other cities — and, he notes, he has four kids to put through school. But the same stubbornness that dictated the flow of his career, for better or worse, kicks in when asked how he knows that May 31 will mark his definitive exit from the industry.
“One feels special and always felt right. One night,” he said. “Even if it’s 50 songs and I’m bleeding by the time I leave the stage, bloody and battered, that’s (what) makes it special. To me, it makes it special.
“I want my fans to have something special. And once is special.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014