Two years back I spent time with Don Walker in the manner to which we’re both accustomed: meet in a lobby, jump in a van, drive to a show, play, drive back, avoid morning duties with shaky resolve. I was intimidated, not merely by his prowess as a songwriter but by his steady gaze. Come 4 am we were talking of Iran and Farsi, tales of exploration as intoxicating as almost everything in Shots, a memoir of sorts.
The ‘shots’ from a childhood in northern New South Wales are presented with a detachment recalling Hal Porter’s tales of youth. There’s no lament for a world hurtling by, because it’s just a raised thumb on an unmarked road away. At the dinner table Don’s father tells of “a world where all walls crumble before a balanced, enquiring mind”, and it’s surely not simply a revisionist memory that equates “Newtonian cantilever physics” with barn-dance sexual politics. It’s the balanced, enquiring mind of a man ballpein-hammering at a piano in a soulful rock band from the Adelaide suburbs, his head cocking up every 36 bars to check all are present and accounted for.
As he enters university, with its lecture-dodging charlatans and the submarine presence of music constantly threatening to break the surface, our protagonist appears a man out of time, as if the experimentation of the era is mere folly. The joy in this book lies here, in the same way that a solemn description of a truck-stop coffee and soulless toasted sandwich burnt my lips without howls of hyperbole turning them into a cat’s bum. Juxtapositions abound: aerodynamics and rock ‘n’ roll, sex and loneliness, drugs and unforgiving sobriety. The coolness in recollecting the formation of a great band is no pose – the hipster is 16 bars ahead, knowing that all is transitory. As his life turns menacing and tragic, it’s this acceptance that keeps him observant in the eye of the storm.
Rock music is populated with many of the duller characters to have graced the globe, but a handful of restless romantics know that at its heart is a truss of darkness and furious light into which anger, love and desire can be flung. Don Walker does it as well as anyone, and in the absence of a tune his stories have greater weight, an ache that has me packing a bag, wanting to chance my arm at something a way up ahead.
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