Don Walker is one of the great Australian songwriters. And that would be the case if he had done nothing but write the majority of the great Cold Chisel songs. His career extends beyond Chisel though, to solo albums, to material for the trio Tex, Don and Charlie – to assisting his Chisel mates with their solo ventures and to a few other collaborations and ‘giftings’.
A Don Walker song is a short story. There’s a poetry to the mood of the piece, if not in the actual construction.
And most of his very best lyrics remain an enigma even on the page.
There are some wonderful surprises, too, in this book of his best lyrics. Take the song Tucker’s Daughter by Chisel’s guitar-wizard, Ian Moss. It’s a Don Walker lyric. (I don’t think I even ever knew that until reading it her). On record it’s a curious gem, that singalong chorus seemingly driving it. But read the lyric – it has all the darkness, dryness and space of Walker’s best storytelling. You feel the Aussie thirst in his lyrics. The hunger. The pride. The beer-suds. A sadness. Huge heart. Anger. You can feel long car or bus-rides. You can almost see the loveable rogues and rednecks, the battlers; these blokes. Honest. Mostly.
Arranged chronologically, these lyrics are introduced by short, pithy paragraph-long explanations of the lead album or project. And sometimes there are autobiographical notes in and around the song words.
These pieces are impressionistic as are the stories in the songs.
His own impressionistic memoir, Shots has been reissued – now Songs and Shots stand as companion texts. I revisited Shots and read it in tandem with the book of lyrics. I still don’t understand much about Walker as a man, beyond a wisdom and loneliness in his soul. But I like his words. And the very best of his songs. And I love his opaque descriptions.
Not many lyricists deserve a book of their work. Don Walker certainly does. His best work here is intriguing and dizzyingly wonderful.
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