Laconic and dry. That’s probably the write-up you’ve got in mind for Shots, songwriter Don Walker’s first book. And you’re probably not all that far wrong. But that reductionism is a disservice: The book is dry, with one economical eye on the door, but there’s a lot more going on.
The book is an autobiography, more or less, but it’s not a lot like that of his on-again off-again bandmate Tex Perkins, say. It’s a collection of images gathered together under the names of places that exist, or are a state of mind – Home, Carr’s Creek, Kings Cross, The Road, Paris and so on – but they flit, moment to moment.
You won’t get a lot of factual information unless it refers to the road, or to place names, to the whir of changing postcodes as wheels rip by. Names and dates are ephemera, forgotten, while it’s the stuff you wouldn’t normally countenance – the way light plays across a shitty hotel window, the cost of a grim tea as commuters pass, the increasing knowledge that you’re stuffed which suffuses the body as a cheque fails to turn up and you’re stuck cashless – that takes the central role.
You will learn stuff about Walker, though. I had no idea he had been a bit of a physics gun, say, that before Cold Chisel he’d modelled airflows for bomber pods. But then, the stuff we already know – the rise of that band to a thing of Southern Cross tatt-level fetishism, a sort of rocket fuel-soaked penates for the ANZAC spirit – is let lie. Sure, there’s stuff about the band in there, but it’s not glorified: it’s shit sets and siphoning fuel, because the awards and the success, well you already know all that.
I assume the title refers to the photographic moment – the snapshot, something selectively caught to emulsion and processed, rather than the continual stream of images on every bloody phone – because each moment is considered, composed. There’s a greater narrative we only see a frame of, and that’s fine, because like his songs, these moments aren’t just meant for us: they’re meant for the places and people they document. We’re voyeurs, conducted into the smoked-glass vestibule by a dry wit with good taste in shoes.
(Yeah, there’s undoubtedly a narcotic connotation at work here too – but fuck, junk isn’t as composed as these moments.)
Shots is a great book, because it’s unsentimental about the past and about what people do. There’s drugs, addiction, struggles with government departments over the future of a child. There’s hard graft, free rides and momentary escape. It’s nothing if not real, and reminds you that yes, Walker’s lyricism is really pretty fucking great. I had no expectations going into the thing, but I can say the quality is hardly a surprise – more a reminder how good he is.
The nearest thing I can liken the book to is to the way, pre-GPS, you’d hit the road with a plan of how to get somewhere. Maybe with a Gregory’s in the passenger seat. But at some point on the journey, though you knew your destination, there’d be that moment of elation or panic (depending on your demeanour) when you realised that you only had an idea of how to get there, a vague impression. That the reality was still ahead, black tarmac you hadn’t covered yet.
Shots is full of that expectation, that quest to get around the next corner and see what the fuck’s going on. And maybe find a good SF novel and a cuppa in the process.
(Now, go buy some fuckin’ albums.)