Remembering Scott Walker

Earlier this year, I was invited into Radio National’s The Music Show to speak with host Andrew Ford about the life and music of the recently deceased singer and composer, Scott Walker.

I’d been a fan of Walker’s ever since picking a battered copy of his first album Scott at Ashwoods second hand record story in Sydney. The album featured a track called ‘Montague Terrace in Blue’, a song that to my pleasure seemed to have been written specially for me, as I was living (during the mid 1980s) in the attic of a sky-coloured Bourke Street terrace in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

I mostly bought the record for the black-and-white cover photograph of Walker, all hunched and wintry behind dark sunglasses, very much the romantic poet exuding and fighting with his own gravity.

Walker’s deep baritone suggested some of that energy too, along with his lyrics and tumultuous music. The songs pushed at the borders of the histrionic, absurdly tormented and exalted by turns. It made me think of a grand actor on a stage. And yet his theatricality had something real in it too, the essences of a young man inventing himself on a very big canvas.

At the time, I had no idea this was the same Scott Walker who had been with The Walker Brothers and sang ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’ back in 1967. Walker had been a force in my childhood, a song on the radio I heard and knew. It was, and still, is one of those songs that punches a hole in your life and never disappears. When he wrote and performed it, Walker was barely 21-years old. It made him a star beyond most people’s dreams; a pin-up on a par with The Beatles.

I would learn much later of his mysterious path away from pop music and off into realms of the avant-garde. The journey began with a series of self-tilted albums that used nothing but his Christian name, of which Scott 3 and Scott 4 are the best, end-points to the baroque romanticism of his pop past and interims to another creature being born. A lost era follows, plagued by bad record contracts, rumours of alcoholism, disenchantment.

The Scott Walker who came to then exist formed his own strange now-future or sonic limbo, reeking of premonition and existential protest. He had a much more political and global vision for his music. Walker’s aesthetic accordingly became more icy, sinister, distressed, and assaultive, his lyrics radically fragmentary and randomly beautiful, as well as violent and alienated. There would be no more compromises. Any time. Ever.

Walker is now regarded as a figure of direct influence on people like David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker – and more indirectly as an inspiration to bands like Radiohead and others, to musicians who did not so much sound like him, but took him as a hero or role model for commitment to one’s art above all things.

A half-hour radio program is barely enough time to skip across a few aspects to what Walker was about as an artist. But I do hope you enjoy my conversation about Walker on Radio National’s The Music Show with Andrew Ford, who is not only the program’s host but also one of Australia’s finest music critics and essayists. It was a pleasure to listen and to talk.

You can listen to the conversation on Scot Walker here.