There isn’t, unfortunately, a clip of Don Walker’s epic song about trying, and failing, to hitch a lift out of Queensland mining town Mt Isa.
With an oblique nod to the Aldous Huxley’s mystical novel ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ (or perhaps to John Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes, in which that phrase first appeared) Walker’s song is called ‘Carless in Isa’. Love it.
If anyone has done any hitching, he captures a sense of the waiting, the longueurs, drawling out the sense of an approaching car as it, and hope of a lift, arrives and then passes.. “I’ve been heeerrre………….fr’ever.”
This one, though, delves even deeper. It has been nearly 20 years since I have been hitch hiking: most of it was done at a time of inward as well as outward searching.
And ‘Eternity’ catches this feeling so accurately it hurts:
“The withered skin on my hand was linedLike a map of the land I´d left behind aloneA drifter and a pharisee
On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity.”
All this side of the Sambatyon River,How the cattle diedHow the pain o’ your feverSpread across the moon like a thunderheadLike a lost will,A hole in the law,
Split the stone o’ the cathedral floor.”
It is eerie and evocative – and for those who do not know, the Sambatyon is the legendary river over which 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel disappeared.
It then becomes hallucinatory, spinning out the images like a Biblical Yeats….
“I’m hookin my thumbRound a well sucked bottle of Inner Circle rumAnd I’m handin it overHe’s whackin it downHis old man’s Adam’s apple’s jumpin aroundKickin at a rope-burn under his chinAnd I’m lookin at the sky like a sheeta hot tinAnd I’m feeling so sick in the headAn’ I fall to one knee,Then anotherAn’ all that I can seeIs a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…Long ago, and far awayI opened my eyes and attempted to prayI opened my eyes on a land as frozenCold as the hole where Jesus roseAnd I layAnd wondered if he died for me
On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…”
I still often dream I am out on a road, somewhere, nothing happening: just the tarmac’s flat upward radiating heat and smell, the white noise of the approaching vehicles and the vast flatness of notorious hitchers traps like Sanson, Murchison or PioPio.
Walker is most famous as the guy who wrote most of Aussie band Cold Chisel’s songs: – ‘Flame Trees’, ‘Khe Sanh’ ‘Cheap Wine’, and a personal favourite (also about hitch hiking) ‘Houndog’ are all his.
A few years back he wrote a great, if idiosyncratic, memoir, ‘Shots’. I’ll return to that another time: all I’ll say now is it takes a chapter or two to get the rhythm of the writing (Walker is very stream-of-conscious at times) but its worth the effort.
Don Walker appeared last night in Auckland and is appearing tomorrow night in Leigh. I can’t make it there, to my deep regret.