by DJ El Toro
I have notoriously flawed instincts when it comes to popular music. Before the release of Mariah Carey’s first album, I famously told a Sony executive his label was wasting time and money because the public would never go for such an obvious Whitney Houston knockoff.
Naturally, with such keen acumen, I became a professional music critic.
As Brian Eno observes in the documentary Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, many folks who write about music for a living are desperately trying to recapture the excitement of their teenage years. Which is, in part, a large part of why I remain fascinated by the enigmatic Walker. Most of the heroes in my pantheon acknowledge him as a huge influence. Eno, David Bowie, Gavin Friday, Marc Almond, and Jarvis Cocker are just a few of the talking heads who weigh in on Walker — his dramatic baritone, enigmatic lyrics, an approach to songwriting that owes more to European classical music than pop or rock — in this film (which has just been issued on DVD).
30th Century Man traces the trajectory of Walker’s career from teen idol to today. His origins as one-third of California ’60s pop trio the Walker Brothers (who became huge UK pop stars on the back of hits like “Make It Easy On Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”), his sudden fall from grace with an album now regarded — even by a dolt like me — as a masterpiece (1969’s Scott 4), and the mystique that has risen up around him in the 40 years since. Mythology paints Walker as a shadowy recluse, but the man in Stephen Kijak’s film is candid and affable. Then he steps back into the control booth and talks his percussionist through punching a side of beef to create a rhythm track. Seriously.
Much of this film was shot during the making of Walker’s most recent release, The Drift. Which brings me back to my own shortcomings. When that disc was released, back in 2006, I gave it a middling review. A man spends a decade making a record, and I dismiss it with two stars. Heck, I’m still wading through Walker’s previous studio album, 1995’s Tilt. Watching 30th Century Man, I did the math and realized The Drift should start making sense to my ears right around my 50th birthday. Hopefully by then I’ll have finally accepted that my adolescence is in the rear view mirror — and Walker will be issuing another long-player that does my head in.
As a music reviewer, I have my shortcomings. But as an armchair film critic, I give Scott Walker: 30th Century Man very high marks (just look aside during those occasional musical passages where the graphics seem better suited to a TV advert for a yoga studio or some sort of new age tea beverage). I’d stake my professional reputation on that — but you should watch the DVD regardless.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, will be going on hiatus while he is researching and writing a new book, but will resume in earnest later this year. You can now follow DJ El Toro on Twitter!