The Music Man
Published December 16, 2008
Stills courtesy of Stephen Kijak
“Orpheus has returned from the underworld,” says the narrator in Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Stephen Kijak’s new documentary about one of the most enigmatic figures in rock history. Walker began his career as the pretty-boy bassist for chart-topping 60s band, the Walker Brothers (although his given name was Noel Scott Engel), then shut himself away to compose experimental music the likes of which no one had ever really heard before. Haunting and discordant, anchored with well-articulated lyrics and pop beats, it has for decades glanced off mainstream contemporary forms (prog rock, New Wave) but ultimately defied easy categorization. Walker, famously reclusive, has too. But Kijak’s film, which includes the only footage to date of Walker at work in the recording studio, pulls him, at least briefly, out from the depths.
It wasn’t easy. Only after long negotiations did the filmmakers earn the trust of Walker and his managers. “It was a bit of push and pull. I said two weeks in the studio, they said one day,” Kijak said. In the end, he was granted two days to shoot Walker at work on his 2006 album The Drift, and a third for still photography. The maestro shows up with a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, but in on-camera interviews he engages in a serious discussion of his life and work. “Ultimately, your work is your self,” Walker says at one point. “Everything in my world, because I have a very nightmarish imagination—I’ve had very bad dreams all my life—is big. It’s way out of proportion.”
Kijak had no trouble getting commentary from big-name Walker fans: Brian Eno, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker, Alison Goldfrapp, and David Bowie (who lent his name to the film as an executive producer) all get face time. The movie, which was released in the UK last year, comes out in New York tomorrow and in L.A. on February 27, around which time Lakeshore Records will be releasing an album of new Walker covers. Performers include Jarboe, formerly of the Swans, and Dot Allison.
Kijak said he doesn’t expect any feedback from Walker, who never even listens to his own albums. “I don’t think he’ll ever sit down and watch this. He sends spies to check it out, you know, and they all report back,” he said. Not back to the underworld, necessarily. But to a mysterious place that is, thanks to Kijak’s film, a little better illuminated than before.