I’ve got a confession to make. I used to be a bogan. A full-blooded, Cold Chisel loving bogan. Mocs and all. Even Uggs for a year or so. (My mother still blames my flat feet on that particular fashion statement.)
While I’d like to apologise generally for the bubble gum jeans, the pixie boots and the pastel v-necks I exposed the world to, I make no apologies for my excellent taste in music, or my undying love for a band no one outside Australia knows (and no one east of the CBD and west of Springvale Road acknowledges): Cold Chisel.
OK. Bear in mind that I can’t abide great chunks of Triple M (so blokey, I don’t feel welcome at all) and I don’t ever need to hear a beery cover of Khe Sanh again, but there are plenty of spectacularly uncommercial, even un-bogan (or is it anti-bogan?) songs that never make Best of play lists, and yet have not faded with time.
There’s the obituary to a lost friend, “Letter to Alan”, the ode to gambling in “Numbers Fall”, and the litany of exotic place names in “Houndog” – highlighted by the sexy, crooning Ian Moss interlude that made Hornsby station sound like Shangri-la. But of all my Cold Chisel favourites (and there are too many to mention), it is the poetic but incomprehensible Breakfast at Sweethearts’ song, “Dresden” that changed my life, potentially forever.
This Don Walker-penned ballad made me want to write. There were other influences before then of course: a love of story telling, a father with a gift for language, and a desire to express on paper all the things I couldn’t say out loud. But it was the moment when I first read Don Walker’s lyrics that I genuinely began to think of myself as a budding writer.
For a while as a teenager I spent great chunks of my angst-filled days writing and re-writing the “Dresden” lyrics in the hope that some of Walker’s brilliance would rub off on me. When that didn’t work, I started stealing from it, drowning my terrible poetry in images of “icy rime” and experimenting with objects I could successfully describe as floating “like thistle down”. I made “sledge-wings dip and play” and placed stones “above each measured stone” believing that I was honouring Mr Walker when really I was simply plagiarising him. I still find myself tempted to drop in some mention of God being “on the edge of time” and wonder how I can reference the “mark of Cain” without actually knowing what it means; I even copy out the lyrics every now and then in the hope that one day I might eventually understand them.
So, in the weeks following the death of Cold Chisel drummer, Steve Prestwich, it seems apt that I invoke my inner bogan (not to mention my latent adolescence) and reproduce Walker’s poetry right here and now:
“Dresden” by Don Walker (and frequently plagiarised by … let’s call her “Nic”)
The morning breeze is off and gone
The winding factory streets are clean
Old ladies put the kettle on
And all-night lechers pause and lean
On grey shop windows, everywhere
A deeper hum is in the air
Hotel room, drifter leaves no clues
He rides a freight-train out of town
And whistles at the icy rime
The cattle float like thistle-downs
And God is on the edge of time
Somewhere behind a siren wails
The freight-train soars above the rails
The traveller, he’s hard as nails
As the train sweeps down the line
The salmon Season’s here to stay
And etched into each shoulder-bone
The mark of Cain is on display
As stone above each measured stone
Old Dresden burns above the breeze
The traveller, he’s on his knees
He’s watching sledge-wings dip and play
So far above the holy throne