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October 7, 2008

Note Books - Kim Salmon (The Darling Downs)

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

Kim Salmon was a member of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon, and The Surrealists, and his current band is the duo, the Darling Downs.

The Darling Downs release their sophomore album, From One To Another, on October 14th in the US.

Erasing Clouds wrote of the band's debut album, How Can I Forget This Heart of Mine?:

"Not the rock album you might expect from a collaboration between Peno (former Died Pretty lead singer) on vocals and Kim Salmon (The Scientists, etc.) on guitar, it's instead this ghostly, late-night country-folk album. Peno's singing brings to mind high-lonesome country performers from ages ago (literally soaring into the heavens on songs like the spellbinding "In That Jar"), while Salmon's guitar provides a bare, spare road for it to travel on. The songs' subjects are like the essence of old-time country: loneliness, betrayal, feelings of home, deep abiding love. It's like the Darling Downs have attempted to take this style of music and strip it of anything but its essence - strip it of decoration, of fashion, of time, even. They're left with music that doesn't feel of a particular time or place, except the now: a heartwarming, heart-burning experience."

In his own words, here is the Note Books entry from Kim Salmon of the Darling Downs:

In The Shark Net, Robert Drewe writes about the life of a young boy transplanted from the thriving metropolis, Melbourne, to the loneliest and most isolated colonial outpost of the western world, Perth. The boy is young and it is his father's job that brings the family to this remote destination.

Drewe writes about houses on foundations of crumbling limestone and a sun that sets over the Indian Ocean that is so intense it induces something called “boiling brain.” He writes about empty daytime streets and houses left unlocked. Houses to which tradesmen and salesmen visit by coming to the back door – a door usually covered with ‘flywire’, which is hard to see through in certain light. Boys run around the neighborhood in these pre-sunscreen times with bare feet. It’s a different world, a different time… far from anywhere. Everywhere else in the world is referred to as “over east.”

The Swan River divides North and South Perth and you can hear lions from the zoo across the river. It’s all portrayed through the remembrances of a young boy, of his own perceptions and the explanations given to him by adults about this past unique world. It is a very strange world that Drewe’s characters live in. On the one hand it’s almost a country town whose people appear trusting and open, and on the other hand there’s an underlying suspicion. These are people that have made a commitment to a place that has elements of the hostile and of paradise.

All the while, in the background of young Drewe’s world, there’s a killer on the rampage. I know this world intimately. It is where I am from. I was six when Eric Cook was hanged in Fremantle prison. Stories, recounted in this book, e.g. Eric Cook hiding rifles under the Narrows Bridge, are stories that inhabit my childhood memories. So are the limestone, the light, the lonely streets, in fact the whole ambience of this strange town.

I was brought to Perth from a port town called Bunbury. Bunbury was a cooler, much greener place, a village. A place where everyone knew each other. Perth to me was a vast sandpit, a place at the edge of the world and yet in many ways, very beautiful. The beaches are unmatched anywhere. The view from Kings Park is breathtaking. The Swan River is very impressive. It’s all in The Shark Net…. my youth.

This book resonates with me like nothing else I’ve read because it tells a parallel story to mine. Parallel by essentially a few inches and a year or two. My father and indeed my wife know one of Eric Cook’s sons. I used to be a nursing assistant and actually looked after the geriatric Sir John Virtue, the judge who sentenced Eric Cook to death. Although his name was certainly known to me, I didn’t know he was the very man till I read this book.

Drewe takes us into the mind Eric Cook, who was born with a hair-lip and who never reconciled the taunting he received as a child. Through Drewe’s interior narrative we get to know him intimately, but we are always a step away from real sympathy for him. What we get to know is a true psychopath and it is an insightful view to be given. We have some compassion but it’s always a step removed from sympathy. If we feel hard we are given the opportunity to forgive ourselves when we read the interview with Cook’s long suffering wife Sally at the end of the book. This does bring out our sympathy and lets us know we have some.

Robert Drewe’s book ends with Cook moving to Melbourne for his career. 18 years ago I moved to Melbourne for my career. There are so many parallels for me with this book that it makes an objective review impossible. I do think that it qualifies me to talk about the book though and I would recommend The Shark Net to anyone who might feel possessed to know what it’s like living in the most isolated capitol city in the world.

Darling Downs links:

The Darling Downs MySpace page
The Darling Downs page at Carrot Top Records

Darling Downs posts at Largehearted Boy

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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