A tribute to Scott Walker (1943-2019)
March 25, 2019 | by Hannah Marshall
Faber Social Publisher Lee Brackstone reflects on working with the late, great Scott Walker on his 2018 selection of lyrics, Sundog.
It was Jarvis Cocker who first introduced the idea of publishing Scott Walker’s lyrics to me at Faber. It was set to be the second in our series of Lyrics books, after Mr Cocker’s, which had inaugurated the series. But Scott was unsure of how to go about making the selection and delayed making a commitment.
There were challenges in the process. Scott didn’t keep much and he wasn’t an artist interested in the past or his legacy. He claimed never to listen to his back catalogue (I believed him) and he had kept none of the drafts of the lyrics. I suspect it was an act of rare compromise, but characteristic generosity (to his publishers), that he did eventually include seven songs from the sixties in Sundog. Everything else represented in the book, which is certainly the most Modernist in spirit and style of all our Lyrics series, came from and after Tilt, an album released in his early fifties, well into a career in music that is peerless in every respect.
Calm, thoughtful, polite, reticent
I didn’t know Scott but we met a few times (four, I think), mostly at his manager’s house in Holland Park. He was nearly always a bit late, dressed in denim and an army cap. He was perhaps the only man in the world over the age of twenty-five who actually looks cool wearing an army cap. I remember my colleague Dan Papps and I speculating on how Scott Walker made his way to these meetings: limo, Addison Lee or astral projection? It turned out he took the bus. He would have cycled but had recently suffered a nasty accident.
He had, as they say, a presence. Calm, thoughtful, polite, reticent. Always good-humoured and collaborative when it came to making the three editions of Sundog. He had some wild suggestions for the deluxe edition and, after some jocularity, we accepted that his preference for either a ‘deer hoof’ or a ‘Doberman’s paw’ on the cover were not provocations. So my production colleague, Jack Murphy and I, set about the business of finding a Doberman willing to lend a paw to the enterprise.
A kind of ‘biography’
My memory of this is hazy, but I think I invited Eimear McBride to write the introduction to Scott’s lyrics at a Faber summer party, perhaps in 2016. I knew she was a fan and I knew Scott was a fan of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, as I had given him a copy and he loved it.
I know Scott thought so highly of Eimear’s essay that he regarded it as a kind of ‘biography’, so I thought we should reproduce it in full today, for the first time outside the printed volume. Eimear’s final words in the introduction capture the mood of what many of us feel today: ‘All that remains is to say that what lies within these pages is a wonder, a pleasure, the culmination – if only to date – of a most enviable life’s work. Read it, understand a little more and then go put the records on.’
Read Eimear McBride’s introduction to Sundog