Books, Music, Reviews Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge: a fascinating read for fans and newcomers alike By Tony Thompson | April 6, 2020 | This is the formula for a rock and roll memoir or biography: Start with the iconic moment – the day the timeless classic was conceived, the set at Altamont, the day the band came together. In his book Life Keith Richards starts with, not unexpectedly, a near drug bust in a car full of illicit gear. In Chapter Two, it’s back to the beginning. “The Jaggers are listed in the Domesday Book”. Chapter Three covers the first guitar under the Christmas tree and Elvis on Ed Sullivan – “My dad hated it but I’d found my life’s work”. The next few chapters then lead the reader back to the iconic moment. It seems an oddly teleological approach for a group of famously chaotic individuals whose lives and careers are more likely to be a series of missteps with a few lucky moments thrown in, than anything so predictable as a traditional narrative. I was trying to figure out which moment Douglas Galbraith could have used in this fascinating biography of Kim Salmon, if he had chosen to follow this formula. It wouldn’t have been easy. The obvious one would have been something to do with his subject’s ‘invention’ of grunge music, as alluded to in the clever title. Years ago, I saw Kim Salmon on TV series Spicks and Specs. The host asked him if he had, in fact, invented grunge, which is usually more closely associated with Seattle than Embleton. He smiled and said something like, “well, it’s not as though I was brushing my teeth one morning and thought, yes, Alice in Chains!”. One of the great myths is that playing rock and roll for a living is the last refuge of the indolent artist type. Salmon, a witty and modest fellow, makes no such claim, but there is a story there. It is, as the kids say, complicated. Galbraith wisely does not attempt to explain it in a snappy first chapter but saves it for a thoroughly satisfying section later in the book. The case is presented in great detail, leaving the reader to judge if, indeed, we have Kim Salmon to thank for Stone Temple Pilots. Galbraith could have also started with just about anything from Kim’s time in The Beasts of Bourbon. The ‘Beasts,’ for the uninitiated, are the kind of act that are so legendary it’s hard to believe they ever existed. When I first moved to Australia in the 1990s, I spent a bit of time in St Kilda dive bars listening to tales of this band. It was like being in the Holy Land in the first century: everybody had a story. Their singer Tex Perkins used a good one to start his own recent memoir, Tex. One night at the Prince of Wales, he drunkenly joined the opening act on drums, yelled at the crowd, and got hit in the head with a flying beer bottle. He was then dragged off stage by the bouncers and ended up passed out on a hospital floor with a head wound. Not bad. It kept me reading! One of the great myths is that playing rock and roll for a living is the last refuge of the indolent artist type. Late in the book, Galbraith makes the redundant statement that Kim Salmon works “really, really hard”. As far as I can tell from the fairly comprehensive timeline presented here, Kim hasn’t had a day off since 1975. He’s in his 60s now. He helped to kick off the Australian punk scene, he invented grunge, he has four kids, and appears to be in a dozen different bands with a touring schedule that must look as though he is running for office somewhere. The man needs a vacation! Two weeks on a beach somewhere. It wouldn’t work. He’d come back with 25 new songs and a new group of musicians that he’d poached from the resort’s entertainment staff. Kim Salmon’s Vacation Band. One of the many strengths of this book is that Galbraith manages to cover all of this without producing something akin to A Dance to the End of Time. If you are a big fan of a particular Surrealists album or would like to know more about his collaboration with Ron Peno in The Darling Downs, it is all here. Many rock biographies make the mistake of focusing on the subject’s personal life and bringing in the music where it is relevant. Galbraith puts Salmon’s considerable musical output (the ‘selected’ discography at the back of the book is nearly a book itself) at the heart of this story and uses Kim’s personal life and relationships where they are relevant. It works well and he resists the temptation to overdo the links. A picture thus emerges of an artist who has relentlessly pursued a vision, or in Kim’s case a whole bunch of visions, throughout his adult life. Has this made his personal life a disaster? He’s been married a couple of times, has some kids, has made a mistake or two. Bu, let’s be clear, Salmon is not a rock and roll bad boy with a long trail of shattered hearts and broken promises behind him. In fact no one, including ex-wives and former colleagues, seems to hold any real enmity towards him. How many of us who have lived on this planet for more than half a century can say that? I hope that doesn’t make the book sound dull. On the contrary, dull for me is the sort of music memoir that is essentially a long score-settling diatribe. Try Chris Hillman’s book about The Flying Burritos Brothers. Three hundred pages devoted to his simmering resentment of Gram Parsons. Okay, we get it! No one, including ex-wives and former colleagues, seems to hold any real enmity towards him. How many of us who have lived on this planet for more than half a century can say that? That said, Kim Salmon could hardly be blamed if he did harbour a few bitter feelings. The sad series of events that befell The Scientists in England is depressingly familiar and a cautionary tale for all bands. A simple dispute, a mild misunderstanding, and a missed opportunity that must occasionally still keep Kim up at night. He has watched several generations of Australian musicians reach dizzying heights of fame. Members of his own demographic have become ‘national treasures’ while he remains essentially a cult figure, a musician’s musician. If he is angry about it, he didn’t mention it to Galbraith. Remarkably, he seems to treat both his successes and setbacks with Zen like acceptance and astonishing good grace. An example to us all! So do you need to be a veteran ‘Salmon-iac’ (I just made that up) to enjoy this biography? The answer is that Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge is one of those glorious books that takes you to the music. Galbraith somehow makes this book both an introduction to Kim’s work and a deeply satisfying read for those who already know his stuff. Not an easy trick. Much of the music is available on Spotify and I had a great time playing the songs under discussion as I read. Some clever person could make a great playlist using this book. I hope they do! Douglas Galbraith’s Kim Salmon and the Formula for Grunge ($39.99) is out now through Melbourne Books. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Tony Thompson Tony Thompson lives in Melbourne and is the author of Summer of Monsters, a novel about the early life of Mary Shelley.