The documentary Slim & I, which had a limited theatrical release a little while ago and is now available to view at home, should probably have the subtitle ‘Where would Australian country music be without Joy McKean?’ because it’s clear by a certain point of watching that, if you didn’t already know, the answer to that would be ‘nowhere’.
McKean was the winner of the very first Golden Guitar (the first of her 45 GGs), almost 49 years ago, for the song ‘Lights on the Hill’, recorded by her husband, Slim Dusty. Most Australian country music fans knows Slim and Joy’s story – their annual pilgrimage around Australia, playing as heartily and readily to remote communities as they did to the Mt Isa Rodeo – so there’s no need to establish just how much they’re part of our musical marrow. This documentary, directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) and produced by Chris Brown, Aline Jacques and Slim and Joy’s grandson James Arneman (a member of the band Small Town Romance, who contributed the song ‘I Don’t Believe You’ to the soundtrack), concentrates on Slim and Joy as a partnership. As Joy says in the film, ‘I filled gaps in his ability and he filled gaps in mine.’ It’s the story of the hard work of each person in that partnership and how it was constant, possibly relentless, over the years. It is not a hagiography of either individual, especially as Joy is interviewed – along with her hilarious sister, Heather – and tells it like it was.
As she and Slim travelled and performed, Joy was writing, as well as keeping the show literally on the road, even after her children were born. Slim was the star but he wouldn’t have been that without Joy – not just because of her support but because of her songs. This documentary, with its earthy, entertaining style and lack of saccharine sentiment, is a fitting tribute to a woman who, for so many decades, just got on with it – and who also showed us how to live a life that embraces creativity as an everyday practice rather than something that only happens when harps play in the background and scented candles burn in the corner. Joy wrote wherever she could, then she’d usually get up on stage at night and play a show with Slim, pack up the caravan and move on to the next place to do it all again. She found inspiration everywhere and didn’t doubt that songs would come. She lived music, in so many ways, and if we weren’t already sure we are so lucky to have her and her contributions to our national culture, this documentary will show you that we are, over and over again.
Slim & I is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital now.