Tag Archives: Bon Scott

Bon and Me

Everyone has a Bon Scott story.

I just got back from overseas, and my friends ask “so what are you up to now that you’re back?” When I reply, “I’m working on a project about Bon Scott, you know, that guy from AC/DC”, there is generally a pause, and either a look of incredulity, or almost immediate raucous laughter. You see, I’m not really the kind of person who you’d think of as an enthusiast for these things. My interests tend to be a bit bookish. I have a tendency to over-intellectualise, which fits more with an interest in obscure corners of conceptual art history, than Aussie rock legends. So it’s all very amusing, isn’t it?

The next thing that happens is that, once my so-called friends have gotten over their ridiculing of my rock credentials, they inevitably launch into their own stories about AC/DC. Here’s one by Diego, who is describing a scene from a small town outside of Turin, in the north of Italy:

When was it? Oh damn, I was driving around, so I must have had a licence, so that makes me 18…so I suppose it must have been about 1988 then. I was driving around with all my friends, and someone had this tape, I can’t remember where it came from, did my sister give it to me? Anyway, we put it on and it was wow! You know [does air guitar and sings the riff “na, na na, na na….di-di-di-di-du-do”] and we were really into it but we had no idea who it was, we figured it must have been Rod Stewart or something. It wasn’t until a long time after that someone told me it was AC/DC. You know, we knew nothing about that stuff, but it were were really into that guitar bit.

The funny thing is, I’m not even convinced that the famous riff Diego sings while telling this story is an AC/DC song. But who knows? Certainly not me. There are so many famous guitar riffs. They’re like pithy quotes from Shakespeare: we all recognise them, but we can’t always remember where they came from.

Diego asks a few other questions which betray his enthusiastic but hazy grasp on AC/DC-ology:

“Wasn’t Bon the one who wore the funny hat?”
“No”, Keg says, “that was Angus, and it was a school uniform.”
Diego: “Oh, I thought they all had school uniforms”…

-but never mind that, he immediately picks up his air guitar and launches into song, in his Italo-Aussie accent: “ROCK-AND-ROLL-MAKES-NOISE-POLL-U-SHUNN!!”

Immediately I find myself correcting this in my own head. It should be “rock and roll AIN’T noise pollution!” (The meaning is quite specific, although Diego’s misreading is, I must admit, an interesting slip). (Read the full lyrics here.)

And then it dawns on me that after only a couple of days into my career as a fan (which consists, thus far, of the paltry reading of the first half of Bon Scott’s biography, and listening to one single album), it’s already started: I’m becoming an AC/DC nerd. Mothers of Australia, lock up your daughters. I’m about to bore them to tears.

Integrity versus Popularity

…some rough Bon Scott notes.

Have spent last few days reading the biography by Clinton Walker. Only up to page 105, ie the whole period before Bon joins AC/DC.

After no luck in local bookshops, finally found the biography at the Newtown Public Library. Immediately adjacent to the music biography section is the magazine section. On top of the pile of dishevelled mags was Rolling Stone, May 2007, Issue 665. On page 38 there should have been an article about Bon Scott (entitled “was he really as bad as they say?” or some such), but when I turned to page 38 the whole piece had been torn out.

I spoke to Katie, who is curating a small display of Bon Scott’s letters, which will go into an exhibition at Fremantle Art Centre in May. She said a lot of letters were sent by Bon to his ex-wife, and ex-girlfriends, while he was on tour. These could make interesting reading, but she has to track them down. Some of them were sold to a private collector in Melbourne…maybe some are installed in a bar on Flinders Street. Katie has trawled through the biography herself and constructed a rough timeline of Bon’s life. Tomorrow, we’ll go together to meet Clinton Walker, the author. He’s written a bunch of titles about Aussie rock and music/cultural history.

My first impressions of the book: very readable – it makes a compelling story. The main tension which drives the tale is Bon’s anti-establishment attitude – the desire to not be trapped into the conventional habits of everyday life: job, house, wife, kids. Early on in the book, Walker hints at how problematic this attitude would be for Bon later – when the craving for “home” made him a very lonely man on AC/DC’s relentless touring circuit.

The other thing that amused me about Bon’s early music career was the tension between integrity and popularity. It seems, according to Walker, that he had an authentic “voice” (both for singing and for writing lyrics), but that the Australian music scene was unreceptive to this voice. But Bon was not against what looked like “selling out” in order to get attention and gain airplay. One of his early bands, the Valentines, completely remade their image a few times, transforming themselves from bad boys to bubblegum rockers (with matching uniforms) and back.

The provinciality of the Australian music scene in the late 1960s is quite fascinating, as was the “radio ban” Walker mentions, where major labels were banned from Australian radio stations for a year or so. These “social history of music” chapters are great – they show the restrictive artistic milieu in which Bon was emerging – it seems bizarre that he was bumping around the scene with saccharin singers Johnny Farnham (at one time Bon’s next door neighbour) and Johnny Young. I’m looking forward to finding out more on that.

After the library I went up to the record shop to blow some of my hard earned cash on acca dacca. They had about 5 Bon Scott era CDs, I picked the earliest one I could find, TNT. It’s a pretty famous album I guess, with the tracks “It’s a Long Way to The Top (If you wanna rock and roll)” and “TNT”.

At the bus stop in Enmore I bumped into Vanessa. She came over for tea and we listened to the album together. My immediate observation was that it was catchy: damn catchy. Something about those guitar riffs struck a note in my belly. This is not something that can be easily explained.

I also noticed that the lyrics on the album are often about the following: the process of becoming a rock and roll star; what life’s like in a rock band; “how hard we rock”; etc etc.

Me to Vanessa: “I know nothing about the 1970s Aussie rock music scene, but there is definitely something in common with the conceptual art that came out about the same time. Both seem very self-referential”.

I’d like to find more connections between the two. It seems impossible that the pared back films of Anthony McCall and the pared back riffs and lyrics of AC/DC, occuring at precisely the same time, could have happened in hermetic bubbles, entirely unconnected to each other…

Beginning the Bon Scott Blog

I’m starting a new project. It’s all about Bon Scott, the singer from AC/DC. He died in 1980. During the first half of this year there will be a Bon Scott Festival in Fremantle, Western Australia. That’s where he spent much of his childhood, and that’s where he’s buried. Apparently his is the most visited grave in the Freo cemetary. A bunch of fans have gotten together to raise the money to have a bronze statue of Bon made up. The statue will be unveiled on February 24th at a memorial concert. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, rumour has it that not all his fans think a bronze statue is the best way to memorialise their hero.*)

I have been commissioned by the Fremantle Arts Centre to write a blog about all of this. I’ll be travelling to WA in February for the statue unveiling and concert, and again in April/May when there will be further festivities and an exhibition by visual artists responding to Bon’s life and work. My mission, hazy as it is right now, is to interact with “the fans”, whoever they might be.

I’ve been asked to do this project based on my previous blogging projects, Bilateral Kellerberrin, and The Sham. In those projects, I spent an extended period of time blogging about a small country town in WA, and my own home suburb in Sydney. In this new project, I will need to get my head around a different kind of “site” – no longer geographically specific, but a site which revolves around a community of people who are dispersed throughout the world, and who hold in common their enthusiasm for Bon Scott.

I have to disclose from the beginning: I am not a fan. I certainly don’t dislike the music of AC/DC, but it’s just never crossed my horizon in any significant way, and I’ve never gone out of my way to listen to it. The earlier work of Bon Scott, before he joined AC/DC – well, I know nothing about it at all. So the Bon Scott Blog will certainly be, at least at the beginning, my autobiographical account of “coming to know Bon Scott”. I hope that some of the fans will take me under their wing and show me the “Tao of Bon”.

My first task is to get to Fremantle for the concert and statue unveiling on the 24th of February. I’m looking for an ardent fan as a travelling companion to drive with me across the nullabor from Sydney to Perth. The candidate would need to have a working car with a good stereo, and maybe some camping gear. I will pay for the petrol. Please contact me at shortleftleg[at]yahoo[dot]com to register your interest. (I guess we’d need to leave at least 5 days in advance…)

Coming soon: the new Bon Scott Blog…

*but I can’t remember where I heard this rumour. Searching around the net, looking at the enthusiastic sites maintained by fanclubs, I haven’t seen anything critical of the idea yet. Maybe I just dreamed it.