Monthly Archive for January, 2008

BON OR BUST!!

hitchhike pic
(Image borrowed from here…)

The campaign to find me a travellin’ companion for my trip across the nullabor is in full swing. Yesterday I spoke on radio 2SER’s drivetime show…Next Tuesday there’ll be an ad in the Drum Media, and there are several other tentacles out there, octopussing across the city. Someone will step forward to ride shotgun soon enough, I’m sure!

In case you’ve missed it so far, here’s the call out:

Lucas Ihlein calls for a travelling companion to accompany him on his journey from Sydney to Fremantle for the unveiling of the Bon Scott statue. Potential co-traveller should have own car with working stereo and good collection of AC/DC music. I will pay for fuel and on-road costs. We need to arrive by 23rd of February (so ideally, we should leave on the 18th Feb).

Enquiries to Lucas: lucas[at]bonscottblog.com

PS: if you think you’re the one, but you don’t have a car or working stereo, get in touch anyway. Maybe we can wrangle something! Oh, and I suppose if you’re the right person, it’d be ok to set out from Adelaide or Melbourne too!

Driving with Bon

acdc car
(Thanks to this fella for the above image)

Since the best stereo available to me is in a borrowed Toyota Yaris, that’s where I’ve been doing a lot of my listening. I can turn up the volume real loud and in that little bubble, really feel the music. It’s not the same coming out the tinny computer speakers or the crappy kitchen boombox. But sometimes it involves travelling with others, who, for some reason or another, are not entirely convinced of the genius of AC/DC. My girlfriend Lizzie, for instance. While I experience the “OI!-OI!-OI!s” on the song TNT as mischievous, subtly subversive and quite hilarious, (and although these OI!s are very Australian, I don’t find them at all “patriotic”) she cringes at ’em.

And while the poker/card game conceit on “She’s Got The Jack” (eg: “But how was I to know that she’d be shuffled before?“) are admittedly cheesy, for some reason I laugh at them every time. They come across, to me, as a parody of sorts (although, a parody of what exactly?) Lizzie begs to differ.

For my third and final example, take a few lines from the song “Rock and Roll Singer“:

Well you can stick your nine to five livin’
And your collar and your tie
You can stick your moral standards
‘Cause it’s all a dirty lie
You can stick your golden handshake
And you can stick your silly rules
And all the other shit
That you teach to kids in school
(‘Cause I ain’t no fool)

…at the line “You can stick your moral standards” she even has the nerve to scoff, audibly! (which is quite a feat when the music is turned up loud). The basic problem, as I see it, is that Lizzie hates unsubstantiated activist propaganda. To her, “stick your moral standards” is just an impossible paradox (how could you do that, even if you wanted to?)…and therefore scoff-worthy. And yet! – knowing a smidgeon about Bon’s own history, this song comes across as a kind of autobiography. This is not just an abstract song which could be sung by anyone. It’s Bon’s own tale. And it seems that Bon did live this reality (although, of course, he would be dead from it a few years later, but that’s another story).

Whatever your taste, driving around is certainly a good way to experience the music in a full bodied way. As opposed to drily writing about it in a blog, for instance. So I’ve decided to do some audio recordings with fans while we drive. Here’s the idea. You make up your perfect Acca Dacca mix-tape for me, and we’ll drive around with it turned up loud, recording our conversation as we listen. Maybe we’ll go somewhere significant, maybe we’ll just drive aimlessly. Then I’ll edit it a bit and upload it here as a podcast.

Meeting Clinton Walker

Clinton Walker at his desk
(Clinton Walker looking over the Bon Scott timeline he constructed while writing his book…)

It just so happens that one of Bon Scott’s biggest fans lives in Dulwich Hill, only fifteen minutes walk from my house. Last Thursday Katie and I popped around for a cup of tea with him. He took us out to his “den” – a revamped chookshed in the backyard, stuffed with books and records, and spilled the contents of his filing cabinets all over the coffee table.

It’s impossible to recount everything Clinton told us. I won’t even try. In the process of writing Bon Scott’s biography, he accumulated an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. I was a little overwhelmed by facts and anecdotes. I could have made an audio recording of everything he said, and then uploaded it for you… but then again, you could just go read the book
Continue reading ‘Meeting Clinton Walker’

Being a “Fan”…

[Sampdoria Fans in the “Gradinata Sud” – photo pinched from lucadea…]

The Bon Scott Blog spluttered to life late last week. It’s a weird project for me. On the one hand I am relishing my relative ignorance of the subject, so that I can be the student in an enormous worldwide classroom in which my teachers are Bon’s fans. And on the other hand, immersing myself in the subject is no academic exercise – it involves hours of listening to AC/DC tracks at high volume, which tends to change a man somewhat…

I remember, years ago, in highschool, I was an exchange student in Italy. The city I stayed in, Genova, has two soccer teams, “Genoa” and “Sampdoria”. Kids at the local school I attended would always try to sway me one way or the other, competing to secure my allegiance to one of their beloved teams. But how could I choose between the two? I had never previously heard of either team, let alone see them play. I wasn’t really even into sport all that much. The decision seemed entirely arbitrary.

Eventually the choice was made for me. One of my friends, Andrea, dragged me to a Sampdoria game. He bought me a team scarf and a warm can of Heineken from a stall outside the stadium. Andrea was a member of the ultra fanatical Sampdorians and had a season ticket for a spot right behind the goalposts, where the most ardent supporters watch every match. Standing tall on the moulded plastic seats… stomping and shouting… learning the chants, which not only filled the air with sound but also penetrated my chest and churned my guts… letting my body go limp as the fans surged toward the cyclone mesh fence separating us from the elite athletes on the pitch… hollering with genuine pain and incredulity at the referee’s decisions and making that very Italian gesture of hands held together as if in prayer (meaning “how can this be happening??”)… screaming with unadulterated joy as Sampdoria scored its first goal… turning and hugging the man next to me… staggering jubilant and exhausted into the streets outside the stadium, discussing particular kicks and tackles, defensive strategies, umpiring decisions, what ifs… During those two hours I was conscripted into a community which took my loyalty for granted.

After the match, Andrea and his buddies were proud and somewhat boastful to have won me over from the rival Genoans. It was coercive, but I didn’t care. I was sold. I had been through a communal experience which was as moving, bodily, as it was satisfying intellectually. I had something to belong to. I had songs to sing. I had an easily identifiable enemy. I was a fan. It was that simple.

A few Bon Scott rumours…

Apparently there’s this guy in Emu Plains who is a master on the didj. “He can play any AC/DC song on it”. This is told to me in the pub by my friend Geoff, who lives in Vancouver. He’s visiting Sydney briefly, and this local knowledge tidbit was told to him by Bill, a busdriver on an “Oz Experience” trip to the Blue Mountains…

Geoff’s friend Ben, sipping beer across the table, has the following to contribute:

“My cousin’s partner’s dad used to hang around with Bon back in Freo. Once they went to get tattoos together, and Fred, that’s his name, he chickened out, but Bon went on to get a big snake tattoo all down his side. Or was it on his arm. Anyway, he lives in Esperance now, you should go visit him when you make your big road trip. And this guy Fred’s daughter, apparently she’s a nanny to the Rolling Stones.”

Outside the pub, I bump into Scott. At first I can’t remember who he is, it’s been years since we worked together doing picture framing. Now he’s got his own business. I tell him about my search for a travelling companion for the big pilgrimage to Freo for the statue-unveiling-concert. “Oh shit, I’m interested man, I’m interested. I’m a big fan.” His eyes glaze over while he’s talking to me. I imagine his brain processing all the re-organising he’s going to have to do to make this trip. “Ah, you know it takes five days to drive there, right?” I ask him. I’m doubting he’ll be able to spare that much time off work. But he reckons he’s gonna have a serious think about it and get back to me. We shake hands and agree to stay in touch.

Talking with Scott for five minutes on a street corner in Darlinghurst is one thing, but I begin to wonder what it would be like to spend five days together, cooped up in a car heading across the scorching nullabor plain. Is this wise?

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.

*post script: according to further research, the riff Diego was singing was an AC/DC track. Click here to listen to Diego himself rendering the riff in all its glory…

hero ick, icon ick

The following email, entitled “hero ick, icon ick” came through from my friend Anne today:

hows this. not a word for months and then a deluge. no, but it’s interesting, this next blog you’ll be doing. half an hour ago i was googling heath ledger who’s apparently just overdosed in his manhattan digs. can’t say i’ve ever paid much attention to the bloke, but i enjoyed ‘brokeback mountain’ and ‘i’m not there’. anyways, seems there are a lot of fanclub sites out there for heath, as well. and no doubt for a lot of other stars, alive and dead (another one that comes to mind, coz i’ve just seen the fillem ‘control’ is ian curtis of joy division).

so i was just having a little lie down after getting your email and thought about how we are surely the only species that does this – elevates certain individuals to such lofty heights. i mean, this is definitely not in the order of something as pragmatic as queen ant-ism. we just love mythical figures. or need them, more like. i wonder if it’s a religious urge. icon-ism. especially since pictures and other forms of representation figure so much in the process of elevation and mythologising. bio’s too of course. and when it’s singers, it’s their music and their lyrics combined with their personal narratives. so i dunno. maybe i’m on the wrong track here. maybe it’s about poetry and poets and philosophers, in a new package for popular culture. what do you think it’s about lucas? hmmm … i guess you’ll find out, maybe, by doing this blog. wish i could drive across the desert with you.

Hearing the news, I too had a moment of sadness for poor Heath. He was 28. Bon was young too, only 33 when he died. (They also both grew up in Western Australia.) I guess as the breaking news came through about Heath’s death, it made me realise, to a very small degree, what it might have been like for an AC/DC fan to hear the news of Bon’s death, back in Feburary 1980. A sense of lost potential. The idea that he was only just beginning to hit his stride. That his best work was still in front of him. And so on.

Like Anne, I have been wondering about the transformation of a single human into a “cultural icon” – and the similarity of this phenomenon to religion. If someone is dead, we can make him into whoever we want. And no matter how unheroic the circumstances of Bon’s death (“death by misadventure due to acute alcohol poisoning” or something like that) there is a sense in which he is a kind of “martyr”.

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 Project 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…)

*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.

Guest Book

Feel free to leave your messages, tributes, criticism, suggestions, links etc here below.

(If you would like to post images, movies or sound files, just email them to me at this address: lucas[at]bonscottblog[dot]com and I’ll upload them for you!

Cheers, Lucas