(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…
Before visiting Clinton, I jotted down some questions which I had diligently prepared like a good journalist. Here were my questions:
What about the fans? What is it that makes Bon such a popular figure? (As opposed to Brian Johnson, Bon’s replacement in AC/DC).
Do you think a larger proportion of people have encountered Bon after his death, than knew him during the 1970s? What about this whole mythologising thing? Why does our culture need mythological figures like Bon?
How about the tension between Bon’s desire to be popular/to be a star, versus the need to remain “authentic” to his “true voice”? (For example, the Valentines (Bon’s late 1960s band) went through a strange “bubblegum pop” era, where they abruptly changed their music, and their “look”, in order to sell records and gain publicity.)
What do you think makes AC/DC appealing as a “working class” band? (Isn’t it a bit funny that the music holds great appeal for working class fellas, given that Bon railed against “9 to 5 living”?)
Of course, once we actually started talking, I forgot to refer to these hard-hitting questions. So I can’t pass along the answers. But here are a few factoids gleaned from Clinton that might stand in…(note that I, not Clinton, will take full reponsibility for possibly spurious factoids amongst the following…)
The Young brothers (Malcolm and Angus) ran the band like a business. Drummers and bass players were hired and fired depending on whether they suited the Youngs’ vision of success. Some were axed because they were too tall, or too good looking.
Being so businesslike, the Youngs largely shied away from interacting with fans, and, possessed of a musical superiority complex, were disinclined to mix with members of other bands. Bon, by contrast, was socially promiscuous, and when the band was on tour, often disappeared for hours on end to have a chinwag or drink whiskey with anyone he happened to find interesting. This may be one of the reasons he has remained so popular with the fans: he was never too “big” to hang out – he was “one of us”, just a regular guy, etc…
Following on from (b). it thus seems unlikely that Angus or Malcolm would be interested in responding to my blog project (they also refused to answer any correspondence from Clinton when he was preparing his book). If you look at the line up for “The Aussie Rock Celebration Concert” at which Bon’s statue will be unveiled, it features many bands happy to pay homage to Bon’s memory – but conspicuously absent on the list is AC/DC… Clinton thought this was crazy – they’ve got nothing to lose, and they could gain so much by opening up with generosity to their loyal fan base…
…a conspiracy theory! – After Bon died, AC/DC quickly recruited a new singer (Brian Johnson) and went on to release Back in Black, their most successful album ever. Bon was not credited for the work he did on the album before he died, which means that no royalties ever made their way back to his estate. But it is entirely possible that he did write some of those songs…(Clinton isn’t alone in this suspician – see the controversy raging on this fan discussion board… those in favour of the theory that Bon WAS involved in the album cite the “fact” that the band never subsequently released anything anywhere near the quality of Back in Black…)
On a less conspiratorial note… Bass player Mark Evans, who got the chop from the band in 1977 “for being too pretty”, still lives here in Sydney. He plays blues with the “Tice & Evans Blues Combo” every Saturday arvo at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown.
Speaking of Sydney, Malcolm owns an enormous mansion on the water in Balmain. (How much of the year does he spend there? Could he be sitting in there now, not 15 minutes drive from my own living room in Petersham, at the other end of the 445 bus route?) Malcolm’s mansion was formerly known as “Cockroach Castle”…
Going out on a limb now… in Clinton’s opinion, if Bon hadn’t died in 1980, he probably would have left the band a few years later anyway, to pursue a solo career. His creativity may have needed more space to grow than was afforded by the band.
Phew. Enough with the factoids and theories! Back to work, people!