[David giving Bon a sip…]
Yesterday was the anniversary of Bon Scott’s death. I kept a vigil all day in Fremantle Cemetery, resting in the shade of a tree near Bon’s grave.
Even though I had never been to the cemetery before, I was aware that Bon’s grave, like Jim Morrison’s in Paris, has long been the most popular slab in Freo’s city of the dead. Fans from all over the world make their way to Bon’s final resting place to pay their respects.
Rumour has it that a few weeks back, none other than heavy metal legends Iron Maiden were chauffeured to the cemetery to have a drink with Bon. Apparently this kind of thing happens all the time.
So it is odd, indeed, that Bon’s grave, when you find it, is so unassuming. Jasmin dropped me off about 11am, as she had to run off to some meetings. I entered through the main gate and wandered around. I noticed there was a “heritage trail” – a painted green line on the bitumen pathway, and I assumed this would lead me to Bon. But instead I meandered into the depths of the cemetery, and it was not long before I got lost. Row after row of ornate headstones made from mottled granite baked under the sun. Many of the graves were adorned, in that strange Italian way, with fading ceramic photographs of the deceased.
“Bon’s grave can’t be too far off,” I thought to myself. I decided to walk around til I found it, rather than going to ask the caretaker. He must be sick of that question. Looking around, I noticed a fellow dressed all in black waving at me. He was too far away to be heard, so he didn’t bother shouting, but once he caught my eye he pointed, repeatedly, down to a spot just in front of him. I wandered over.
“You after Bon?”
“Thought you were”, he said. “Wandering around like that with your backpack on.” His name was David.
I asked David if he came by often. “Oh yeah,” he said. “A couple of times a week I stop by and have a drink with Bon.” He had a premix can of rum and coke, and after having a sip himself, he leaned over and poured out “a sip for Bon”, in the patch of dirt just beside the plaque.
The plaque itself is alarmingly small. Perhaps only the size of a record cover, and flat to the ground. It mentions that Bon was the loved son of Isa and Chick, and brother of Derek, Graham, and Valarie. To Bon’s left is a similarly small monument, honouring someone called “Mary Betty Savage”, and to Bon’s right, a mysterious blank slab smeared with traces of glue, but no plaque. There’s no mention of Bon ever having been in a band, let alone one as famous as AC/DC. So ordinary, I thought, compared with the forest of ostentatious Italianate marble masterpieces just over yonder. Neatly brushed in white paint on the curb in front of his plaque were the words: “RIDE ON BON.”
David stood, swaying slightly, in front of this small slab, sipping and contemplating, dribbling a little from his can for Bon, and supping a little for himself. “He’ll talk to ya, he will,” David said. “If you stand here long enough, he’ll have a talk with ya. You hang around and see.”
David is a big fan. He used to play music, but not much any more. He lives nearby, in the housing estate a short walk away. I told him about my project, and how I was going to hang out in the cemetery all day to see who came along, it being Bon’s anniversary and all. David leaned in to have another look at the plaque. “Shit, man! You’re right! It is today!” He wanted to rush off and tell his brother to come down and pay his respects too.
I asked David if he was planning to go to the concert on Sunday. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll be there. And I’ll recognise you by your red cap!”
I pointed out that my crappy red baseball cap (which I bought in a second hand store on a previous trip to WA) is embroidered with the paternalistic anti-littering slogan: “Don’t waste Western Australia”.
“Should be GET WASTED in Western Australia, more like, eh!” he chuckled. “See ya on Sunday, then, Lucas”. And off he went.
Next to arrive was a family: Raelee, and her grown up kids, Maurice and Kingsley. Raelee’s son David (known as “Cookey”) died one year ago, and they came down to see about ordering a memorial bench for him. These benches are peppered throughout the cemetery, and provide a place to sit and rest while you visit dead relatives. Cookey, Raelee said, was into AC/DC in a big way, and he had a huge collection of music and memorabilia which they’d stored carefully after his death. They would pass these cherished keepsakes on to David’s son when he got a little older. David was only 37 when he died, in a workplace accident. He was also nuts about Jim Morrison.
I took a photo of the family in front of the grave, and Raelee, in turn, took a shot of me too – “so we know who we’re talking about when we read your blog!” she said.
They couldn’t have been gone two minutes when a long haired character in a new-smelling leather vest, AC/DC iron-on patches, thongs, and two cans of Wild Turkey bounded up in front of me. He pumped my hand and introduced himself: “I’m Ben Scott. The love-child of Bon Scott”.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d really hit paydirt this time.
I vaguely remembered reading something about a love-child, (or was it more than one??) coming out of the woodwork recently. But I never dreamed I’d get to actually meet one in the flesh. A bona-fide, illegitimate self-proclaimed heir to Bon’s throne. I took out my voice recorder and taped our entire conversation. I could not leave this to the vagaries of memory. I’ll put up a transcript of the whole thing when I get a sec: Bon’s son, in his own words…
Ben said he’s been campaigning to get the supreme court to give him access to Bon’s DNA. Apparently not just any average Joe gets to do these paternity tests. You have to obtain the consent of the family, or, failing that, you’ve gotta give the judge sufficient reason to suspect that there might be some possibility of truth to your story. So that’s why Ben has been hitting the media recently, to raise awareness for his cause. He hopes that a wave of popular support will convince the court to let him take that test.
Ben told me the story. Here it is, in a nutshell. His mum’s name is Gloria Torrance. She was one of Bon’s girlfriends in the early 1970s (Ben is now 34). “Well, I wouldn’t say girlfriend, but they used to sleep together I guess”, Ben said. He remembers hanging out with Bon as a little kid, the young rocker taking him swimming at the beach. But later, Bon drifted off and didn’t spend any more time with him. Eventually the band and the record company closed ranks and denied him access to his dad. They effectively erased the memory of the paternal link. But in Ben’s own mind there is no doubt whatsoever that Bon is his dad.
Apparently, this story is corroborated by the members of the The Angels, who used to hang out with Bon at Gloria’s place too. It obviously would help to get a proper statement from Gloria, too, but unfortunately, she now has Alzheimers, so that’s not easy any more.
In the 24 hours since I met Ben, I’ve told his story to several of my friends, and they’ve all laughed at the idea. Ha ha, imagine Lucas hanging out with a madman in the cemetery. But Ben didn’t seem crazy at all. I quite liked him actually. He was easy to spend time with, and was really quite reasonable.
While we were talking, two genteel Aussie ladies rolled up with a picnic basket and a fluffy white dog. Surely they couldn’t be here for Bon? I was right: they rolled out their blanket and sat down to sandwiches next to a neighbouring grave, where their mum is buried. They’d come down from Northam for the day. It’s a month since their mum’s birthday, but it was too hot back on the 19th of January, so they saved their visit for now. Their names were Sue and Amanda, and the dog is called Jason.
Sue and Amanda seemed happy to have someone to natter away with. They asked about Bon’s grave: why was it so small? shouldn’t the family pay for him to get a better one? surely it’d be preferable to have a proper place so that fans could visit without causing trouble?
“Often”, said Sue, “there are full bottles of whisky and cans of beer and bottle tops and everything littered around his grave”. Ben said these get cleaned up pretty fast, although he wasn’t sure whether they were drunk by other fans, or just shoved in the nearby bin by the cemetery caretaker.
We talked about “the price of fame”. According to Sue and Amanda, Heath Ledger is also buried in the Freo cemetery, although they don’t know where. It was a shame he died, they thought, because he was a good little actor, and had so much promise. They wondered why he had been so sad. Clearly, all the money in the world won’t make you happy.
“It’s like this, I reckon,” said Ben. “Famous people get paid more, it’s like penalty rates for the stress they go through. Basically they sacrifice their ordinary lives so that we can look up to them and have something to believe in. That’s what the extra money’s for. There’s no reason to be unhappy about it. It just the way the system works.”
[click on the article to see it larger. (To avoid confusion, you should know that “Ronald Belford Scott” is also the legal name of Ben Scott, changed by deed poll some time ago…) Read another article about Ben here.]
Sue and Amanda packed up and Ben took me over to the cemetery cafeteria to get a sandwich. Before he left, he opened up the boot of his car and showed me his recent news coverage. I particularly liked the headline “Who made who”. That was an inspired piece of cheesey copywriting.
(Incidentally, you can join Ben’s campaign to have the paternity test over here at his myspace page.)
While I was munching my white-bread-salad-beetroot-&-cheese, a couple of Scots came into the cafeteria. “You’d be looking for Bon, then?” the nice lady behind the counter asked them. It seems cemetery regulars can spot us Bon-people from a mile off.
Back at the grave, the Scots introduced themselves: Bill and Ashley. They’re from Glasgow. Bill has a brother living in Perth, so he came out last year for the statue fundraising concert. This year, he decided to bring his daughter along with him. I asked Ashley if she liked AC/DC too. “Sure!”, she said. “But I prefer Korn.” They had brought a small “Scott” fridge magnet with the family tartan, as an offering. Bill placed it gently on the edge of the plaque.
As the afternoon wore on, groups of two or three trickled in to say gday to Bon. Here are a few I met…
Paul and Mick, two old mates. I told Mick that when I started this blog I was a “non-fan”. He had this bewildered look on his face, like, “How could you NOT be a fan of AC/DC?” I was a bit worried he was going to punch me out. I hastily explained that it’s not that I don’t like the music, it’s just that for whatever reason, I never came across it much while I was growing up… and um, besides that, now that I’m doing the project, I’m struck by the quality of their music, more and more…
That seemed to hold him off, and he started to explain to me why Bon’s life and work are so damn important: “He stood for non-conformity, man, he stood for a big fucken fuck-you to the system, he stood for doing your own thing, and not being caught up in the crap of authority and capitalism and all that shit, man! How could you NOT like Bon??!”
Then there was Simmo, who wore a fantastic Dirty Deeds singlet, showing a cheeky Bon holding a can of Swan Lager. Simmo brought a couple of bright yellow sunflowers picked right here in Fremantle. He gave me the tip-off that on Sunday night, after the big concert, the Esplanade Hotel was the place to be. All the stars would be hanging out there.
[Bec, left, taking a photo of Andy the flower man.]
Next to arrive was Bec, a photographer. Like me, she’s working on a Bon Scott project. Her particular thing is taking pictures of Bon’s fans in their domestic environments, surrounded by home made shrines. Fortuitously, shortly after Bec arrived, Andy showed up. He’s a gentle flower delivery man. He drove his van all the way up the cemetery path, threw open the roller door and invited us all to grab a few bunches to lay around Bon’s grave.
Vanessa, a blond lady, took to this task with great energy. She took big armfuls of blooms and tried them out this way and that. But finally she rejected nearly every fancy carnation and tulip, concluding instead that the simpler the arrangement, the more Bon would have liked it. She laid Simmo’s two yellow flowers together with a couple of pink ones, and called it quits. Bec took photos of the whole process.
Incidentally, Andy the flower man had a striking black AC/DC shirt he had custom-designed and printed up in Las Vegas. He posed for me in front of the Bon Scott memorial gate.
Adam and Niina, visiting from the UK. Their ferry to Rottnest had been cancelled for the day, so they decided to come down and see Bon instead. Adam was amazed that they’d stumbled upon the very day of Bon’s anniversary. They were very pleased with themselves. “This is way better than a trip to Rotto,” Adam said.
Next up was Glenn, and his girlfriend (whose name I have forgotten, I’m ashamed to say). Glenn had the most incredible AC/DC tattoos covering his entire back. He’s added to them, bit by bit over the years. One of his favourites was a Brian Johnson tattoo. The story goes that once, after a concert, he got to meet Brian, and he asked the man to sign his back with a sharpie. Glenn rushed straight to the tattoo parlour, and within an hour, Brian’s signature had been inked and needled permanently. “He’s got such a rock and roll autograph, doncha think?” asked Glenn.
Glenn was really excited about my project. “My brother Todd, he’s a great muso, I reckon he’d love to hang out with ya and talk about AC/DC”, he said. It’s all very well being a fan, but Todd, apparently, will be able to explain the musicological side of things. He rushed off and called him on his mobile, and arranged it all. So next Monday night I’ll visit Todd’s studio to talk music and drink beer.
Then there was Justin, who used to play guitar in legendary Perth band Raucus. “At one stage we were declared the loudest band in the world!” he bragged. “Although, that was based on our sound levels being tested inside a small pub. The previous record holders, The Who, were tested outdoors, from a distance of a couple of hundred metres. So it was a bit of a beat up really.” Justin showed me his home-made tattoo: Bon’s lightning strike icon, on his inside right ankle, shakily applied when he was just 15.
[Glenn (40) on the left, Matt (17) on the right. Glenn is obviously impressed with Matt’s old school shoes…]
And finally, Matt, the youngest fan to pay his respects. Matt is only 17. Glenn marvelled over the fact that AC/DC continues to attract young fans from each new generation. Sure enough, Matt picked up his acca dacca passion from his dad. “I hate the new music, bloody Justin Timberlake and all that shit,” he said. He hoped to get to the concert on Sunday but wasn’t sure he’d be able to afford the ticket.
This assembly of characters lounged around on the grass as the sun dropped down in the sky. Justin had some Jack Daniels and coke, and Glenn had brought a carton of Toohey’s extra dry and a bag of ice. Suprisingly, no figure of authority came along to tell us off for our “antisocial” behaviour. I guess they must be pretty used to it by now, and anyway, the whole scene was peaceful enough. Everyone snapped photos of each other in front of the grave on their mobile phones. It was time to go. Bec offered to give me a lift to the train station.
But the day wasn’t quite over yet. Waiting for the train to Perth, I got talking with Rick, a fan from Canberra who had flown over for the concert. He remembers seeing AC/DC from the very earliest days in the 1970s. “I’m the same age as Angus” he said, “but my birthday is two weeks earlier!”