[Daniel and Josh waiting for the truck to arrive…]
Bec gave me the hot tip, so I raced down to the Fremantle train station to witness a re-enactment of AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll). Way back in 1976, on this very day, 23rd of February, AC/DC shot a video clip of the song in downtown Melbourne. They travelled down Swanston Street on a flatbed truck, accumulating a small crowd along the way. The video clip, and the event, have become something of a local legend. A few years ago in Melbourne, a street called Corporation Lane was renamed AC/DC Lane as a memorial to this great moment in rock history.
I arrived just before noon. Small groups were starting to cluster around the station, hiding from the sun under shady trees, craning their necks this way and that in order to catch a first glimpse of the truck. I wandered over and took a photo of two eager young fans, Daniel and Josh. They’re only 16 years old. Daniel told me he’s been listening to AC/DC for four years now. He first became aware of their music while playing a video game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The song T.N.T. appears as background music to this skateboarding game, and that’s how Daniel got hooked. He also told me a curious story about his “Pop” and Bon hanging out together. The two rascals once “borrowed” a hotted up Holden to go joyriding around Freo. That must have been sometime in the 1960s I guess. Daniel’s Pop is now 62 years old.
Standing under the tree with Josh and Daniel was a man with a breezy hat and short-sleeved button-up shirt. This is hardly the kind of outfit you’d expect on an AC/DC fan (although, I must admit, his facial hair was definitely in the ballpark). His name is Phil. He’s from Melbourne, and is in WA for a few days attending a conference on documentary filmmaking. Phil told me he’s been making a doco on Phar Lap, the champion racehorse. “Ah, another dead Aussie hero,” I said.
At this moment the truck pulled around the corner. It was bigger than I had expected, more like a semi-trailer than your domestic flatbed. The unmistakable sound of Long Way to the Top wafted through the streets, and we scurried over to get as close as we could. The band playing was The Lost Saints. They had a very professional looking printed vinyl banner displaying their band logo draped over the side of the truck. The logo features ominous looking bats and forked lightning. The lead singer had bright blond hair and very pale skin, which, combined with the logo’s graphic design, made the whole event look a bit like a dangerous and rare daylight excursion for a group of rock-n-roll vampires. Heck, the sun here is dangerous enough even for us non-undead fans.
Phil and I trailed behind the fast-moving truck with dozens of other fans, but even at a brisk clip, it quickly pulled away from us. We could hear it disappearing up past Gino’s. It was a good day for a parade. Many of Freo’s pubs and cafes were populated by accadacca fans wearing their commemorative tshirts from last year’s concert.
Phil and I talked about his Phar Lap obsession as we bustled along. He said Phar Lap’s body has been divided into many bits: his heart is in a museum in Canberra, his hide in Melbourne, and his skeleton somewhere in New Zealand. There’s something weird about this fetishising of a horse’s body, don’t you think? I mean, he was just a horse that ran fast. Is there some physiological secret that can be divined by examining these shrivelled body parts? Could future generations of horse-breeders, poring over his dessicated skeleton, discover a formula for breeding a faster equine? Or is it all just a human fascination with being in the physical presence of someone (something?) so famous, even if Phar Lap himself was barely conscious of his own success?
The whole thing made me think of the fetishised relics of saints which are scattered throughout Europe. My personal fave is St Anthony’s jaw in Padua, Italy. St Anthony was supposed to be a great orator, thus his lower jaw is kept in a custom made, jewel encrusted display cabinet. As if the bony hinge and cartilage that allowed St Anthony to speak to crowds were somehow responsible for his great words. For his part, Phar Lap is famous for his larger than usual heart, which, no doubt, is celebrated not only for its anatomical prowess, but also because of its cultural significance. It’s only natural that an Aussie hero would have a big heart, right?
When it comes to Bon Scott, historians have missed out on the chance to turn any of his body parts into a relic (he was cremated). But it seems that there is still a very strong desire to have something physical that we can visit, something tangible located in a specific geographical location (something, say, like a bronze statue).
I said my goodbyes to Phil and wandered down Market Street to see whether The Lost Saints would do another lap on their truck. While I was waiting, I bought a lemon gelato. As you read the following paragraphs – a flurry of celebrity meetings and shaking of VIP’s hands – you have to keep in mind that the entire time, I am standing there like a fool with my rapidly melting icecream cone, trying to look serious and failing miserably. Not to mention my sticky fingers.
So – almost immediately, as I came out of the icecream shop, I bumped into Bill and Ashley from Glasgow. I first met this father and daughter team at the cemetery on Bon’s anniversary, and they’ve been reading the blog ever since. Bill slapped me on the back. “Come over here, man, you’ve got to meet Marcus!” he said. Marcus is one of the key guys who’s organised the bronze statue and concert, and he was drinking coffee at a sidewalk table. But I’d only just shaken the big man’s hand when none other than Mark Evans rocked up and ruffled Bill’s hair. Mark and Bill were clearly pleased to see each other. Bill, it seems, is something of a celebrity himself around these parts. Last year, when attended the Bon Scott concert, he was championed by all and sundry for his great dedication in travelling so far for the cause. He and Mark hit it off… Bill gave Mark a Glasgow Rangers football shirt… and Mark wore the shirt on stage. So it was a happy reunion which I witnessed on the streets of Fremantle this day.
[Mary Renshaw and Mark Evans at the pub]
For those not in the know, Mark Evans was AC/DC’s bass player until 1977, when he got the sack from the band. Different stories circulate: he and Angus didn’t get along; the international touring lifestyle was too gruelling for him; he was booted out because he was too nice a guy. All of these could be true, I suppose. From my point of view, there’s no doubt that he’s a nice guy. While Bill and Ashley and I hung out, Mark whiled away the afternoon chatting with admiring fans, drinking lazy beers with his daughter on his knee. Although he’s a huge star, he’s also an ordinary bloke. It turns out that he lives only a short walk away from my house in Sydney. He gave me his phone number and invited me to come visit on my return.
At the same table with Mark was Mary Renshaw, one of Bon’s oldest friends from Melbourne. I know a little about her from reading Clinton‘s book. My impression is that she was an incredibly loyal and solid support for Bon. Despite touring the world in the band, he loved returning to Melbourne to hang out with her. I told Mary I was doing a blog about Bon. “Well, here’s something for your blog!” she said. She leaned over – “you see this ring? It was Bon’s wedding ring. He gave it to me after he and Irene broke up.” She let me take a photo. It’s a simple (silver?) band which sits next to her own, more flashy diamond ring.
I asked Mary what it was like to have all this attention devoted to her old pal after so many years. “Oh, I think it’s great,” she said. “Very few people knew about his funeral when it happened back in 1980. At that time, all the publicity that circulated was about his bad-boy lifestyle. It’s taken years for the good things to emerge, and for people to recognise what a wonderful person he was, instead of just focusing on the negative stuff.”
Bill got more beers in, while Ashley and I chatted away on the pavement outside the pub. Mark raised his bottle and clinked “cheers” with everyone except me. I still had my gelato, which by this time was a dripping mess.