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…