Hello, Howard, how ya doin’ friend; next door neighbour. Get your f#%*king jumbo jet outa my airport… Says Bon Scott in the end refrain of the 1976 song off AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap ‘Aint No Fun (Waitin’ ‘Round to Be a Millionaire)’. You could be forgiven – if you were unaware of the impact Ronald Belford Scott had on the international rock music industry – for thinking Bon Scott a profane and trivial lyric writer. Because, well, he did use profanity, and he did write about fairly trivial things. But it was Bon Scott’s voice, both in an auditory and a literary sense that spoke to, and for a large section of Australian culture.
Irony. Something that may often be lost on certain overseas audiences, but something that drills straight into the core of Australian working class language. Bon Scott’s lyrics are chocka-block with irony. Bon’s lifestyle and proclivities were well known. So consider the lyrics of the song ‘Overdose’ off the 1977 album Let There Be Rock (and consider how Bon died): I never smoked me no cigarettes, I never drank much booze, but I’m only a man don’t ya understand, and a man can sometimes lose. Never drank much booze? C’mon, Bon! But he isn’t trying to deceive his us. We’re in on the joke. We know he’s being ironic. Even the theme of the song is both ironic and a clever use of nomenclature. The metaphor of a drug overdose as an overdose of love. The character in the song is clean of drugs, but addicted to sex. (Of course this is now a theme song for wealthy, high profile men when they get sprung as multiple philanderers.) Another example is the above song title: ‘Aint No Fun (Waitin’ ‘Round to Be a Millionaire)’. Waiting around? To be a millionaire? Only an Australian would make such a statement. The idea of waiting around, doing as little as possible, but in the hope of one day coming into big money. And this not saying that Australians are not hard workers. It’s just an ironic statement. And Australians get it.
AC/DC were a very hard working band. They weren’t waiting around. They were slogging it out in pubs throughout the mid 1970s. And Bon, who was quite a bit older than the rest of the band, had already been doing it for a decade with other bands. The hard work paid off. Each album sold better than the last, and with the release of Highway to Hell in 1979, the band became internationally successful. And ironically, this played a big part in Bon’s death. The band was by no means an overnight success, but playing in pubs in Australia, making just enough money for a feed and a few bottles of Stones ginger wine is a long way from living in London, rehearsing in state-of -the-art studios and having access to as much booze as you want.
Those close to Bon say although he was happy with his success – it was his life-long dream – he was not entirely on top of the world while in London writing for the follow up to Highway to Hell. He was drinking heavily – waking up late and starting the day with a glass of whiskey – according to his Japanese girlfriend at the time, Anna. The week of his death, Bon had asked Anna to move out of his flat in Victoria (London) so he could concentrate on writing. On February 18, 1980 Bon had been drinking all day and went out with an acquaintance, Alistair Kinnear, to a bar where Bon downed glass after glass of quadruple scotches. Kinnear could not rouse Bon from his car when they arrived back at, first Bon’s flat, and then Kinnear’s flat, so Kinnear left Bon in the car to sleep it off.
Circumstance conspired against Bon. It was freezing, he was passed out and his body alcohol poisoned. And Kinnear didn’t go down to check on him until part way through the following day. Bon was pronounced dead on arrival at Kings College Hospital. Acute Alcohol Poisoning was the official cause of death. No other drugs were found in Bon’s system.
No one would argue that Bon Scott joined Jimmy Hendrix, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, John Bonham and others in that ironic hall of fame. Amazing, original talent claimed by the lifestyle that enabled that talent to flourish.
Bon’s voice is still as loud and clear as it ever was.
A final and maybe bitter irony is that AC/DC, with Brian Johnson singing, has become one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Certainly Australia’s most successful rock band. For many though there are two AC/DCs – Bon’s, and the other one.
The Powerhouse Museum has in its collection not only one of Angus Young’s Gibson SG guitars, but this very cool original iron-on transfer from 1976, and a rare picture disc record which is on display in ‘The 80s are back’ exhibition.