Reviewed: September, 2021
Released: 2017, ECW Press
I’ve never been a member of the cult of Bon Scott. Do I admire him? Yes. Respect? Most certainly. Enjoy? Frequently. However, I’ve stopped just short of the hero worship demonstrated by many fans. If will be so bold to suggest that author Jesse Fink has succumbed to the cult of personality of Ronald Belford Scott.
Fink, journalist, author and all round AC/DC obsessive has written his second book about AC/DC following in the heels of his 2014 book, THE YOUNGS: THE BROTHERS WHO BUILT AC/DC.
BON-THE LAST HIGHWAY is a nice looking 486 page, slightly oversized softcover with a good number of shots on colour plates in the centre. Fink is a meticulous researcher and includes almost 100 pages of notes, an index, and an extensive discography. This book is thoroughly sourced.
To return to my earlier suggestion that Fink is an AC/DC obsessive, BON-THE LAST HIGHWAY has a very specific dual purpose; to elevate and de-mystify (or even de-deify) Bon Scott. Fink states this very clearly in the beginning. He is a fan of ‘old’ AC/DC (1970’s) and not much more. In fact he is pretty blatant about it and has no love for Johnson. He shares strong words about the singer who was in the band 40 years longer than Scott, recorded six more studio albums than Scott, (11 to 6) and sold about 170 million more records than Scott.
In this biography we spend a good chunk of the book in the United States circa 1976-1979 when AC/DC was a hard touring, hard drinking band, grinding through the mid-west. Scott’s death is covered in incredible detail probably more than is necessary. Finks stated goal to shine a light on the man; good and bad was certainly accomplished.
FINK takes us on interesting journey as he travels the globe to speak with Scott’s old drinking buddies and old girlfriends, from well over 30 years ago to confirm or deny rumours about the man. No stone is left unturned which is admirable in its intensity and attention to detail but do we really care about what some guy in Texas or Florida has to say about Scott when he had a drink with him in a bar back in 1978?
FINK wears his heart on his sleeve at best or is pretty biased at worst. He portrays AC/DC as a closed shop, insincere, unscrupulous (or downright dishonest) and shrouded in secrecy and mystery, a band hold its employees in a grip of fear. He deliberately uses loaded words like ‘informant’ for those people who dare talk about the band off the record. He employs phrases like ‘cone of silence’, ‘closed ranks’ and describes people who don’t want to talk about Bon Scott as being in ‘hiding’. This constant implication that AC/DC is this evil empire becomes annoying.
It is as if Fink forgets that the band is under no obligation, zero, to talk to anyone they don’t want to. They are a rock band not an evil conglomerate or public entity that requires transparency from a tax-paying electorate. Their royalty rate or compensation of former employees is frankly nobodies business. However as an investigative journalist he digs deep and does not shy away from asking hard questions. It’s a classic ego-driven mentality of many journalists. ‘If you don’t want to talk to me, you MUST be hiding something (something bad) that you don’t want people to know about and I’m going to find out what it is!’ He even admits to it on page 21, ‘Such an aversion to scrutiny only encourages biographer to work harder. I knew the story the Young’s didn’t want told about Bon was out there, waiting to be found.” The band is presumed guilty of something, (of what I’m not quite sure) and that tone permeates the entire book.
There is speculation that Scott wrote some lyrics before his death and allegedly they ended up on BACK IN BLACK. Scott was not credited as a writer on BACK IN BLACK and there his estate was not a part of the millions of dollars that album earned (and still earns). He spends a good portion of the book hammering this point home and he may well be correct, the evidence is mildly compelling. How much you might care about the possible injustice is up to the reader but reading this book over 40 years after the alleged incident I found it hard to care as much as Fink does. Fink also states that Powerage is the greatest album of all time so you know where his heart lies.
BON-THE LAST HIGHWAY was a good, light and fun summer read. I enjoyed re-visiting the 70’s AC/DC albums while reading. Despite my mild ambivalence this is objectively the best biography of Bon Scott. By all accounts Scott was a once-in-a-lifetime character, flawed to the bone but undeniably charismatic and Fink captures this perfectly.