One would of course be right to say that AC/DC are right in line with this rock-and-roll convention, considering that their original lead singer (well, technically their second singer, after Dave Evans), one Ronald Belfour “Bon” Scott, died at 33—the official report states the cause as “death by misadventure.”
(As a side note, I’m often surprised that AC/DC haven’t written a song or named an album Death by Misadventure — I mean, it’s not as though they’ve been particularly sensitive on the topic of Scott’s demise, what with including the song “Have a Drink on Me” on an album released a mere five months after their singer expired of “acute alcohol poisoning.”)
However, in the annals of rock’s famous hard partiers, drug casualties, and famous young dead people, Bon Scott’s passing never seemed to hit with the generation-defining gravitas of, say, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin. This isn’t because nobody cares about Bon Scott, nor is it because he wasn’t important enough to warrant serious moping and defiling of gravestones; but rather, the band so successfully re-branded themselves with a new singer that there was never really time for pop culture to mourn his passing.
It’s a great story, because Back in Black is a great album. Bands with singer changeovers tend to have fans who put themselves in one camp or another. (Although, really, are there Van Hagar fans? Is there a single VH fan who had heard it all and prefers the Red Rocker?) Most discerning AC/DC fans, though they will often concede that Black is AC/DC at their best, usually prefer the Bon Scott years. Why?
Well, for one, Scott died at the top, so we’ve never had to see him as a bald old man; he lived it like he sang it (or so it would seem), and thus, there’s a more direct corollary between the Bon Scott in the lyrics and the Bon Scott you see in footage clips. And let’s be blunt here: Bon Scott comes across as a pretty pervy dude in pretty much every live clip you will ever see. Often shirtless with jeans a few sizes too small, so as to emphasize his “meat and two veg,” as the Brits would say, he was a lech of the first order.
Bon Scott was a devious Loki — his songs may detail desperation and down times, but with the sly smirk of someone who is only using these tales as gimmicks to get in a girl’s pants. He was almost a decade older than the rest of the band and it showed. Angus wore a schoolboy’s outfit because he wasn’t far removed from the age of actually being one; but Bon Scott was more like Matthew McConaughey’s character Wooderson in Dazed and Confused: hanging around with these young Young brothers allowed him access to a youth culture that he was arguably too old for at this point. Even on his studio recordings you can practically hear his shit-eating grin.