In just a few short weeks AC/DC, that charming little rock combo from Down Unda, will unleash their first studio album in eight years. The masses will clamor, the critics will sniff and the world will once again RAWK. I, however, probably won’t rush out for a copy - for in my mind AC/DC belongs to another time and place...
Fall, 1980. In a rare display of sibling bliss, my older brother was allowing me to sit in the shotgun seat of his parked Camaro. I was earning my keep, however. Having recently discovered the band Queen, I was eager to share with him what I deemed to be the coolest tune ever recorded. We’d just finished listening to ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ for the third straight time when my brother’s friend ‘Jesse’ walked up. “Dude, check out this song.”, my brother Richard said as he rewound the cassette and pressed PLAY. Jesse leaned in to the window and nodded quietly as Freddy Mercury and the boys ripped through what was to be their best selling single ever. He was not impressed and with a knowing sneer, immediately demonstrated why. Pulling a cassette from the inner pocket of his jean jacket, he thrust it forward. “That’s weak. Put THIS in.”
What followed was an incredibly loud screening of Back in Black, AC/DC‘s blistering tribute to a singer I‘d never heard of .By the time Side One ended, I was dizzy, frightened and fully converted. Quite simply, I’d never heard anything like it. From the unrelenting thunderhead of the Young Brothers’ guitar work to the hell-bent screech of Brian Johnson’s vocal, Back in Black - both the song and the album - changed my burgeoning musical taste, made me feel tougher than I was and proved the shadow of a doubt that Rock n Roll ain’t noise pollution. Soon, I was turning on my own friends to this new wonder, extending Jesse’s evangelism by brazenly playing an album I didn’t dare let my parents hear. One friend in particular, Jon Harrison, was equally blown away and together we rocked hard, loud and long like only prepubescent boys can. The aural assault of AC/DC’s potent, populists anthems convinced me once and for all that Aerosmith were addled junkies, Van Halen were mere crowd pleasers and KISS was quite simply, an abomination. Heavy stuff for a kid who worshiped David Bowie.
If my new love for AC/DC pleased Jesse, he didn’t show it.. In truth, he could barely tolerate me. Long of hair and short of patience for his buddy’s nerdy little brother, Jesse was the first subversive I ever met. I liked him a lot - even if he and my brother regularly threatened to beat my ass should I not immediately am-scray. Trust me, had you known me back then, you’d have chased me away too. No one likes a little kid with coke bottle glasses and wider vocabulary than them. A year or so after my Back in Black baptism, Jesse walked by my room and saw me singing along to a track from newest musical discovery: Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. It was as if he caught me masturbating. I still remember the look of disgust on Jesse’s face as You May Be Right sputtered to a close. “You got this on your wall“, he said pointing to an AC/DC mirror I’d won at a county fair, “and you’re listening to THAT?” I had no answer for him, but his simple reprimand delayed the purchase of my first skinny tie for a good three years.
Of course, I wasn’t the only teenager who fell under the spell of AC/DC’s landmark album. For the better part of the early 80’s those songs were everywhere your parents didn’t want you to be. My high school parking lot regularly reverberated with Hells’ Bells, Givin’ the Dog a Bone and that paramour’s ode ’You Shook Me All Night Long. I myself memorized every unsophisticated syllable, long before I grasped all the unconcealed entendres. When I took my first long swig of Jack Daniel‘s, I told a friend in a choking voice it tastes like AC/DC sounds. (It still does.) And like hard liquor, Back in Black was something you kept away from Mom and Dad - who seemed unable to understand that all those satanic allusions were mostly smart marketing. Whereas my elders saw Angus Young’s schoolboy shtick and Brian Johnson’s netherworld caterwaul as sure signs of possession, I recognized them as boozy step-uncles who never took themselves all that seriously. We should all be so demonic.
As for ‘Jesse‘, he died a very young man, in a car crash too horrible to describe. He was a dear friend of my brothers and an early influence on own my personal metal quest. I’d like to think he’d be proud of that.
I sure am.