Sunday, September 21, 2008

For Those About to Rock...

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.


Horonto said...

I saw the Back in Black tour. Although I was more into The Clash, Pistoles and The Ramones back then, the show by AC/DC was awesome. that year I also saw Zappa, Van Halen, Rush, Queen, Bowie and Cheap Trick.

Back in Black, great album. Although one of my favorite AC/DC tunes is Highway to Hell.

Sirius Radio has channel 29 as an all AC/DC station until the new year I believe.

R.I.P. Jesse

Anonymous said...

I first heard this album in... believe it or not... music class. 7th, maybe 8th grade; those years are a blur and are otherwise best forgotten. The album must have juuuust come out. About half of the kids were coming out of their skin with excitement that the music teacher was playing it for us. The other half, well...

I was in that other half. I didn't come to appreciate AC/DC until many years later, after my hair had grown out and had been cut short again, after my heavy light rock habit had been replaced by a steady diet of Iron Maiden and Megadeth. I was a weekend disk jockey at a rock station in market two hundred something. After I played cuts from Back in Black for the eleventeen billionth time, I finally said, "Eh, they can rock."

Anonymous said...

No need to be ashamed of listening to Billy Joel. He is a fan and a friend of AC/DC. He lobbied for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after they were passed over many times, and during his own shows, he and his band play 'Highway To Hell' with one of his roadies singing the vocal. It never fails to bring down the house. They remain good friends to this day.

Carolyn said...

Dude. We all have an AC/DC story. I was in college - a sorority girl, yet. And my sorority had the reputation of being the uppity, snotty, pretty girls...why they let me in, I will never know. Anyway, we were at a mixer with a fraternity..sigma chi...and the brothers were lamenting the fact that none of my sorority sisters seemed to be having much fun. I turned to one of them and said "Play Ac/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long." They looked at me as though I was crazy, and refused - saying my sisters would be outraged. I kept saying "Play it." They did, and I will NEVER forget standing on the stairs of that frat house, watching all of my girly sosority sisters break into You Shook Me All Night Long in unison. Those fraternity boys looked as though they had just gotten a glimpse of heaven. I've never seen such dumbfounded happiness in my life.

fatcol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fatcol said...

Love the writing and reminiscing, Stewart.
If you are ever considering a change in career, a used car salesman, could be you .... 'cause I'm just off to buy the "Back in Black" album ( I mean CD).

... So don't worry about tomorrow,
Take it today,
Forget about the cheque,
We'll get Hell to pay.

Have a drink on me,


in-gun-ear said...

What do you mean "hair grew out and cut back?" Hell, my hair grew out, cut back, grew out again, again cut back and then fell out before I REALLY started to appreciate AC/DC, Some of use are just late bloomers.