AC/DC: And Nothing Can Harm Them!

ARE THEY SUPER? My God, they’re immense. They’re gigantic. They’re Jabba the Hutt on the Elvis Diet. They’re so big that they’re invulnerable to criticism — even green criticism, the remnants of the planet Kritissom which exploded after some ridiculous Who album. To date, they’ve sold over 25 million records, which translates into an AC/DC record for every 140th person on earth…including China, where sales are slow. What magnificent immensity.

Surely even the most casual observer has noticed that their very album art is practically scornful of competition. 1980’s Back In Black has become the working prototype for AC/DC LPs — For Those About To Rock and Flick Of The Switch are ample proof that someone, somewhere has decided this is the grandest cover design available. You don’t tamper with the grandest.

As for the group — well, they’re beyond arrogance. They dwell on a lofty plateau, immune to the vagaries of their puzzling occupation. Immunest of all, perhaps, is Angus Young, five-feet-two-inches of snarled hair and mumbled verbiage. (At least, that was the Angus Young I met over pasta. The Angus Young of stage right is considerably more ambulatory and presentable.) Is Angus unconcerned with the quirky shifts of pop music? Let’s listen in…

Query: Have you listened to Def Leppard’s record (Pyromania)?

Angus: I heard the song on the radio somewhere. Def Leppard were on tour with us — when they did their first tour through Britain they opened for us.

Query: How about Van Halen?

Angus: Have I seen them? I’ve never seen them. I haven’t had the chance.

Query: You know who they are?

Angus: I know there’s a band called Van Halen.

Query: Do you get a mental picture, though? When I say “Van Halen,” do you see the guy with the long blonde hair?

Angus: Robert Plant had long blonde hair. Ha ha ha ha. Rod Stewart dyed his.

Query: Let me ask you this: have you ever heard of Eddie Van Halen?

Angus: Yeah. I’ve heard of him.

Could Lee Iococca admit he’s heard of General Motors with more elan? This sort of transcendental aloofness is not only gratifying, it almost certainly comes from having a healthy regard for the intrinsically ridiculous (which may develop naturally when you get asked ridiculous questions like if you’ve ever heard of Van Halen). He has an opinion about his own band, of course, but it’s equally sprinkled with inversions of well-known truths:

Angus: We don’t classify ourselves as a heavy metal band.

Query: Oh, c’mon. If you’re not heavy metal, who is?

Angus: If anything, we call ourselves a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Query: But every heavy metal band calls themselves a rock ‘n’ roll band. It’s a defense mechanism.

Angus: We’ve been called a new wave band, a punk band, a power pop band [these are clippings we’d love to see] — each year, when they’ve got a new name, that’s us. We’ve never come out and said, “Hey, we’re this.”

We were there before the Sex Pistols were formed, y’know. Britain used to call us a punk band before the Sex Pistols because they didn’t have a punk band. It was the media that called us these things.

Query: But you share something with other bands that are called heavy metal.

Angus: Nah. I just think that we’re a unique band.

OK, we all know AC/DC really is a heavy metal band, right? This isn’t something I just dreamed for the last five years, is it? But why argue? If Angus thinks he’s up there playing fugues for 12,000 people every night it’s OK with me. In fact — after our conversation — I suspect that they’re so metal they don’t even know they’re metal, which is obviously the best way to be.

* * *

ASIDE FROM being Titans, one of AC/DC’s real charms lies in their ability to annoy most of the evolutionary chain in one way or another. Here’s a quote from Bob Merlis, a publicity veep at Warner Brothers, and a man unafraid to say what he thinks: “The origins of heavy metal are aggressive music meant to reassure adolescent boys who have limited experience with women that they’re not gay. Merlis didn’t say anything about AC/DC in this context, so what follows is strictly my own doing. I mean, it does kind of make you wonder about the old cannon-on-the-cover concept. I asked Angus what he thought about Merlis’s notion.

He gave it a few nanoseconds of thought. “It’s not really. I’m not gay.” Say, that’s interesting. It doesn’t have anything to do with the question, but it seems vaguely newsworthy.

“I think the point is what he’s saying about your audience,” I cajoled.

“I think the music is for kids.”

“Your music is for kids?” Headline! Headline!

“Yeah, well — for a youthful person,” Angus side-stepped. “Not in the sense that if a guy’s 14 years old he’s got to like a certain record. I mean for older people, too, that think young.”

“Well, how about the observation that AC/DC’s audience is predominantly male, as opposed to — say — 50/50?” I’ve made this observation twice myself.

“I don’t know. A lot of people say we get more females at our show than a lot of people do.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“I mean…we’re not heart-throbs!” Angus confessed in a fit of laughter that included everyone, even your friendly merciless inquisitor. Even Mrs. Angus got a kick out of that one. After unchoking the pasta, he continued: “We go out there with the attitude that this is our music. We play it. This is what we do. We want to rock you to death. But we don’t go out there to look pretty. I think a lot of people misinterpret things — they think everybody’s gotta be Rod Stewart. That this is what comes immediately with being a musician. But we’re not in the male whore business.”

This line of talk led us into the little-discussed (and possibly wholly imaginary) idea of a band’s responsibility to their audience. Angus shrugged off the religious nuts with no particular venom (“If they want to be that way, that’s their problem. I’m not gonna pay for their mental institution.”). However, he perked up a bit when I suggested that hordes of record-buyers go Pavlovian when they see AC/DC’s latest recycled cover, regardless of the contents.

“If they like it, then they enjoy it. They genuinely appreciate it. They don’t buy it because it’s another AC/DC record or anything like that.” Why do they buy it, because it’s not another Adam Ant record?

Anyway, I begged to differ. “I think they do buy it because it’s another AC/DC record.”

“Not to a point.”

“Now, I’m not saying absolutely everyone. But a lot of people — that’s the kind of business it’s become. I believe you could put out almost anything within reason and it would sell.” Wait a minute, they already have.

“Well, I don’t think so. Y’see, the one thing we do when we make an album: we try to make a good album with good songs and…uh…everything!” Yeah, that everything usually does the job. “A lot of people would say, ‘Let’s go and make one or two good singles and use a spatula and some wood-filler to finish the album’.”

Sure, musicians tell me that practically every week. I still wanted to settle the Responsibility Issue, though.

“Angus, I just wonder if you feel any responsibility to your fans.”

“Responsibility? Why? Ha ha ha ha.”

“What’s he done?” asked Ellen Young (Mrs. Angus). Whoops, didn’t mean to alarm everybody.

“I’m not saying he’s done anything. I’m just curious. You’re a much-admired person,” I said to Angus.

“But it’s not really me,” he admitted between mouthfuls of pasta. “They idolize the guy in the shorts.”

Well said, Angus. Now don’t any of you get influenced by AC/DC, OK?

AC/DC became a world power under the production aegis of Robert John “Mutt” Lange, one of the few men around who actually understands the sound of heavy metal. But that’s his problem. It became AC/DC’s problem when Mutt was a no-show for Flick Of The Switch — one of their least critically-acclaimed discs. (Jeffrey Morgan made the positively ingenious observation that all ten songs “end on the same note, played in the exact same manner.” They don’t, but wouldn’t it’ve been great?)

When I asked Angus what was going on, I got such an unbelievably vague answer (even for Angus) that I’ll give it to you verbatim. Maybe you can figure it out.

Query: How come Mutt didn’t produce the last album?

Angus: On this last one? (Pause). Well, basically, ’cause we (unintelligible) time and tried ourselves. He’d a few things he couldn’t…planned…he couldn’t start to (unintelligible). So he couldn’t really…he didn’t have the time, he would’ve liked to work on it, but he didn’t have the time at the same time we decided.

Query: Are you as happy with your own production as you were with his?

Angus: Oh, yeah. We’re proud of it.

Query: Then you’ll produce yourselves again?

Angus: Yeah! (Laughs).

So maybe Mutt’s out, maybe he’s not. They didn’t need him back in the Dirty Deeds days, but that was a different AC/DC, too. Personally, I’d like to see him producing AC/DC again.

Definitely out is drummer Phil Rudd. “He was tired of the road and he thought he’d done as much as he could,” Angus told me. “His health — well, he was worried about that. And when it comes to your health you’ve got to draw the line.” We couldn’t agree more, and all the best to Phil Rudd.

So what about the overall game plan? A live album? (One was released with Bon Scott many years ago — If You Want Blood — but surely there’s little doubt the market could stand another. Angus seemed fairly unexcited by the idea, though.) “In the future we might do one,” he said. “But we wouldn’t want to rip people off. If we do it, we’ll try and come up with the best new material we can.”

In fact, Angus’s vision of the future is hearteningly obscure. I asked him what exactly he did want to do, band-wise. “Ah, there’s a lot,” he cryptically replied. “Just take it further. Take it as far as you can.”

“How far can you take it?”

“There’s new things every day. New, different rhythms to work with — different approaches, different styles. There’s a lot — you just have to look. You just don’t stop.” Not, at least, until you’ve rocked everyone to death.

As the pasta and drinks were vanishing, Angus revealed a few off-beat bits of minutia no AC/DC fan should die without knowing. Not that it’s OK to die once you read them — wait at least another 70 or 80 albums, then decide.

On the origins of his schoolboy outfit: “My sister Margaret came up with the idea. She knows nothing about rock ‘n ‘roll, by the way; never bothered with it. She just said, ‘I know something that will really make people sit up and take notice’.” See, even his sister’s a genius.

As to how many little suits he has: “Aw, I’ve got a lot of them. They keep getting stolen, especially in America. Must be a lot of kinky people running around this country wearing little shorts. Maybe they wear them on their heads.”

Angus as sportsman: “I played basketball once.”

Does Angus enjoy basketball? “Not really. Everyone was tall.”

And how about MTV? “Everyone seems to ask me that question. It’s something people did in Australia when we were getting started — people making little mini-operas out of their songs. Videos. That’s how we were originally signed as a band, from a guy at Atlantic Records seeing a video of us. So, to me, it’s nothing very revolutionary.”

On the origins of mooning the audience: “It was just being in certain places — clubs, pubs. In some of these places people just want to drink, so you’ve gotta make them look at what’s happening on the stage, y’know?” I’m paid to know, Angus.

Angus looks at Angus Young, guitarist: “I’m not a soloist. I don’t regard myself as a soloist — if I do anything it’s with this rock band. It’s a band and we play as a unit. If I was a soloist playing on my own I’d be completely rotten.”

Surely he can’t be that bad: “Well, I’m not that good.” (Laughter).

Got any hobbies? “I rob banks.”

But you liked school, right? “Liked? I never used to attend. (He left school at age 15, the earliest possible.) I was standing there with me bags packed.”

Has he any favorite bands? “You really stumped me there. Ha ha ha. I like Chuck Berry. I like Muddy. Bands — whenever I saw the ones I liked, I was disillusioned.”

But AC/DC’s fans aren’t disillusioned. Our waitress came over and timidly asked Angus if he was “with” the AC/DC band.

“The ABCDVE? That one?” he asked. Hey, you’re not in the XYZ band yet, Angus. Why confuse the woman with these mysterious rock letters?

But Angus, of course, was only kidding, and the waitress got two free passes to the show for her nephews. It kind of restores your faith in mammoth entertainment.

© J. KordoshCreem, April 1984

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