AC/DC: More Songs About Humping And Booze

HAVE AC/DC GONE DISCO? ‘NAH’ SNARLS PHILTHY PHIL SUTCLIFFE

‘You get nothin, for nothin’/Who can you trust?/We got what you want/You got the lust/You want blood you got it.’

WEA PRESS person Dave Jarrett was just calling room service to check on the whereabouts of the lunch requested for axeman and journalist when there was a knock on the door.

Muttering into the phone that this might be it he stretched across and had half-opened the door when his foot caught in the wire. He fell full-length, yanked the phone off the table smashing it to fragments and slammed the door on the waiter’s hands causing him to drop the two portions of kebab and tomato sauce which landed neatly in Jarrett’s face as it arrived at the waiter’s feet.

Now this might not be exactly true, though I saw it happen, but it’s quite typical of the way AC/DC seem to slip a banana skin under reality so that it pratfalls into Mack Sennett comedy. There is never likely to be a Young, Young and Scott composition about boredom: they have a talent for cherishing every thread of life’s fabled rich weave.

Angus and I settled down to the remnants of the Holiday Inn kebabs, some tasty morsels of carpet and the ‘official’ interview (one of eight in 24 hours while encamped at the Swiss Cottage oasis) while the room hummed with a constant traffic of other AC/DCs, other waiters, a telephone engineer, the emergency operative from Rug Renovations Inc., a tall Dutch blond who said she was “Angus’s girlfriend I think” and a short Dutch brunette who was Angus’s girlfriend’s friend I think.

Said guitarist was musing on the status of a band who sold a half million copies of their last album worldwide but who are always in debt. “Bills catch up with you. A meal you ate last year, a five-pound phone call the year before. Those Australian telephone companies should be in the loan shark business. So I’ll go out and buy a guitar when all I could afford was a pair of socks! (Aussie laughter, grains of rice and flecks of carpet fluff yarooed across the table)

What a lad this Angus. Apart from a couple of extra inches in the vertical plane I don’t think he’s changed at all since I first met him in ’76 — certainly he’s not changed his shirt, a red check favourite which he bought back then. And the hair is long again because, like Bon, his concept of tonsorial fashion is to get it cut short, let it grow until it’s getting in his eyes, then hack it back again

Cosmopolitan life has done nothing to prettify the elongated Antipodean vowels which, if you catch the band all talking at once, make them sound like a herd of sheep or possibly quintuplet Bugs Bunnies (Cliff Williams’ Cockney doesn’t materially alter the tone). And Angus still has that slight catch and splutter in his voice which, when he was 16, I took to be caused by his tooth-brace but is crackling away even now that he’s put away such childish things.

The way he smokes a cigarette is probably more eloquent than anything he might say in proving he’s come through the story so far with soul unscathed. You know how people perform smoking in various styles as if it were an art, craft, hard labour, a delicate surgical operation or even an athletic sport. Well Angus smokes as if he were awkwardly taking an illicit puff in the bogs at morning break. No bluff, no bullshit, no ‘style’

THE BAND remain pretty much a gang too. “Like the Mafia,” said Angus. When they started out they all lived together in one house in the lowlife area of Melbourne. It was the same in London when they settled in to make their name in the UK And now they have achieved their aim and got on the perpetual world-tour-and-album treadmill they are all homeless together, in hotels and tour buses, romancing themselves as rock ‘n’ roll refugees and enjoying it all.

Bon (who was well kaylied already): “Naaa (‘Baaa’ — see what I mean), none of us have had our own places to live for the past two years. I rented a flat here for eight months but I was only there for six weeks. All we’ve got is our parents’ homes in Australia.”

Angus: “He’s always been of no fixed abode and I’m in the flat above (laughter and rice). If you’re really wealthy maybe you can afford to say ‘Whammo, I’ll have that block of apartments there’ (pointing to a Camden council tower, not an esp. des. res.). I suppose I’ll buy a place some time but I’ll probably end up with one of those police boxes at a city crossroads so I can be in the thick of it.”

Me: “It’s a funny idea to most people, not having a home at all.”

Angus: “I’m quite at home in these hotels.”

Bon: “Yeah you don’t say ‘I’m goin’ back to the hotel’, you say ‘I’m going’ home’. That’s how it is.”

Me: “You don’t seem to be doing any sobbing into your beer about it though.”

Angus: “Well I’ll go home to me parents at Christmas and after a week I’ll check into a hotel. I mean I’ve got brothers who bring their kids round and at six in the mornin’ they’ll fuckin’ jump on you yellin’ ‘He’s home!’ In a hotel I could complain about the noise and change rooms. (Angus Young complaining about noise! Uncle Angus!)

Bon: “Yaaa, you just like bein’ called ‘Sir’ and your dad won’t do it, He’ll kick you though. ‘Getthaferkootamaway!’ (A growling Scott Scottish impersonation crumbled into a cackle like the mating call of one of David Attenborough’s frogs.)

AND WHAT a lad this Bon. Five years in an Aussie Scottish pipe band (to age 16), a little while in jail for assault and battery. A failure to join the army because he was adjudged ‘socially maladjusted’. A lengthy spell as a freak including his well-known serpentine phase when he walked the streets of Melbourne with a pet boa constrictor round his neck.

Me: “How did you get to be the lovable, well-balanced person you are now!”

Bon: “I met Angus.”

Angus: “I have been a reforming influence. You should have seen the man when I first met him. He couldn’t speak English. It was all ‘fuck, cunt, piss, shit’. I introduced him to a new side of life. Sent him home with a dictionary.”

Bon: “He taught me how to say ‘Please fuck’. And ‘Thank you’ after. So that’s where we are at the moment (he didn’t know where he was) so to speak.”

Oddly enough there does seem to be some truth in Angus, or perhaps the whole band, having taken Bon in hand almost fatherly fashion although he’s much the oldest of them at 33.

For all the scraps and scrapes AC/DC are so frequently caught up in (Angus and Malcolm will still have the occasional dressing-room “bloodbath” between set and encore over what to play next) Bon remains the one they feel they have to keep an eye on.

For instance, he has been known to disappear in midflight. Angus: “We were going from California to Austin, Texas, and we stopped off at Phoenix for fuel. We’re just takin’ off again when someone says ‘Where’s Bon?’ He’d followed this bird off the plane and we reckoned he’d drunk so much he wouldn’t even know what country he was headed for.”

Bon: “We’d been drinking in the airport bar for about ten minutes when I says ‘Don’t you think it’s time we caught our plane?’ and she says ‘What do you mean our plane? I’m staying here.’ I runs back and the fuckin’ flight’s gone.

“Anyway she takes me to this black bar — she was Mexican — and I starts drinkin’ and playin’ pool. I had a good night, beatin’ every bastard. After about two hours I’m playin’ this big-titted black chick and beatin’ her too when I happen to look around and the whole bar is goin’ ‘Grrr’.

“I thinks ‘Uhoh Bon’, gives her another game and lose 9-1. ‘Anyone else want to beat me?’ I says. So I escapes with me life, only barely — and I made it to the gig in Austin.”

Observe that face on the album sleeve. This is a man Charles Dickens would have been proud to invent.

I’M PORTRAYING AC/DC as an unchanging entity and I’m fairly sure that’s true of their character and their music (despite the undoubted pressures to conquer the American market by crushing themselves into the Foreigner/Journey mould). But long-term fans may be wondering why on Highway To Hell for the first time they have switched from the Vanda-Young production team and their Australian studios.

Angus said the move was approved, even by big brother George, in the pursuit of “freshness”. They tried recording in American and it didn’t work.

“Then someone suggested Robert John er Lang. Langer Lanj, you know (I don’tbut then I haven’t spent six weeks in the studio with him). We tried it at the Roundhouse and it sparkled from the word go. It was a good learning for all of us but in particular he done a good job on Bon’s vocals.”

Me: “Bon?”

Bon: “Well bottom line cobber (guffaw) to answer your question he was instrumental in getting me to project myself.”

Me: “I thought you’d always prided yourself on your projection.”

Bon. “Yes, but this was in a different area to that in which I’d been projecting myself before. Like (Bon teetered along these grammatic circumlocutions like a drunk choosing to test himself on a white line.)

Whatever the technical details the result was stunning. AC/DC in the living flesh, shake your body and brain.

The band are straight-up as ever, as Angus said. “The only image we’ve ever had is what we really are. We never cover up anything. I mean if Bon’s kissing a virgin down the room and someone spots him, well tough shit. Nobody can blackmail him.

“We can’t just sit on our arses and say the world owes us a livin’ because we’ve paid our dues. Me, I think if I fluff a note I’m robbin’ the kids. You’re gonna pour it all on until you drop. So even if they hate you they can still say ‘At least they tried’.”

‘You get nothin’/Who can you trust?/We got what you want/You got the lust/If you want blood — you got it.’

© Phil SutcliffeSounds, 28 July 1979

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