North Sydney, Ebury Press, a division of Random House, 2013, 313 pages
ISBN 1 74275 979 1
Reviewed by D L Lewis, April 1st, 2014
Writing a book on AC/DC is difficult. The achievements are immense. The second biggest selling rock album of all time: Back in Black(only beaten by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, according to most sales statistics). A live act which remains energetic and vital into their sixties. A signature sound that is easily copied, but never duplicated. A band that is not really a rock band, not really a punk band, not really a metal band, not really a blues band, but has elements of all of them. Although they grew up in Burwood, in Sydney’s outer inner west, they were born in Scotland: this sense of ‘no place’has informed them. They don’t do ‘Oz Rock’, but they’re not a Scottish, English or American Band. They are outsiders, but highly successful. Extremely private, their concerts play to hundreds and thousands of people. Seemingly simple, they have had a dozen books written on them. This one just may be the best.
It’s not a biography. As Fink points out, there have been many biographies, all of which are filled with error and wrongheaded conjecture. The obsessive reticence of the Youngs really prevents any deeply insightful work, and in any case, would an accurate biography serve any purpose? AC/DC needs more scholarly notice, if only because they understand their audience, and their audience understands them. Actually, that’s a patronising and reductive sentence. I saw them live in 2010 and it is one of the most diverse audiences I’ve seen. Not so much in ethnicity (though it wasn’t exclusive, European faces dominated the audience), but in terms of age and background. Grandfathers with their six year old grandchildren, taking them to their first Acca/Dacca concert as a rite of passage. Yuppies. Bogans. Residents of the western suburbs. Residents of the eastern suburbs. North shore residents. Students. Suburbanites. Head bangers. Bikies. Professionals. Academics. Men. Women. All enthralled by the magnificent spectacle.
AC/DC at Giant Stadium
It’s a family business. By all accounts, the only indispensable members are the three brothers: George, Malcolm and Angus. And it is the brothers who the book is ostensibly about. Tight Glaswegian loyalty: as fellow Scot John Swan says in an interview in the book, if you beat them, they will get you back. Long time drummer Phil Rudd was sacked after ten years service over an argument on a non-musical matter. It seems that there were moves to replace frontman Bon Scott before he died. Mutt Lange, the most successful producer they had, was sacked. Even George was sacked from producing, but remained a vital part of the management. They remain Gorbals boys. They don’t wear expensive clothes nor drive flashy cars. The mysterious figure of elder brother Alex Young, who may have died in 1997, pops up, but the three famous ones, George, Malcolm and Angus obscure the view. And they are hard enough to see.
One of the issues for such a book is actually defining what it is that makes AC/DC so special. Certainly, there’s a high level of musicality and tightness. There are chapters devoted to songs. But they’re not quite musical analysis, nor are they sociological studies. Thankfully, they don’t go to the intellectual fraud of ‘cultural studies’. They are used as hooks to look at the band. Jailbreak has an excellent chapter which goes through its original release and it to look at various covers – Yothu Yindi comes in for special mention, with its chilling change to the climactic line. It also looks at the botched re-release of the Dirty Deedsalbum, from which Jailbreakwas stupidly removed.
The work has gaps, but these gaps cannot be helped, given the reticence and reluctance of the Youngs to speak. The book becomes about AC/DC: a band which needs the three brothers, but which, to an extent, is bigger than all of them. It is a book that peers into the mist, and sees a little more of a story that its principals don’t want told. Given its brief, Fink is to be commended on an outstanding effort to help fill the gaps of knowledge.