Like almost anyone who’s had an interest in rock music over the last few decades, AC/DC has had some impact on my life, so when I walked into work on Tuesday night and saw they were going to be featured in the night’s news broadcast, I was interested.
At first I thought it was because one of them had died – this is Australia, after all, and even AC/DC only make the news if something terrible’s happened – but when I got online I almost immediately found this blog article by my old On The Street colleague Darryl Mason, which had been posted to Facebook by his friend Steve Mascord. Darryl’s blog got picked up by a lot of sources, including Blabbermouth. As the story gained momentum he updated it several times and has filed at least two follow-ups, here and here, the second of which references this article from the UK Mirror that was obviously originally intended to be a feature about Brian Johnson’s new TV show. Like any big developing story, there was some initial confusion of details and then lots of denial from fans that the original story couldn’t be true although Darryl – who isn’t just some hack making stuff up on the Internet – specifically points out that “information about Malcolm Young’s illness reported here in earlier posts did come from a family member, and friends of the band. At the time it was published, there was a belief that AC/DC would not continue without Malcolm Young, that they couldn’t continue”.
Now it looks like they’re at least going to try, especially as 2014 will mark their 40th anniversary as a recording band, and not just any recording band – one of the most successful and popular bands of all time, an achievement that is testament to Malcolm’s vision for his AC/DC to become just that. It was something he never let go of.
Not everyone who forms a band does so with the intention of being in the biggest band in the world, and not everyone with the intention of being the biggest gets to be. Malcolm Young did, and in the process became an influence on almost everyone who has picked up an instrument to play rock n roll since. When Death Angel appeared in Sydney on Friday night, singer Mark Osegueda dedicated his band’s entire Australian tour to the man. The Californian quintet’s music is nothing like AC/DC’s, nor is that of hundreds or even thousands of other bands I’ve seen and listened to over the last thirty years, but I know from having spoken to many of them over the same period of time that if it weren’t for AC/DC a lot of them may never have existed.
It’s not only musicians, of course, who have felt that magnetism. Anthony Bozza talks about the group’s universal and enduring appeal in an interesting essay that he published as Why AC/DC Matters some years ago. Certainly, it was AC/DC who first dragged me away from the Sunday afternoons of my childhood listening to country music on 2KY or my dad’s endless play throughs of his handful of C&W compilation LPs. A copy of Highway to Hell on cassette (then vinyl versions of Back in Black and TNT – yes, I’m a living cliche) changed my outlook on life forever, a gateway drug to a million other variants of the same muse which I am still exploring and discovering to this day. AC/DC taught me about rock, and talked to me about things like boozin’, brawlin’ and sex – and STIs – in a way that no one else was talking to 12-year old me. There really was nothing else like them, not only for me, but for a staggering number of other people, many of whom took the uncertainty about AC/DC’s future about as well as they would their own cancer diagnosis.
As a band, AC/DC have done everything possible for a band to do. They achieved Malcolm’s dream, rode out and survived tragedy and persevered despite critical scorn and derision from the music media. They’ve built a formidable legacy that few in any kind of entertainment can match, and they’re also old. As a band, they’ve existed for probably longer than more than half the people on Earth have been alive. Brian Johnson will be 67 this year. Even without Malcolm’s illness, just how long can anyone expect him to keep screaming at the top of his lungs? The juggernaut will have to lay down one day soon. Yet that’s exactly what lies at the heart of the story. AC/DC has been around for so long, and meant so much to so many, that just the whisper of them no longer being there is enough to unsettle people. It’s inconceivable that this musical beast, that has lasted for so long, might one day be no longer there. Beyond our thoughts and concerns for Malcolm Young, the man who first breathed life into this amazing rock n roll monster, there is our own inherent selfish wish and desire that this thing can live forever, and a knowing fear that it can’t.
When Frank Sinatra died in 1998, even my father, who was essentially quite a pragmatic man, expressed disbelief that he was living in a world where Sinatra no longer existed – he’d been around so long it felt like he was the one thing a person could rely on. AC/DC is exactly like that, an ever-present, reliable force of nature that’s been there so long and given so much to so many that they might just as well have been around forever. That’s why they matter, that’s why we hope they can be there in five years, ten, twenty – even though we know it’s impossible.
Thanks for everything AC/DC. Get well, Malcolm. Surround yourself with those who love you and take it easy. You’ve done more than enough.