R.I.P. Malcolm Young: AC/DC

I still have a few blog posts I need to catch up on from people who've died in the past year or so that left an impression on me. But I had to get this one quick while I have a few minutes. 

So first off, R.I.P. Malcolm Young.


And secondly, it isn't so much the death of Malcolm Young that I'm thinking about today - although the news of his passing is what prompted this riff - I didn't even know his name as such. But boy, did I know AC/DC. And just like with the deaths of every celebrity - what they remind us of most is ourselves. And what they remind me most of is Idaho, circa 1990, and a nowhere place, but where I had discovered that BIG music could drive the heart and soul.

Gene Simmons' tongue. Also Gene Simmons.

Gene Simmons' tongue. Also Gene Simmons.

I grew up until age 12 in Orem Utah, and first learned about popular music from Madonna and Cyndi, from Peter Gabriel, Billy Joel, as well as a few of the 80s hits that I'd hear the older neighbor kids play. I remember my parents refusing to let my older brother wear a KISS t-shirt, and frankly was totally on board with that because those huge silver boots and that inhuman tongue were the stuff of my 10-year-old nightmares.

By the time I moved from Utah, I'd had early glimpses of that stadium-sized rock-n-roll from Europe and The Final Countdown.

Late 80s

In 1987, I moved to a part of the country that really was - the country. And I must say that there was no music scene in Sugar City, Idaho (population 1200) in 1987. My mom loved Elvis and my dad loved - nothing. He was just not a musical guy in any way - except that he hated Elvis. So it was only when he was gone that my mom would spin up her Elvis records and dance in the living room and get all glassy-eyed about how handsome and amazing he was. I liked the songs well enough, but it was clearly about more than just the tunes for her. He was the King, she'd tell me with a shrug. The King of rock-n-roll, the first and last. In that way, looking back, it kind of made me miss being a part of the Elvis generation. There was no king of rock-n-roll in the 80s, although others might dispute me?

But in other ways, not having known Elvis' music directly (I was less than 1 when he died), I was cut loose from the idea that there needed to be a King of Rock-n-Roll at all. And I started to learn that this music I was drawn to was more of an anti-kingdom than anything else.

I'm grateful that my older brother (who I've hero-worshipped all my life) avoided country and new wave and pop, began to really get into hard rock.

See, in the late 80s in Idaho one either listened to the radio (country or pop from 2 years ago), or went FAR out of their way to listen to something else. Like, driving to Idaho Falls (somewhere?) or ordering from those clubs where you got 15 free cassettes for joining up. I actually have no idea where he got that earliest music. 

I do clearly remember walking in to the room he shared with my little brother in my grandma's house, and standing there in open-mouthed shock while he played Big Balls and  thrashed on his air guitar, jumping on the bed, roaring in his not-yet-changing 14-year-olds voice:

"But we've got the biggest balls of them all!" 

My grandma would flip out if she could see him (we were house-sitting, so of course she couldn't). But it was the idea. The idea of it. That very first inkling of the power that comes by giving the middle finger to the older generation.

And just like that, I was a fan. A kind of shocked fan - I mean, who sings right out loud about having the ... biggest balls .. of them all? But damn, I loved my brother, and watching this boy just simply unleash when he listened to this music was like, coming awake. 

In the next couple of years my friends and I would become acquainted with "You Shook Me All Night Long" - nobody ever accused AC/DC of being subtle - but boy could you headbang. Close your eyes and feel the thunder. Thrash your hair up and down. Shout like you'd shred your vocal chords - cause that was how Angus sounded. Plus it was unabashedly about sex, and hey, we were 15. Saving ourselves for marriage and all that. But we could headbang.

And in case you want to headbang wherever you are right now, I've gone ahead and saved you the Google search (promise me you'll stand up, though - nobody can listen to this song sitting down. If there's a mosh pit nearby, go join that):

Early 90s

As we got older I kept living through my brother's musical tastes, which didn't change much: Poison, Skid Row, Metallica. Def Leppard. Guns-n-Roses, some singles by other bands. And Warrant. Ah, Warrant.

Those choruses were just so darned singable. But then again - nothing AC/DC or the other great bands of the era made were meant to be just sung. That's why they were so powerful: you had to live them, body and soul. Participate in that wall of guitar and drum and feel the power of that gorgeous raggedy semi-falsetto shredding across Angus' vocal chords like a freight train. Not so much from the heart as from the dirt on the soles of his shoes.  


It was another, later AC/DC song, that came out when I was a sophomore in high school, that of all the other rock anthems defines that little part of me that nobody, nobody will ever own - maybe I don't even fully own it. Certainly I can't explain the chill I get when I hear that gorgeous opening guitar riff and the double-drumbeat "Thun-Der!" and the sung-chainsaw rhythm that overlays it. And then he roars out that opening line:

"I was caught..." 

And there I am, escaped. Not a body anymore, but a part of this giant gritty wall of sound, abandoned to the intricacy of the guitar and the "na-na-NA, na-na-NA, nah" and it's impossible NOT to move. If there were ever a song made for some major air guitar and some moshing, this is it. I'm this badass moshing with the boys, jumping against each other in sweaty, primal rhythm. Somewhere further down that road lays The Lord of the Flies and human sacrifice, I know it. But right then, it's just this side of mayhem and it's the most exhilarating thing in the world. 

I'll just save you another Google search, here's the official video for Thunderstruck


And even what - 25+ years later, there's nobody to explain it to - and I really, really like explaining things. Certainly nobody at church (I actually wouldn't be surprised if there were a couple other fans in my congregation, but I WOULD be surprised if they were women) And not my kids - who at 12 and 13 look at me rocking to songs like Thunderstruck like I looked at my mom rocking out to Jailhouse Rock. And not even Jared, who calls this whole genre "butt-rock" with the snobbiness born of his undying attachment to Pink Floyd. 

I'm sure my brother Mike has no idea that playing shock jock that day in my grandma's house would lead somehow in the future to me posting YouTubes about this band he introduced me to. He will probably laugh when I send him this, and especially the the hero-worship. I think my memory of AC/DC is partly tied up with him, and with the whole middle-finger salute to authority, and just the raw fierceness of letting your whole self go to a song for awhile. But just because I can't explain it in ways or to people who really GET it, doesn't make it less important for me to get this down. This little facet of my growing-up self, and the soundtrack that made up a part of it.

Off to go headbang.  R.I.P. Malcolm.



Jessica SpragueComment