Big balls

For those about to rock, we salute AC/DC

"After Show Only" backstage passes are concert promoters' version of a good news-bad news joke. The good news is that you can go backstage. The bad news is that you are often segregated from the real action and rarely get to meet the band. If there is going to be contact with the stars, it's usually in a controlled situation called a meet-and-greet.

I knew all of this ahead of time, yet in January I found myself sitting in a barren room in the bowels of Austin's Frank Erwin Center with various radio-contest winners, disc jockeys, fanzine editors, and superfans. It looked like a casting call for one of those hip yet unfunny BBC comedies, so high was the level of goofiness, but still I sat there for at least an hour for the chance to tell the members of AC/DC they were--and are--the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time.

My friend Al and I got to the show a little late--the band had just started the third song, "Thunderstruck"--but entering the arena in midfury and being led closer and closer to the source of heat, while the crowd stood and screamed and shook their fists, was a remarkable experience. The guitars of the Young Brothers, Malcolm and Angus, were so in sync and tied together like an inhale and an exhale, and it was such a big sound that wrapped around the usually annoying "new" singer Brian Johnson that it hardly mattered he's no Bon Scott. The whole scene was surreal, and it felt like being a lucky extra in a monumental musical.

After "Thunderstruck" ended in a crashing storm, Al looked at me and said, "Man, this is the shit." For the next hour and a half, two men in their 40s stood in awe like kids and let the rhythm take them back to more painful and innocent times.

The other night I dreamt I'd had sex with Madonna, and all I kept thinking about was how I couldn't wait to tell everyone afterwards. It was a little like that when I first experienced an AC/DC record in 1978. As much as the music was tippin' my canoe, I just couldn't wait to play Let There Be Rock for the gang.

During my early 20s, I ran with a group of kids who liked to chatter on about music, as they "jammed to some tunes," occasionally taking on such hot topics as whether the guitar solo from "Green Grass and High Tides" by the Outlaws rocked harder than the end of "Free Bird." I knew there'd be no debate about AC/DC because before I "discovered" them, the records that rocked most were by the likes of Montrose, Zeppelin, Nugent, and UFO; when it was time to come down, the choices were either Caravanserai by Santana or Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

That was the thing: In our group, bands were allotted only one word, which was usually preceded by a "the." Hence, Cheap Trick was "The Trick" and R.E.O. Speedwagon was "The 'Wagon." Anyway, at that age, you're looking to fit in so you talk like everyone else, even if it's that horrible stoner talk, and you live to turn your friends on to new music.

During those days I was kind of a know-it-all, so the gang usually gave my discoveries the cold shoulder. I was more esoteric than the rest of the group--preferring "Low Spark of High Heel Boys" to "My Woman From Tokyo"--and I was the first one of us to discover punk. When I brought by the Ramones, Blondie, and Television, everybody hated them. These were kids who probably thought minimalism was a new kind of killer pot from Mexico. Punk just didn't rock, not like Foghat.

I knew it would be different with AC/DC, and it was. Right away it was everyone's favorite band. There was nothing like it, and Bon Scott was the best rock-and-roll singer any of us had ever heard. One thing we'd do while listening to records was to keep building intensity until reaching the apex of "rocking out," and the last album in the chain was always by AC/DC. You couldn't rock any harder than that, and anybody who's thinking Zeppelin or the Clash or Sabbath can leave now.

At the time, I worked at a gymnasium on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, so I was aware that Australians were crazy fuckers. These sailors from Down Under would have full-on wrestling matches on the hardwood basketball court, and then they'd go out on the town looking for trouble or naked women--whichever came first. So I knew why AC/DC was harder, tougher, meaner than all the other bands: They were from Australia.

AC/DC's music reminded me of this time there were all these Australians at a burlesque club on Hotel St. called the Club Hubba Hubba. It was an old-fashioned strip joint, where the women would come out in elaborate costumes and then slowly peel off the layers. It took about three or four songs for them to get completely naked, but this particular group of Aussies would have none of that.

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