Monday, September 24, 2007

Blah blah blah... Nice to know that MySpace is good for one thing: finding out about cool bands one would otherwise be oblivious to. Of course, it's good to know that I can still be great friends w/ old buddies like Sun Ra and Allen Ginsberg in the year 2007 - we're tight, y' know - but it serves a purpose other than showing the world one has thousands of strangers they count as friends. Here's a band I dig: Nought, from the UK. They asked me to be their "friend" a little while back probably through searching people w/ similar tastes in music on the site, and since we share a near identical taste in music and I happened to like the cut of their jib, I said "Yes, let's be friends". But anyway, they rip out a mean brand of intrumental prog-punk quite obviously influenced by the Minutemen, Can, Swans and, yep, Led Zep. That's a fairly disparate list of artists, I know, though their music does combine all of the above, and quite well, I might add. That's my heads-up for the week.

Just finished reading Clinton Walker's Bon Scott bio - Highway To Hell: The Life And Death Of Bon Scott (Picador/Pan Macmillan)- which was given to me by a friend a few weeks back. The friend in question works for the publishing company, so I tend to get inundated w/ books from her on a monthly basis, most of which, I'm ashamed to admit, I barely flick through. And even more shame-worthy, I didn't even consider reading the Bon bio until I was bored out of my skull on a weeknight and needed new reading material to tackle. Well, I'm glad I made the effort. Clinton Walker is an Australian journo who first hit the fanzine circuit in '77 in cahoots w/ the likes of Bruce Milne before working for Rolling Stone in the '80s (the things ya gotta do), penning the classic Inner City Sound photo/text tome in '83 (which documented Australian punk/post-punk, and was basically the first book to do so), the rather less successful Stranded compendium in the '90s, which attempted to document Australian indie music up until the post-Nirvana "grunge" breakthrough into the mainstream (a book which, for me, lost the plot completely as it approached the mid '80s), as well as being a general talking-head for any rock doco the ABC cares to show. I've met the guy a couple of times at various do's and he's a stand-up gentleman and a rare example of a professional music journalist who actually appears to give a shit about music.... but on w/ the show!

Like any other Australian dunderhead of age in the year 1980 - though I was only 8 at the time - AC/DC's Back In Black hit the local schoolyard like a lightning bolt and was essentially the soundtrack for any budding young rock 'n' roll butthead for the next 18 months. My brother had a copy on cassette and we nearly wore the thing out throughout '80/'81, before the world of BMXs took me away from music for a couple of years and I kinda forgot the band - or any band - even existed. When I was 16 and getting hep to the sounds of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and local rock gods of the day such as Bored! and God, AC/DC made a reappearance in my life as I reappraised their works and came to appreciate their certain brand of mindless hard-arsed boogie-rock to be of great worth even to a young man who'd been completely lobotomised by hardcore. The no-frills approach they mastered in their heyday still holds great appeal simply because there was, and is, no other band on earth like AC/DC, and certainly not when they were at their '70s peak.

Walker's book is not only about Bon and his rough upbringing and failed attempts at stardom w/ '60s teenyboppers the Valentines or '70s progsters Fraternity - neither of whom really garner much praise from Clinton here - but an excellent insight into the sheer backwardness of Australian music throughout much of the period (he makes a good point that many '50s/'60s Australian stabs at "rock" blew simply because most Australians had never even heard a good American blues record - the backbone of the heavy rhythm in rock as we know it - as they were near impossible to find here until the late '60s) and the surprising hostility even a popular band such as AC/DC could face in their home country. Clinton also makes an interesting point in the introduction (this is an updated version of the 1994 original): nearly everyone who ever worked w/ Bon has nothing but good words to say about him, whilst nearly everyone who's ever worked w/ the Youngs - Angus and Malcom, who are AC/DC - have almost nothing good to say of them. Admittedly, Angus and Malcom come across as thick-as-a-brick, cold-hearted, shamelessly ambitious careerists from the get-go, though in fairness, they weren't interviewed for this book (they refused) and I can't necessarily fault them for simply having a mission - being the biggest, baddest rock 'n' roll band in the world - and seeing it through. On the other hand, Bon comes across as I suspected: #1 party animal who could barely see beyond tomorrow and would gladly blow a royalty cheque in 24 hours by shouting everyone at the pub for the night.

Bon-period AC/DC remain a tough band to musically pin down. They were way too casual in their attire, and too macho, to be glam; too economic in their musical approach to be heavy metal; too rough and uncouth to be arena rock (despite playing w/ the likes of Journey and REO Speedwagon in the late '70s); and they were way too traditional and bluesy to be considered punk (even though many journalists, especially down here, confused them as such at the time). Walker admirably never tries to dissect their music too heavily, because it really doesn't warrant it. If anything, it's simply an amplified take on the classic Chuck Berry/Little Richard sound, two of the very few artists the Young brothers appear to have good words for. Things start getting very depressing near the end of the book, as you can feel the band's biggest success, and Bon's demise, getting ever so closer. Back In Black, for myself and many others, remains AC/DC's crowning achievement, and yet Bon doesn't even appear on it. It is, however, still a Bon Scott album, even though the Young's never credited him for the songwriting. It has his cheek, wit and style all over it, a style they would never fully achieve in any of their subsequent recordings. Walker's Highway To Hell succeeds in three main areas: it gives a great insight into Bon and the mechanisations behind the band and what made them so great in their day; it kept me happily busy for the three nights it took me to read it; and it's had me whacking the likes of Dirty Deeds, Highway to Hell, TNT and Back In Black on high rotation ever since I closed the final page. I thought I was totally over rock biographies, but this might've just got me started all over again.

5 comments:

noisejoke said...

Holy crap. You go on and on about Flag or Can or whatever little amount of jazz you'd allow (Sun Ra, natch). And while I enjoy much the same music and understand what YOU get out of it, you're still essentially a writer who hasn't the words to truly explain HOW music does it what it does for you and others. Few musicians think and speak in the terms you "writers" or "bloggers" do. Case in point, your complete inability and unwillingness to describe and understand what AC/DC did. What they created musically, beyond the stories, attitude, even the obvious hooks and lyrics, that made them a great and unique source of sound. You wrote, "Walker admirably never tries to dissect their music too heavily, because it really doesn't warrant it. If anything, it's simply an amplified take on the classic Chuck Berry/Little Richard sound,..." Wow! Really? So, uh, why is that a good thing then?

Dave said...

Wow, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Don't know what I did to upset you so much! What made AC/DC so great? This is a blog, not a major article. I keep things relatively brief 'round here, sometimes to the detriment of what really should be said, but I could sum it up to being their utmost simplicity (zero flash in the rhythm dept., the only real extravegance being Angus's occasional extended solos) and general cheekiness in the lyrical dept., the perfect combination of the Youngs' youthful arrogance and ambition and Bon's older, devil-may-care attitude. Their music WAS like an updated Hard Rock take on Little Richard/Chuck Berry: basic chugga-chug riffs w/ bawdy lyrics and little else. If YOU think there's more to them, then by all means tell the world about it.
BTW, if you think the only jazz I ever cover is Sun Ra then you ain't looking hard enough.

noisejoke said...

Surely, a man without shame. You wax rhapsodic, poetic and in great quantity, and deservedly so, about Alice Coltrane, The Ex, etc but when faced with actually having to explicate and expound upon something so fundamental (and sadly misunderstood) as AC/DC's formal command and mastery of certain leading musical foundations, you simply claim your provlivity to "keep things relatively brief". Not to mention, you've got the cajones to handily dismiss what you no doubt consider the archaic "Chuck Berry/Little Richard sound..."

With your permission, lemme only begin to tutor you and yr buds on some basics, perhaps helping you understand why AC/DC are so able to reach across barriers of taste and criticism. LISTEN, truly listen, to how they play together and HEAR Malcolm's glistening rasp from his Gretsch massaged by his right hand perfectly, humanly in sync with the unheralded GENIUS of Mr. Phil Rudd. If you'd like we'll return to the conversation. Oh, and similar rhythmic strokes of genius from 70s white guys: Cheap Trick, Rockpile (check yr Lowe and Edmunds records behind the songs), and the Pistols - you'll get a better chance soon with the long overdue Bollocks re-release.
PS The Sun Ra hit was a convenient device - guys like you and me freqauently come to jazz through the obvious purveyors of "freedom" and overt large scale innovation. When we BOTH can chat with any alacrity about Duke or Dizzy, I'll take us all off that hook.
PSS Chuck Berry and Little Richard are as apples and oranges as Flag and Minutemen. Ironically, if yr REALLY listening you'll find it's the piano that motivates both. And it's only via the Stones that there's any direct musical relation to your Aussie bros.
Then again maybe you only listened as a young Australian teen and never allowed them the re-consideration you might allow The Birthday Party.

noisejoke said...

Dave - thanx for posting my rants. I'm in a mood and on a tear! I think it's good to mix it up sometimes, and I'm sure you don't always need an echo chamber.

Mrow said...

I saw some Aussie working-holiday visa holder reading this on a bus in Shepherd's Bush a while back - I even read a couple of choice paragraphs of it, over his shoulder as we rolled toward the Bush. Yeah I'm tracking this down real soon. Bon's the man that put Australia on the map for me as a kid! Thanks for the great review.