Before Angus Young dressed up in a schoolboy suit, the wee guitar giant strapped on Superman's cape. No kidding: He was "Super Ang," one of myriad on-stage guises AC/DC's lead hellion tried on before settling into his iconic academic uni — and shaking the world all night long.
"At one point he had even affected a Zorro look," writes Mick Wall in a bawdy new bio on the bluesy crew, "replete with mask and cape, drawing a plastic sword across his guitar strings in pantomime emulation of Jimmy Page's use of a violin bow in parts of Led Zeppelin's show."
If all you fanboys would like to take a minute to flip out, go ahead:
How awesome is that?!!
A significant part of AC/DC's four-decade allure is that for all its thunderstruck success — success derived outside the typical music-biz avenues, AC/DC existing in its own unique, authority-thwarting bubble — not much is known about the band behind Back in Black, the second-highest-selling album of all time (50 million copies sold), behind only Michael Jackson's Thriller.
That's why Wall's AC/DC: Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be is such a revelation — if not exactly a deep cultural examination on how a band with little PR interest is one of the highest-grossing outfits of all time. (Why does everyone love AC/DC? Maybe because they betray the rules — and win anyway. That's a good place to start.) The book has enough goodies to shake your foundations about Hall of Famers who have never met a horndog innuendo they couldn't cram between killer riffs and American thighs.
A British journo who writes like the smartest grunt at the pub, Wall digs in where he can, interviewing associates, rummaging through archives. (Wall also has a Lou Reed bio coming out this week, a release date perhaps accelerated by his subject's death last month.) He uncovers some jaw-dropping stuff. For instance, the fight song for Angus' primary school? "School that is set on a hill, we salute you!" Wow, right?
Or how about this: When working-class Scottish lads Angus and brother Malcolm moved to Australia with their parents, upon landing at the airport, Angus "would make an immediate impression on fellow passengers by throwing up all over the baggage-claim area."
It's fun, filling stuff, although Wall gets scant help from the gnomish Young brothers, who are reminiscent of the coarse, sparring hillbillies in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon, beating the tar out of each other and their environs. Part of the band's prickly energy derives from the fact that Malcolm, the band's rhythm guitarist and de facto leader, is believed by many to be a better all-around musician than Angus; he just didn't have the star power.
Wall devotes more than two-thirds of the book to ill-fated singer Bon Scott, who helped lead the band into the international spotlight but also seemingly sunk its future with his drinking, drugging ways. The irascible Scott died on Feb. 19, 1980, at age 33 after choking on his own vomit, an autopsy showing that "his organs were like those of a sixty-year-old man." If you want blood, you got it.
Oddly enough, Wall is less interested in the Greatest Second Act in Rock History: the Youngs discovering howling English singer (and now Sarasota resident) Brian Johnson, who took over lead vocal duties on 1980's Back in Black. That LP was produced with a bombastic touch by Mutt Lange (who went on to marry, and then divorce, Shania Twain).
Back in Black is considered by Rolling Stone (and this critic) to be one of the greatest albums ever. It's a hard-driving testament to the somewhat sociopathic, single-minded drive of Malcolm and Angus, who have little time to mourn or second-guess or deal in, like, feelings and heartache and stuff like that: If you're not rocking out, mate, you're wasting time.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.