Our tickets are in the rafters. Row XYZ. It's 1980 in the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. My older brother is a senior in high school and I'm a freshman. His friend has a van and a warm six pack of Milwaukee's Best. I reluctantly drink mine with authority and turn the car radio to eleven -- Back in Black on cassette tape. My brother's friend sees how terrible our seats are and laughs. He suggests we rip the stub off his seat after he gets in. We'll then hold his stub over our XYZs as the usher examines it with a flashlight. It works. We're on the floor, heading toward the stage. The crowd is a raucous one, not that friendly. Black biker jackets, shit-kicker boots and stark pugnacious stares. This coupled with the testosterone, beers and brown weed and everyone's on edge. A fight breaks out, punches thrown. It's a war zone. We may or may not get out alive. Security is in yellow jackets. They grab two drunk thugs and drag them past us to the exit. Perhaps we'll sit in their empty seats. My brother has his finger on my lower back. He does not care about the fights, the aggressive vibe. He only wants to get closer and closer to the stage. I move when he moves, pushing through people who really don't want to be jostled. "Sorry. Excuse us, sorry."
When the lights go out the crowd roars and I look up to see a two ton liberty bell descending from the stadium ceiling. It says AC/DC on the side and singer Brian Johnson comes on stage to pummel the "Hell's Bell," with a sledge hammer. Bong!... Bong!... Bong! When I get my footing I can see him, Angus Young, the lead guitarist. No celebrity will ever matter as much to me as this person. In fact, my musical life will be altered forever within the evening. It will take years to know what grabbed me by the throat that night. But the answer lies in the tandem and rhythmic sound of the young brothers' guitars and their ability to play hard rock blues through a wall of Marshall amplifiers. The sound is anything but "Heavy Metal." It's more Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis or Big Joe Williams of the Delta Blues. So much so that Angus is mimicking Chuck Berry's duck-walk, all the way across the enormous stage. Malcolm, the elder, is the antithesis of Angus. He stands to the right of the drums, head down, legs wiggling, hair in his face. He is the spinal chord of the philosophy, laying all the foundation for the sound which enables Angus to be a pentatonic madman, climbing up and down his fret board with the ease of breathing. Malcolm only walks forward on stage to offer his backing vocals on certain songs. Cliff Williams on bass, moves only when Malcolm does, staying mostly locked in his stage-left pocket, his hair swinging to the romp. Drummer Phil Rudd is great for this band, an amazing and powerful metronome. 1980 was a better year for Phil. In 2014 he was accused of plotting to murder someone (charges dropped) and cops found nasty drugs in his home. He will not be joining the boys on the upcoming tour. Cliff Williams says there's no rift between band members.
Angus is a tiny, whirlwind of a man, wielding a 1969 Gibson SG like a maniac with a rifle. He points it as us, lifts it high above his head to stare at his own incredible fretting. His uninhibited passion leaps from the speakers as his head rockets back and forth to the bluesy riffs he spews. The tornado of sound has a luscious groove. My knee and foot bounce on their own so I am viscerally charged, skin tingling as Angus stops, gripping the strings to sudden silence. He stands frozen, head down, dripping sweat. The stunned crowd roars for the weird and quiet interlude and now he's back, hurling his hand down the neck of the SG, dropping to his knees before standing and running a few feet before falling again, a child in a tantrum. It's funny, unhinged, makes you want to scream, pump your fist, announce your devotion right now! Look at the Tazmanian Devil, a school-boy gone insane with riffs first found by Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Bo Didley. My feet are off the floor as the band rocks the arena to its foundation with "Shook Me All Night Long", "Shoot to Thrill", "Dog Eat Dog", "Riff Raff" and of course, "Whole Lotta Rosie". Angus is now soloing while spinning on his back as if cleaning his own sweat off the stage. For the encore, he's atop the Marshall stacks, in the audience, on Brian Johnson's shoulders. I've heard he runs five miles per performance. His guitar is wireless. And so is he.
Born Scottish, Angus and Malcolm moved to Australia in the '60s. Their brother George was a member of the Easy Beats, a British invasion era pop group that scored hits in America with Friday on my Mind and Love is in the Air. Angus was a school kid during this time. His older sister Margret noticed he liked to play guitar as soon as he got home, failing to remove his school-boy uniform before practicing. She also had a sewing machine that had the letters AC/DC on the back. Angus and Malcolm took the name, the uniform and George's guidance as producer and set out to play hard rock live. Angus would wear his school clothes on stage for the next four plus decades, only removing it during his adored live strip-tease. The strip used to occur during the slow and sultry,The Jack, but moved to the very rocking, Jailbreak, somewhere in the '90s. It's the part of the show when a very sweaty Angus removes his guitar, his velvet jacket, his shirt (button by button) teasing the audience with a Benny Hill-ish attempt at slapstick burlesque. With his shirt off he swings it around in a pinwheel and slides it back and forth between his legs, shaking his hips to the drummer's blue groove. He then runs off to stage right and holds his hand behind his ear in a, "I can't hear you," taunt that makes the place erupt. Thirty steps later he's doing the same to stage left. When it's time to strap the Gibson back on he does so just after he moons the crowd to massive elation. Back in the day he'd show his full, skinny, naked buttocks to his faithful. In time, when fans' children began coming, he wore American flag boxer shorts in America. The Union Jack in England, and so on.
The East Rutherford thugs are dads now. You may have seen them. They're the calm, silver-haired dudes who still attend AC/DC shows, the people who happily pay $20.99 for battery-operated devil horns for their 14-year-old son standing next to them. AC/DC is a family event now. The arenas are filled with people like me, wanting to share the experience with kids and anyone that hasn't seen them live. Your feet will lift off the floor.
Malcolm was showing signs of dementia during the band's last album, Black Ice. Famously private, the band took years to tell fans that the cofounder of AC/DC would alternate between his home and a nursing home for the rest of his life. His rock career was over. In a recent article in Guitar Magazine, Angus said they were waiting, even skipping their 40th anniversary celebration in the hope that Malcolm would show signs of recovery. It did not happen. Malcolm is 61 which is considered unusually young for the ailment. In his place for the upcoming support of their new album, Rock Or Bust, Stevie Young, Malcolm and Angus' nephew will play rhythm guitar. He is only a year or so younger than his Uncle Angus and has been playing music with him all their lives. Stevie toured with AC/DC in 1988 when Malcolm did a stint in rehab.
30 years after I saw the brothers Young do their thing, I cannot stop hearing those very same riffs. I'm at a pro baseball game. A relief pitcher enters the game as Hells Bells forces 40,000 people to come alive. A TV commercial for Walmart, another commercial for a car. Back in Black featured in the film, Iron Man. "Shook Me All Night Long", "Thunderstruck", "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", "Highway To Hell", "For Those About to Rock We Salute You", "Sin City". In Target, I can buy AC/DC drinking glasses and a Fly On the Wall buckle belt. Original singer and lyricist Bon Scott would not believe his eyes and ears. He died from alcohol abuse about a year before Back in Black was made in 1980.
My son is 14 now. He understands my devotion for the band, and likes them too. For my birthday he gave me Back In Black, remastered on vinyl. I nearly wept and told him the band has a new album and there's only one person I want standing next to me when the two ton bell descends from the ceiling. He says he can't wait. I envision us both in battery-operated devil horns, arm in arm, and being amazed at how time flies. And I just know our bodies will start to rise, to the epic and timeless grooves of Angus and Malcolm Young.