By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
These days, AC/DC's immaturity is starting to look awfully mature -- and not just in years.
The band's membership may have shifted over the years (although not lately -- vocalist Brian Johnson is the new guy, with just 21 years of experience), but its sound remains much the same as it was shortly after its birth in Sydney, Australia, way back in 1973. Pore through the act's seventeen releases, from 1976's High Voltage to 2000's Stiff Upper Lip, and you're likely to be wowed by the awesome consistency. Same colossal riffs. Same lyrical dick jokes. Same impatience with the hifalutin. Likewise, AC/DC is virtually alone among its peers when it comes to avoiding embarrassing creative choices. The group's catalogue is blessedly unmarred by disco beats, synthesizers or capitulation to passing fads, because the men of AC/DC -- currently sibling guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, drummer Phil Rudd, bassist Cliff Williams and Johnson -- know what they do best. They rock. That's all they do. That's all they're ever going to do. And that's fine.
AC/DC has stirred controversy over the past couple of decades -- like when it was discovered that serial killer Richard Ramirez wore a baseball cap with the band's name on it, convincing some dullards that the group was made up of devil worshipers, or when the Parents Music Resource Center attacked the combo for its lascivious rhymes, or when three fans died at a 1991 AC/DC concert in Salt Lake City, resulting in bad press and an out-of-court settlement. But that seems like a long time ago now. There's something reassuring and almost quaint about knowing that AC/ DC is still around, still kicking and still singing about big balls and dirty deeds done dirt cheap.
During the conversation that follows, the voluble, boisterous Johnson, a fifty-plus British native who joined AC/DC in 1980 following the death of original singer Bon Scott, was in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, "just lookin' at the remnants" of the night before -- Sunday, March 25, when the Academy Awards were broadcast. According to him, "Everythin' was closed, so three or four of the lads came up to the room an' we raided the bus, got some whiskey an' some wine an' some beers. An' I remember we thought, 'Let's watch the Oscars,' but that lasted about five minutes. It made me want to vomit with all that flattery. So we started tellin' stories, an' I just remember being doubled up on the floor cryin'. It was great fun -- just like it always is."
Westword: One of the expressions we use here in the U.S. is "Change is good." But it seems to me that one of the things that's great about AC/DC is that, musically, at least, not a whole lot has changed. So is change good, or does change suck?
Brian Johnson: Well, change fer the sake of change sucks, ya know? [Laughs.] It's been proved in life. People have changed things fer the sake of changin' them, an' then they go, "Jeez, what did we do?" I think that's why we have so many fans around the world. They know what they're gonna get when they come to the gig. We just know what we're good at. You could call us one-trick ponies if ya like, but basically, we just enjoy what we're doin'.
WW: Was there ever a time when a record-company executive or a manager wanted you to do something else? Anyone who said, "This is hot right now; why don't you try it?"
BJ:Yeah, back in the mid-'80s, when there were horrible things like [croons in a lounge-singer voice], "We built this city on rock and roll." [Laughs.] That still makes me puke to this day. But anyway, we had a visit from one of the big boys who said, "Maybe ya should think about changin' the image." An' we looked at this guy an' said, "What do ya know about image?" An' he said, "We got this band an' that band." Like that English band, had a guy named Rob as the singer. Baldin' guy...
WW: Judas Priest?
BJ: Judas Priest! That's it, mate. I'm gettin' old, me memory's gone. But he said they'd gotten ahold of them an' transformed them into all wearin' leather. But the album was crap! As me father used to say, "Ya cannot polish a turd." An' we just threw the guy out an' told him to never come back again, an' if he did, it would be at serious risk to his health. An' it was tough for a while, especially with no exposure on radio or TV. MTV avoided us like the plague. If there was any excuse, they'd take it. They'd be like, "We can't show that video because ya can see part of a woman's breast." An' we said, "Yeah, but she's got clothes on!" An' they'd say, "No, no, it's too suggestive." An' then these rap videos would come on an' there's chicks with their whole asses hangin' out! So we caught on quick that they just didn't wanna know about us. But we kept pluggin' along, an' thankfully, people came with us.