Authors · Books

AC/DC and the Rashomon effect

by Jesse Fink

The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC began as something very different from the finished product.

Initially the concept was simple: write an appreciation of dozen or so songs written by the three Young brothers (George, Malcolm and Angus) and try to divine what makes their music so powerful and what goes into making AC/DC the biggest rock band in the world.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. The back story to those songs and the people behind them – so many of them unknown or unheralded, especially from AC/DC’s first American record company, Atlantic – proved just as fascinating as the music.

AC/DC

People such as Michael Klenfner, who is best known as being the moustachioed guy at the end of The Blues Brothers who offers Jake and Elwood a recording contract while they’re on the run from the cops.

That huge guy, literally and figuratively, who headed up Atlantic publicity and marketing, saved AC/DC in America. He went to his grave in 2009 unrecognised for his contribution to AC/DC.

I wasn’t going to allow that to happen with this book.

So there was so much more to the Youngs’ story than even I had contemplated.

I was to discover that previously published books about the band were full of holes; that most were embarrassingly hagiographical; that accepted stories and accounts of important events in the band’s history needed to be challenged; that there was a hell of a lot of detail missing from what had already been told by a legion of biographers.

Such as their famous logo – its designer, Gerard Huerta, never received a cent in royalties for its use in merchandising.

Or that Phil Rudd may not have played drums on their breakthrough hit, High Voltage: it was Tony Currenti.

Or that Motley Crue manager and former AC/DC booking agent Doug Thaler believes Bon Scott and not Brian Johnson wrote one of the band’s greatest songs, You Shook Me All Night Long.

AC/DC

The biggest revelation of all was that Scott was very nearly sacked by the Youngs in 1975. I couldn’t believe it when former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans told me over a coffee one afternoon in Sydney.

But how do you make a book definitive? Anyone writing a biography wants to use that word and other AC/DC books have, unjustifiably.

Well, the answer is you can’t.

The Young brothers have never gone out of their way to help anyone with a biography. I was expecting that with this book; apart from their nephew and new guitarist Stevie Young, who has replaced Malcolm, they gave me no assistance. That reflects, I believe, the way they do business generally but also their Glasgow clannishness; a way they buttress their mystique and keep private things they want to keep private.

Even with the Youngs on board, though, this book wouldn’t necessarily be “definitive”. You are only getting their point of view. No story can ever be definitive. There were points during the writing of this book that I really thought I was better served giving up and handing back my advance. I really had doubts I was going to get the story I wanted.

But then something pivotal happened.

I was in a Greek diner in the Upper East Side of New York, sitting across from David Krebs, who used to manage AC/DC and Aerosmith, and he told me that managing a rock band is like Rashomon, the Akira Kurosawa film where there are four separate witnesses to a rape and murder and each story is different.

Rashomon

When I heard that from David, I felt like I could continue. He was right. Managing a rock band is like Rashomon. Writing a rock biography is the same as Rashomon. No matter who you go to you’re going to get a different story.

No one has ever written a book exclusively about the Youngs and I wanted to write one that wasn’t just another tedious biography rehashing old information. It required a totally different approach and I believe The Youngs is very different to other books about AC/DC because above all else it focuses on the music.

The story of the Young brothers, in my opinion, is one of the great musical stories of all time. But it is as much a business story as it is an artistic one. AC/DC is an unrivalled commercial colossus in the music business.

But the family’s extraordinary success and inordinate wealth wasn’t achieved simply on the strength of their uncompromising music and famous Glaswegian tenacity. It required the input, wisdom, expertise and support of other people at critical times. It also involved some decisions on their part that in my view were ruthless. The loyalty and faith various key people gave to or showed in the Youngs on their long way to the top wasn’t always reciprocated.

I was to discover that there were many figures from the Youngs’ past who, while admiring of what they had achieved, felt somewhat slighted or disappointed by how they’d been forgotten or effectively erased from AC/DC’s history.

You will meet them in this book and get to know their stories. As an AC/DC fan first and a writer second, it was a true pleasure to bring them to the page.

Jesse Fink is the author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, out now through HarperCollins India.

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