Sunday, March 22, 2015

Highway to AC/DC

AC/DC was the first band I became fanatic about. Sure, I liked the Beatles, and I recognized Alice Cooper from Wayne's World, but I wasn't well versed in music. My encounters with any group were limited to what my dad played in his car when he drove me to my baseball games - usually a good selection of classic rock plus various stories he had about the shows he'd been to (like the time he went to a concert headlined by Herman's Hermits but stolen by The Who) - or whatever my siblings played, which was usually whatever was popular at the time. Sure, there were a handful of songs I could recognize and say I really liked, but I was more of a movie guy and didn't really pay attention.

That all changed when I got to college. For the first time since I was little, I wasn't playing a sport (that's a long, unpleasant story), and I was looking to explore new interests. At Ohio Wesleyan, there was in an impov comedy group, the Babbling Bishops (a play on the school mascot, the Battling Bishop), and I auditioned to join the group. It was a lot the fun, the people were really good, and it involved weeks of workshops, games, and even a live show at the end. I didn't get in the group, but it was a good experience. Still, I needed something to do, and that's when I saw the flier.

WSLN 98.7 The Line, Ohio Wesleyan's student-produced radio station was seeking DJs. I figured what the hell and decided to sign up. The show was conducted out of the top floor of old Slocum Hall in what was essentially attic space. I had this half-baked vision of writing sketches and routines for myself, talking about movies, and doing some sort of talk show, but two hours once a week was a lot harder to fill than I realized, especially on my own.  Fortunately, I had a backup plan.

By accident, I had with me at college a black CD storage book filled with dozens of albums my siblings had owned. My brother and sisters were more schooled on digital music and really didn't have a need for the physical CDs anymore, and this little case somehow ended up passed to me for a time. I recognized some of the group names, and when I decided I had run out of things to spew into the radio room microphone, I started putting on music. I played the likes of Led Zepplin, Cream, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Alice Cooper, Queen, and anything I recognized and/or liked, which meant no Brittany Spears or any other pop crap.

One of the albums was AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. I vaguely remembered hearing the title trek on the radio and at some sporting events but never could understand what the hell the singer was saying. I did like the beat and instrumental part, so when I saw the CD in the booklet, it was something of an epiphany for me because I was like "that's what they're singing!" I played the title track on the radio, plus a few of the other songs on the album, including "Big Balls" because at the time, I recently started following pro wrestling again, and Balls Mahoney had used the song as his entrance theme in ECW. For Christmas that year, I also got my first MP3 player, and Dirty Deeds was one of the albums I put on it.

That was the first step of my AC/DC fandom. The next summer, I worked for my grandfather, doing a lot of physical work like digging holes in his backyard, hauling concrete, and carrying lumber, and every day, I drove my dad's car. My dad often left his CDs in the car, and one of those CDs was Back in Black, and I listened to it almost every single day, playing it as loud as I could. I'd get home from working and have the volume cranked up so loud, the garage shook as I pulled the car in. For my birthday, my parents gave me Highway to Hell, and I was hooked. In 2008, when the group released Black Ice, my older sister bought me tickets to their show at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland that December/January, and I had my first concert experience. I went with my Dad, and afterward, my ears rang for hours.

It's hard to explain why I took to AC/DC so strongly. The music is cool, heavy, at times kind of dangerous sounding, but the lyrics are filled with ridiculous double entendres and a goofy but undying devotion to all things rock n roll. It's catchy, straightforward, loud, driving, and to a degree repetitious, but that hasn't stopped me from owning all their studio albums, even the ones I consider weaker. I can listen to the band when I'm working out, writing, relaxing, driving, and doing just about anything (I'm listening to them as I type this post). Whether it's Bon Scot or Brian Johnson singing, I'm almost always up for AC/DC.

Recently, the band released Rock or Bust and it's something of a miracle album. Founding member Malcolm Young had to leave the band after being diagnosed with dementia (nephew Stevie Young gamely fills his shoes), and drummer Phil Rudd ran into some potentially serious legal trouble, and he's been replaced by Chris Slade, who had a stint in the band in the late 80s and early 90s. And yet, Angus Young, Cliff Williams, and Johnson cut an album that bears all the hallmarks of AC/DC: catchy choruses, driving guitar riffs, pulsing bass, steady drums, and attitude that says they don't care about trends or fads; they just want to rock.

The last few years have been difficult for me, personally and professionally. I was laid off in 2012, and my youngest sister passed away in 2013, which I count as the worst experience of my life. For the first in a long time, though, things are looking up, and I have a strong outlook on the future. I won't say AC/DC dragged me out of the dark place I've been, but it definitely came out at the right time for me. As I'm looking forward, here's another reminder from the group who through thick and thin, ups and downs, challenge after challenge, has emerged strong and true to themselves. I take comfort in that.

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