Almanac Music: If you want blood – we got it

Bon and Malcolm in happier times

An early morning message from my cousin Rod woke me into the saddest day I’d experienced for years.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Reading obituaries at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and wearing the blur of a hangover, my eyes welled up.  I hadn’t been this close to tears for a decade.

Malcolm Young was dead.

The little man with the fat sound, the best rhythm guitarist in history helped shaped my life with killer riffs and the sharpest, most aggressive guitar assault I’ve ever heard.

Now he was gone.

I grew up with AC/DC. I’ve aged with AC/DC. The double entendre by Bon Scott. The crassness of Brian Johnson and the Young brothers. I’d heard AC/DC’s early stuff, but at 11, the first time I heard Back in Black it connected me to the band.

The music moved me. Bon taught me about women and ultimately impacted on my relationships. Brian made me feel like a badass. I spent teenage money on albums, t-shirts, books and posters.

 

AC/DC gave me an identity.  They connected me with mates.  As I aged, that identity, that connection has never diminished.  It’s caused issues with some girlfriends who rolled their eyes whenever I listened to AC/DC or quoted Bon’s lyrics. Some people seemed surprised when they found out I like AC/DC. Asking them why, their explanation, it doesn’t seem your type of music, never makes sense.

 

My response, what’s not to like, doesn’t always make sense to them either.

 

In the ’90s, when the cassettes and LPs wore out, I opted for CDs, buying the same music in a different format and adding videos, DVDs and books about Bon Scott and the band.

 

A book by Clinton Walker, published in 1994, delved into Bon’s childhood, career and death. Over the years I have read Walker’s book three times. It never fails to sadden me. Over the years my love and enthusiasm for AC/DC has never waned. Mostly it is about Bon and his lyrics. He had such a funny, cheeky streak, yet could also write heartfelt, self-deprecating lyrics about the loneliness of a rock star.

 

Powerage remains my favourite album. Bon was at his peak, lyrically, on that album. The singer, though, was just a part of AC/DC’s swagger. The guitar drove the eardrums. I could feel the rhythm in my chest. Malcolm on the Gretsch, setting the pace and Angus adding colour with his SG Gibson. And Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams on the bass.

 

What a combination. I loved it.

 

Sunday morning, reading Malcolm’s obituaries, I thought about key events leading up to his death.

 

My first born is named Angus. The reason why is obvious. When my second baby was in the womb, my name suggestion, Malcolm, was rejected. I’d gotten lucky once. Don’t push it. Despite the refusal, I got lucky again. My second born, Jim, carries the name of my great uncle, two of my father’s great mates and my ex’s dad.

Jim and Angus love AC/DC. We can’t drive anywhere without AC/DC playing loud. If a woman sings, they complain. If it’s not AC/DC, they complain. Already they know that unique sound. I love their love of AC/DC.

 

On the Friday night before Malcolm died, I drove my boys home from school and day-care, flicking songs on my phone until AC/DC came on.  The track was a classic, Sin City.

 

‘Turn it up daddy,’ Jim said.

 

I did. The three of us went to Sin City, driving around the block to let the song finish.

 

On Saturday, my boys went to their mum’s house for the first time in two weeks. That night, I was writing until 9.30pm when I opted for a beer and a YouTube browse, starting off with the official film clip of If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).

 

The riff seems simple enough, but Malcolm absolutely pounds the guitar. The song is a classic, building rapidly until the tension explodes and Bon screeches in.

 

It’s criminal, there ought to be a law…

 

It’s a basic video clip. Bon in denim, Angus in school uniform, shot on a small stage. Bon’s lip-syncing is out. Possibly he was drunk. Malcolm hammers the riff, possibly the best riff he ever wrote.

It is impossible not to move. It is impossible not to be moved by the lyric, if you want blood, you’ve got it.

 

Towards the end of the film clip, Bon impales Angus with a guitar. Angus staggers about the stage, bleeding while Bon screams about our blood lust.

 

The YouTube clips went on. Jailbreak and Dirty Deeds. Then I toned things down and watched half a dozen interviews, mainly featuring Malcolm and Bon. When I finally shut the computer down, I spent a few minutes finishing a chapter in Jesse Fink’s new book, Bon: The Last Highway.

 

Fink’s book is good, but he writes with ego, as though no one else has written about Bon before. He repeatedly denigrates other Bon biographies and documentaries. It denigrates his own work. He has, however, uncovered a few links that suggest Bon wrote lyrics to songs attributed to Brian on Back In Black.

 

I have always believed Bon’s lyrics were used on Back In BlackYou Shook Me All Night Long has to belong to Bon. Same with Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.  Also Have A Drink On Me while Shoot To Thrill could be another. Fink is making the connections through Bon’s former lovers and mates. The conspiracy makes sense.

 

But Sunday morning, when I read about Malcolm’s death, I wasn’t thinking about lyrical conspiracy. I was thinking about coincidences linking me to the timing of his death. Reading Fink’s book is one. That my great mate Adam is reading the book at the same time is another. Selecting If You Want Blood on Saturday night and loving Malcolm’s riff provides another, as do the interviews I watched.

 

Obviously I had no idea Malcolm was about to die. But it was the first time in years I watched Malcolm being interviewed. Funny how things happen.

 

It’s also tragic how some things happen. Malcolm had dementia. He’d also had cancer and heart problems. Although he was just 64, he didn’t need to suffer anymore. The highway to hell was over.

 

Bon wrote If You Want Blood thinking AC/DC’s fans wanted blood. It wasn’t a complaint. It was a decree. If you want our blood, you’ve got it. Right here. On every album. In every live performance. If you want blood.

 

Who wants blood?

With AC/DC, we got blood. We got it all. A whole lotta lifetime. A whole lotta love. A whole lotta rock. And a whole lotta loss. Bon in 1980. Malcolm now and a few weeks ago, George Young, the older brother who found fame with the Easybeats and later as producer helping Malcolm and Angus find their sound.

 

I’ve never heard better riffs. I’ve never heard better lyrics than Bon’s. For me, the argument about Bon and Brian is simple. Bon was better. He wrote better. He sang better. But I’ve always accepted and rated Brian and his ultimate bad-guy voice. His vocals on Back in Black and Flick of the Switch have never been surpassed in hard rock history. With three number one records as AC/DC’s singer to his name, he is a legend of rock.

 

Brian’s deeds surpass Bon’s, but it was Bon who helped set AC/DC up. Without Bon, none of it would’ve happened. Bon helped forge that sound and owned AC/DC’s vocals. Brian inherited them.

 

As Sunday morning grew old, I was beaten down by sadness, ignoring the clock and thinking about that big, fat sound Malcolm created. Despite countless attempts, no one else has done it. Malcolm perfected that mechanical war machine and it can never be replicated. That’s why Malcolm is the best. And will be forever.

 

When the last coffee was empty, I opened my phone and found a 32-second video of my boys watching the film clip to If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) on the iPad. Angus plays furious air guitar, shouting thunder, na na na na na while Jim stands up on his seat and screams unintelligible words in his best Brian impression.

 

Angus is five. Jim is two. My favourite video of my boys is of them pretending to be AC/DC. It was my boys I thought of when my eyes threatened to leak while watching the clip again. Then my phone rang, my mate Adam. I answered but it was a pocket call. I was happy he wasn’t on the line, because I didn’t want to cry and talk at the same time.

Again I thought about coincidence. Adam has invested as much as I have in AC/DC. He loves Bon and Malcolm’s big fat sound. I got in the car and went to the local shops. When my phone connected to my car, the first three songs were AC/DC, Gimme a Bullet, Riff Raff and If you want Blood. The coincidences kept lining up. There was that song, again, If You Want Blood. When I got back in the car, I set the stereo back to that song and cranked it until my ears hurt.

Driving to the rhythm, the rear view mirror vibrated as Bon sung. It’s criminal. There ought to be a law.

A law that heroes never die? That heroes shouldn’t? When Bon drank himself to death at 33, I was nine years old. Malcolm died when I was 47. My age matters not. Nor does theirs. Heroes will die.

 

Mid-afternoon, I called Adam. Sadness filled the call. We reminisced about all those riffs, discussed our favourite songs and talked each other into happiness. Our resolve was to celebrate rather than sook. Ride on, be thankful for his life.

 

Be thankful that Bon taught me cheek and Malcolm taught me how to rock. Their talent is unsurpassable. In my twenties I tried to write songs, comparing my lyrics to Bon’s lyrics and quit because I was hopeless. I have a guitar and can barely play it. But I kept listening to AC/DC. And never stopped listening.

 

Late-afternoon, I called Bill, my father. He was upset too, for another reason. ‘I can’t find an AC/DC CD to listen to,’ he said. ‘I’ll have to order them online.’

Bill started to listen to AC/DC because I did. My brother Nick did the same. AC/DC were there as I grew, providing the music and the narrative. And always, Malcolm was in the background with the rhythm. Driving me forward. Never missing a note.

That’s AC/DC to me. Never missing a note. I might have missed a few notes over the course of my life. But when I have, comfort is a song away. If I’m worrying about life, that riff is ready to go. If you want Blood was apparently written about the relentlessness of an American tour, playing every night until the band had nothing left to give.

 

That’s AC/DC now. Nothing left to give. If you want blood, you got it, Bon sang. We got what you want if you got the lust.

 

Yep. I had the lust.  I’ve still got it…

 

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines.

The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Onya Matt.

    If we were a country more honest with ourselves than we are, I reckon a couple of AC/DC’s songs would be contenders for the national anthem.

    When it comes to Grand Final entertainment, I have always thought the only act the AFL could book that would really matter would be Acca Dacca. Sadly, that won’t be possible now. I hope Angus doesn’t carry on as a parody of himself.

    Jesse Fink’s book on the Young brothers has some pretty interesting moments. Though I think some of your other observations ring true.

    Vale Malcolm.

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Wonderful tribute Matt. Such a sad loss.
    Saw AC/DC on their last tour, Stevie Young looked and played almost identical to Malcolm up on stage.
    RIP Malcolm.

  3. Matt they say ‘Hell Ain’t a bad place to be’. I don’t know if Malcolm found himself on the “Highway to Hell,” but you’d hope he can now “Rock In Peace”.

    “Let There Be Rock”.

    Glen!

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