Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Are We Not Men?
For some reason the other day the radio in my kitchen—which was, as always, tuned to a talk station in order to avoid hearing random assaults on my/our once priceless pop music cannon by x-factor bums and screeching failed actors now given to recording 'music'—there was a package about AC/DC. Apparently the Aussie metal monsters will have been 'going' for forty years soon, and given that they've now taken on the mantle of everyone's fave tame extreme noise merchants (inherited from the Ramones), the smug middle class who think it ironic to carry the AC/DC logo emblazoned on their 'vintage' t-shirt/dress/yarmulke, are bound to rejoice and buy, buy, buy all the AC/DC merch and re-releases that are bound to flow soon.
Except of course, the 'new' fans who wear the logo on ridiculous items of merchandise, really don't want to listen to the hoary old metal that the ridiculous old geezers have been peddling for the last four decades. I am willing to bet an original Ramones holed plimsole to one of Angus Young's school caps that their new-found 'fans' have never sat through an ear-bursting hour of endless SG-chugging, tight-trousered screaming, walloping bass'n'drum-driven 'Whole Lotta Rosie'. Unfortunately, I did, once.
Because I was a precocious kid, at age 14 most of my pals were 18 and 19. There were six of us and we used to spend Friday night to Sunday mornings getting drunk, smoking, dancing, and driving around in a gold Ford Cortina MkII 1600E. While they mostly danced simply to pick up girls, I danced to the music and loved it. My musical tastes and that of my older pals differed somewhat, but I'd always liked different stuff, and so was willing to listen to what they wanted to hear on the car's cassette player. Mostly it was prog rock with a smattering of pro to-metal. So I learned how Yes, Genesis and ELP could bore in the time it took to play an interminable drum solo, how Led Zep were really quite funny if you listened for too long and that Deep Purple were deeply dull.
Occasionally one of the guys would suggest going to a gig, most often a few miles up the coast, in a tiny venue about the size of a church hall, but which amazingly attracted some of the biggest bands on tour at the the time. Tickets were cheap, booze was to be had and the place turned into a disco after the gig. So I'd stand at the back, drink beer and yawn as the Ian Gillan Band, Barclay James Harvest, Curved Air, Wishbone Ash or Gentle Giant plonked away on stage. One night, just as I was becoming intrigued by something called Punk which was happening in London (120 miles away), my friend with the car suggested we all pile along the coast to catch this new Australian band who the music press (or at least Sounds) were raving about.
And so I got to see AC/DC on their debut UK tour, in 1976, and they were stupid. Not entertaining, witty 'stupid' like the late, great Ramones who I saw later in the year and was blown away by, but stupid as in assholes. In order to stand out from every other metal-pushing band on the road in the mid-1970s who had a screaming, drunken, but really very butch lead singer (and yes, I know I saw the 'legendary' now dead guy, but he sounded hysterical to me), someone had the bright idea of getting the guitarist to dress up as a school boy, in shorts, blazer and cap. So there's me, who during the week was forced into wearing a school uniform (although not the shorts or cap), watching a supposedly grown man dressed like Just William and being carried on the shoulders of an enormous roadie through the less than sell-out crowd at this hick dive. What am I supposed to think? Exactly. Dumb.
Spool forward four decades and Angus is still wearing his uniform to play the same songs (isn't he?), and the band's resistance to change has made them an object of fondness for people who think metal is cute. And that puzzles me somewhat. How did the formerly macho, confrontational, teen-angst-driven Metal music become so acceptable in a post-PC world? As any normal person knows, when confronted with the ridiculous sight of that other dumb metal act with the Nazi-paraphenalia-loving frontman named 'Lemmy' (Motorhead), or the ludicrously camp leather-saturated-fronted Judas Priest back in the day, Metal was always funny, but it was also nasty. The absolute misogyny and self-delusional macho-posturing of metal music was, and remains, objectionable in the extreme. Spinal Tap is not fiction, it's absolutely drawn from the pathetic reality that metal bands of the 1970s and '80s enjoyed.
Somehow, thankfully, I managed to miss out the development stage which called for metal music, or wizards and dragons. Despite twice seeing Yes perform with Rick Wakeman, dry ice and laser light shows, seeing Deep Purple with Ritchie Blackmore and Genesis at Knebworth, I never owned albums by any of them. The last gig I gladly attended though, because of one of the support acts: Devo were brilliant and played on through a rain of beer cans with so much wit and energy (they tore off their paper-suits during Jocko Homo and I fell about laughing), that they are the only memory I have retained of the day. Well, that and sleeping in the Cortina.
Four decades later Devo are still doing kinda the same thing, but unlike the metal morons, the Akron Devo-lutionists are doing it with style. Always smart, always alternative, Devo continue to puzzle, intrigue and entertain. I'm sure AC/DC fans are just as entertained by their heroes, but really, it must be kind of like a very LOUD groundhog day going to see them, surely?