With his new book, The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC,Jesse Fink goes beyond a band biography to focus on the brothers, Angus, Malcolm, and George, that power the group that has become a hard rock staple. The Youngs delves into the relationship between the trio and those around them as they have built the band to superstar status. Jesse took a few moments to talk to us about the book.
Music Tomes: In the beginning of the book you talk about the heart wrenching circumstances in which you reconnected with AC/DC. How did that vulnerable state allow you to hear the band differently?
Jesse Fink: Yes, I make the point in the author’s note that good music “immortalises those beautiful, private moments of existential clarity” and “makes us embrace life and its vicissitudes.” I think what I went through – seeing my wife of 10 years leave for another man, experiencing unremitting loneliness, enduring years of depression, raising a young girl amid all this darkness – made me mentally stronger and more determined to dig myself out of the trough I was in. I found music helped me more than anything else and still does. Whenever I feel vulnerable or emotionally weak in some way I listen to music to give me that lift and make me focus on what I need to do to be a better person. Just listen to the lyrics to “It’s a Long Way to the Top”, for example. It’s a great code for living. You want to get anywhere in this life you need to work your hide off and never lose sight of your goal. Those guys in AC/DC inspired me and they continue to inspire me. They’re a living example of what hard work, self-belief, talent and mental fortitude can do. I take my hat off to them.
MT: What surprised you in your research?
JF: The story Mark Evans told me about the Young brothers having considered terminating the employment of Bon Scott. That was something I didn’t see coming at all. Also drummer Tony Currenti’s role in so much great Australian music, including “High Voltage”, the band’s unforgettable 1975 single, and Stevie Wright’s “Evie”. Tony is now working in a pizzeria in Sydney. He’s a musical treasure. It’s been wonderful to see him finally get some recognition from fans. He’s never got it from people inside the industry, that’s for sure. Another thing that surprised me was the number of important people who had lost contact with the Youngs. AC/DC are wildly successful, but a lot of people helped them along the way. Arguably those people deserved better treatment.
MT: You touch on the fact that a lot of the band’s critics come off as a bit classist when looking at the band. Why do you think the band connects so well with blue-collar, everyday people?
JF: They’re not trying to be too clever but of course they’re unbelievably clever. They just want to rock. And – it’s a point I make strongly – there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to rock. The lyrics don’t have to be Dylanesque for the music to be significant. Don’t tell me “Back in Black” isn’t one of the greatest moments in 20th century rock. It’s timeless; an epic song with so much emotion underpinning it. Bon Scott is also an icon of blue-collar, everyday people around the world. He lived life on his own terms, never apologised to anyone, and left us with some of the greatest rock songs of all time. Bon was a superb writer and a real wit. Those early songs reflect a lot of “everyday” life, especially the songs on Powerage. That’s why it’s my favourite AC/DC album.
MT: Have you heard from anyone within the AC/DC camp since the book has been released?
JF: Yes, many people who have worked with the band. Mike Fraser, their engineer, is a friend. Ross Young, Malcolm’s son, is a friend. Mark Evans, Tony Currenti, Doug Thaler, Tony Platt, Jerry Greenberg, David Thoener and many others who are AC/DC luminaries past or present have said very positive things about the book. I’ve had no direct word from anyone currently inside the band but Ross told me his parents enjoyed the book and that his mum loved it. I take that as a huge compliment. The fact Mark Evans thought it was the best book he’d ever read about the band was really unexpected and one of the highlights of my career. There are aspects of the book that are critical of AC/DC but above all it’s written with great love and affection for them – and I think smart readers recognise that.
MT: What are you currently working on?
JF: I have just written proposals for two music biographies: another AC/DC-themed book (there’s a lot more to this band) and a really exciting book on one of the most unknown tales in Southern rock. I’d like to write both of them. I’m also very keen on the idea of turning one of the chapters in The Youngs into a film and adapting the Southern rock idea into a biopic. The first is perfect for Will Ferrell and the second is tailor-made for Matthew McConaughey and Vince Vaughn. So I’m looking to connect with the right people and see these projects come to life, either as books or films or both. I think Southern rock deserves a great movie.
MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?
JF: Recently I really enjoyed Rick Springfield’s Late, Late at Night. Props to the bloke for his honesty and his humour. He’s a very good writer. Wasn’t expecting it at all. Also Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen (1991). What a book. It’s a classic about the venality of the American music business.