Malcolm Young, one of the founders of AC/DC, has died. It’s a sad thing. AC/DC has been among my all-time favorite rock n’ roll bands since forever. They are a band that no matter how I’m feeling when I put one of their records on, I’m instantly reminded of why I fell in love with music in the first place. They are pure, distilled, no bullshit rock. Malcolm was key not only in the writing of their classic riffs, but in also being the anchor of the three-legged rhythm foundation that allowed his brother, Angus Young, the freedom to go off on lead guitar. I only saw them one time: August 19, 1986, Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, WA, Who Made Who tour. Queensryche opened (Rage for Order tour). The Tacoma Dome is an awful venue but the show was epic.
Still, my favorite AC/DC story has nothing to do with the band. When two friends and I started our first band, in the summer of 1983, our drummer at the time was an absolute tyrant. He was a jerk, and would berate our guitar player, my friend Mike, relentlessly: his playing sucked, his solos sucked, etc. He didn’t like his guitar either, which, if I recall, was a Peavey T25. “Why did you get that piece of shit?” he’d say. “You should get one of those really big guitars. You know, like the ones AC/DC play.”
What’s funny about this is that the guy didn’t realize that the Young brothers were barely over 5′ tall (Angus is 5’2″, while his brother Malcolm towered over him at 5’3″). So any guitar they played was going to look gigantic on their tiny frames. To this day I often suggest to Jimmy, my friend whom I’ve been playing music with for 16+ years now, that what he really needs is a bigger guitar.
The band Mastodon is coming to Missoula in a couple months. Whenever I encounter a friend or acquaintance from the local heavy rock scene, there is often a moment when they express enthusiasm over the show, and then display befuddlement when I reveal I have no interest in going. When asked why, I say it’s because I hate the band.
This is why I hate Mastodon:
It’s a limited edition “Thanksgiving” t-shirt design they put out in 2013. There was a kerfuffle over it. Of course the band claims they were making a cultural statement. I call bullshit. For a great breakdown of what played out and Mastodon’s response, you can read an excellent piece HERE.
At the time it came out, I had minor interest in the band. I loved their album art, and their noisy kind of prog/metal thing and heavy concept records were interesting at times, but I was on the fence. After this episode I unloaded my CDs and deleted the electronic versions of them and haven’t considered them since. I only think of two words, in fact, whenever they are brought to my attention.
Should I be over it? Nah. Soon as pussy hats aren’t necessary, soon as we don’t need a Black Lives Matter movement, soon as places like Standing Rock don’t have to worry about having their cultural values steamrolled, then I’ll think about getting over it. Until then, lines in the sand, people. Lines in the sand.
Maybe like me, you didn’t like Hillary that much. You didn’t care for her politics, whatever, or how the DNC handled the primary. She bore the brunt of all the rage and anger that has built up toward the DNC; it comes with the territory, and I’m sure she understands that. But what she stood for to so many isn’t something I take lightly, and I feel for all those folks who are crestfallen. Hell, a huge chunk of me is too. I’ve been in a funk in the aftermath that has come as a real surprise, frankly. I understand failure and heartbreak and not achieving something you wanted so badly, and I’m not such an ogre that I can’t feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. What a shitshow the last months have been, what a shitshow Tuesday was, and what a shitshow it’s going to be moving forward.
Anyway, if you have a heart, this will crush it. Context: this is the cold open from this past weekend’s Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton, as she has brilliantly all election season. She is singing the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, who also died last week. It’s beautiful.
Many people are hurting out there these days. I hope it gets better.
I’ve been listening to this song a lot the last couple days. It was recorded by my last band, Lazerwolfs (or, “The Goddamn Fucking Lazerwolfs! as our friend Yale Kaul used to say, the guy who gifted us with the name). To me, the song represents a tendency of mine to go through life kind of bull-headed, a trait I’m not proud of that I try and keep a rein on, sometimes more successfully than others. You know how all the self help books say you need to shed yourself of poisonous people and relationships and situations in order to be happy? When I think of all the friends, lovers, family members, et al who aren’t in my life anymore, or aren’t speaking to me (some for decades), I wonder if I was that person in their “get right with myself” regimens. Who knows. I try to be kind, but goddamn it’s a process and I fuck up sometimes. Reflecting on Father’s Day about the loss of my dad, listening to this song and reflecting on the loss of my friend who plays drums on it, reflecting on leaving a job after 13 years and not having one lasting relationship from that era as a result, all of it . . . I can’t afford to be that guy anymore.
Anyway, there is a story here. As I said, the band was called Lazerwolfs. This was on a CD we released in 2005, which means it was probably written in ’03 or ’04. I adapted the lyrics from a poem I discovered, and loved, called “I Am The Stone That Breaks All Hearts” by Bill Lewis. In an amazing, and bizarre, coincidence, I later learned (via this posting of the poem) that he originally published it in a collection released by a publishing house called . . . Lazerwolf Press. How freaky is that?
Some things I like about it. I love the power and dynamics (though my bass line I modified slightly after recording it, and I prefer the new version, which I play every show when sound checking for the sound man). I love Bubba’s drumming so much. We were all three really into the grunge era band Mad Season at the time, and he lifted a couple drum fills from that record. But goddamn could he play those drums. There is a live recording of us in Bozeman, just weeks before our last show with him and his disappearance (we learned of his passing away last fall). Back to back we play my two most favorite songs from that era, 16+ epic minutes combined, and I don’t think we ever did that before or after. RIP, Bubba, damn it.
Finally, Jimmy’s abuse of his Stratocaster on this one. Especially the short solo that kicks in around 6:52. This was always a very emotional song for me to sing, though I learned to sing it better than it is here, and it often brought me to tears on stage, just the power of three guys making it happen and what the words mean to me. How they felt to sing. Something about the single note that Jimmy hits starting around 7:05 and hammers over and over thirteen times or so are like a fist just clenching on my heart. It still gets me. The final refrain — I am the stone, that breaks, every heart — is delivered with the kind of angry, frustrated passion that I haven’t been able to get with anything we’ve done yet in American Falcon. We used to make music that was sometimes meaningful. I’d like to get back to that.
Okay, so maybe this post is a little melodramatic, self-serving, personal, whatever. But this is my place, people. This one means a lot to me. If you’re reading it, you mean a lot to me.