Interview with Jesse Fink, author of one the best books written about AC/DC.
ROCKER.SI: In year 2013 you released a book titled The Youngs: Brothers who built AC/DC which was not just another biography or chronological review, but a book which presented the band in a whole new light. Not as musicians who still like to play music which they created decades ago, but as a businessmen who now what they want and how to get it. Where did you get the idea for the book like this?
JESSE FINK: It was an organic process, really. I didn’t set out writing the book with a clear idea of what it would end up being. All I wanted to do was write the first book about three brothers who changed rock ’n’ roll around the world. It was going to be an appreciation of what they have created and the impact they’ve had on people. The research and the interviews ended up shaping the story. What I saw in my research and what I heard in the interviews was that AC/DC is a business story as much as a musical one. They are as much a brand than they are a band, perhaps more so. It’s a business to the brothers and it would appear they treat their bandmates as employees. I think we’ve seen that recently with what happened to Brian Johnson and Phil Rudd. Cliff Williams stepped away from it on his own terms. The story of the AC/DC logo is an especially interesting one. The guy who created it has not made any money from it while the brothers have become rich beyond their wildest dreams. So they are amazing musicians, absolutely. As people, I don’t admire them as much. I believe they could have done more for the people who helped them get to where they are today.
ROCKER.SI:In the book you mentioned that Young’s Scottish origins a had huge impact on their business ethic and on the ways they communicate with people outside »their clan«. I guess writing process was kind a heavy?
JESSE FINK: It was difficult because it was made very clear early on that I was not going to have any cooperation whatsoever from the Young family. Only Stevie Young spoke to me. No serious AC/DC biographer I know of has ever got genuine full cooperation from the Youngs; they just don’t like talking about themselves and they don’t like to help anyone who they perceive is trying to make money from AC/DC’s name. Part of that is typical Scottish reticence along with straight suspicion and wariness. Part of that also, I believe, is genuine reluctance to speak about things that don’t paint them in a good light. Such as the way they treated former bass player Mark Evans or the fact Tony Currenti, the drummer on the first album, has been airbrushed from their history like he didn’t exist. He does and he’s a fantastic guy, as well as a great drummer. There are so many stories of people who served their purpose to the Youngs and have been forgotten.
ROCKER.SI: What were the feedbacks after you released the book? I guess some like it and some didn’t.
JESSE FINK: It’s probably the only AC/DC book that’s ever been mentioned in The New Yorker! I was happy with that. Seriously, I think people who actually read the book and went into it with an open mind enjoyed it. Mark Evans told me it was the best book he’d ever read about the band and he’d already written one of his own. Jimmy Stafford, the guitarist from Train, wrote me an email and told me he how much he enjoyed it. People who’d worked with AC/DC and knew the band personally – Phil Carson, Tony Platt, David Thoener, Jerry Greenberg and others – all gave me endorsements. A lot of readers reached out to me to tell me how much they appreciated it for the quality of the research and above all its honesty: not everything AC/DC has done has been great and I say as much in the book. But then there were critics in two camps: those who bought the book thinking it was going to be a straight biography of the Youngs brothers – it’s not – and those who simply don’t like to head unflattering things said about their heroes. There’s a difference between a fan and a fanatic. A fan is willing to hear the good and the bad. They just want the whole story. A fanatic only wants to hear things that reinforce what they already believe and so much of the AC/DC story is myth. You can’t please everybody all of the time.
ROCKER.SI: What is your take on the rumour that Bon Scott did more on Back In Black than band officially confirmed? Based on the lyrics and use of the word Cadillac… did he really (at least partly) write You Shook Me All Night Long?
JESSE FINK: I believe he contributed lyrics to the Back In Black album, yes. I’m confident he did. I don’t think Bon wrote all the lyrics, though. There’s more to the song ‘Back In Black’ than just the repetition of Cadillacs (mentioned also in ‘Rocker’ off TNT and ‘Down Payment Blues’ off Powerage). Rather than being a memorial song, ‘Back In Black’ is a song about getting rich. It tallies with what was going on in Bon’s personal life at the time and his own hopes. The first verse and chorus of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ are classic Bon. Doug Thaler, the guy who booked all of Bon’s American tours, told me you can ‘bet your life’ that Bon wrote it and I agree with him. I’ve spent a lot of time researching this. I think there’s a whole other story that hasn’t been told.
ROCKER.SI: When Bon died guys replace him with Brian after him they started to work with Axl Rose. Seems like the show really must go?
JESSE FINK: I really wish it had ended when Malcolm stepped away for health reasons. It was Malcolm’s band. Without him it didn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right either without Phil, without Cliff, without even Brian, and I’m not even a fan of Brian. As you know, I’m a Bon man through and through. But one man doesn’t make a band. You can’t just have Angus Young on stage and call it AC/DC. For me, the real AC/DC was the band we knew from 1975–79. The Bon era.
ROCKER.SI: Do you think guys will record some new material with Rose?
JESSE FINK: Who, Angus? Don’t know and I’m not sure anyone really knows. I’ve been given information in the past by people who work very closely with AC/DC that has turned out to be wrong, so until such time as Angus makes an official announcement, I guess we just have to wait and see.
ROCKER.SI: Are The Youngs your last book about AC/DC or is this just the beginning?
JESSE FINK: I’ve just finished a much bigger book on the band that is being released later this year. It’s taken three years to write. The focus is the Bon years. So I hope any Slovenian publishers who are interested in AC /DC get in touch with me. I’d love to bring the book to Slovenia. We’ve already sold rights to half a dozen countries (US, UK, western Europe, Australia, Brazil) and the interest so far has been really high. The difference this time is the book will be released in a number of countries simultaneously. I’m really excited to be able to tell this story. AC/DC is a great subject to write about but this will be my last book on them. I never intended to write two books on AC/DC but I’m very happy I did. I feel like I’ve made a contribution to the writing of their history.