Let There Be Rock!
Author: Jude Winston
On December 31, 1973, AC/DC played their first gig at Chequers, A Sydney nightclub. Two years and two days later, Chris Cheney, from The Living End, was born. By Jude Winston.
Despite the fact that they are, literally, a generation apart, AC/DC and the Living End share a spirit that more than bridges the gap. Both stand at the forefront of a great Australian tradition – no-bulls#*t rock & roll.
It might seem an odd scenario at first: one of the greatest straight-down-the-line rock & roll bands ever joining forces with a rockabilly/punk revivalist outfit to play Entertainment Centres throughout Australia. In truth, there is a little irony in the arrangement. When AC/DC first made the move to England, they landed right in the middle of the punk movement. True to their no-bulls#*t image, the Acadaca lads thought the punk thing was a whole load of bollocks, as Malcolm Young explained recently to Mojo magazine.
“We were always saying, ‘We ain’t a punk band, we’re a rock & roll band.’ We were tougher than any of those punks. We used to sit there laughing at these guys who were supposed to be able to bite your head off, thinking, ‘We could just rip the safety pin out of his nose and kick the s#*t out of him.'”
That’s probably fair enough, but despite Malcolm’s disdain for the Johnny Rottens of the world, the situation in 2001 is a little different. Firstly, Chris Cheney from the Living End is a great bloke – which, depending on who you ask, isn’t necessarily true of Mr Rotten. Secondly, for all the Green Day there is in the Living End, there’s also a lot of the Who, Midnight Oil and AC/DC. As Chris explains to Esky, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Malcolm and his little brother (lead guitarist Angus) to see exactly where the Living End are coming from.
“I’ve read things before where Angus has said stuff like, ‘Johnny Rotten is a whingeing prat,’ back when they were playing the Marquee and the Pistols were playing the 100 Club,” explains Chris. “But I guess as much as we’re influenced by the Clash and the whole punk thing, AC/DC can see that we love Little Richard and Chuck Berry as much as they do. They see a little bit of that in us you know – we’ve definitely got that rock & roll vibe as much as our political edge.”
It doesn’t take a degree in musicology to know that AC/DC have had a massive influence on music over the last 27 years, nor to see how that in turn has touched bands like the Living End. From the gritty, blues-based sound of the early years to the more metallic attack of their later material, AC/DC have written and recorded some of the most solid rock tunes of all time. Songs like “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Back In Black”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Highway To Hell” have become legendary; as much a part of modern music as the Beatles, black T-shirts and recreational drugs.
Although many people believe AC/DC’s best years were those fronted by legendary maniac Bon Scott (who died in true rock & roll style, choking on his own vomit in January 1980), they are one of the few bands in history to replace a lead singer and continue on to bigger and better things. Brian Johnson took over from Bon for AC/DC’s smash Back In Black, only six months after the original vocalist’s death, and the band never looked back. To date they have sold about 100,000,000 albums. Not bad for a group with three chords and one guitar solo.
AC/DC also have the distinction of being one of the first bands to piss off the moral majority in the US; without a doubt the Marilyn Manson of their day. Their 1979 album Highway To Hell got do-gooder-know-it-all-loud-mouthed Americans foaming at the mouth – apparently lines like “Hey Satan, payed my dues/Playing in a rocking band/Hey Mama, look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land/I’m on the highway to hell” weren’t good for the souls of young children. Of course, AC/DC treated the whole situation as a bit of a joke, and Malcolm recently made the comment: “Some places you would go to play and these people would picket and try to get your show stopped. But in the end we won out. At one point they were telling kids to burn their AC/DC records, and I said I don’t mind because I know one thing – they’re buying them. And if they burnt them then they’ve probably bought them again by now.”
Given the extent of the AC/DC history, it is probably no surprise that for Cheney, their music has been a pretty constant presence throughout his life. In fact, the guitarist claims that Acadaca might very well have been his first taste of music.
“I was in primary school, in about grade two,” reminisces Chris. “There was this time where they decided to have this concert at lunch time. You paid 20 cents to go in and these grade sixers were set up like a band. Now, grade sixers look really big when you’re that small, and they had these cardboard guitars and flannelette shirts and one of them had like this flat cap on. They mimed AC/DC and even though they weren’t playing, that was the first even band experience for me. I’ve never forgotten that and it was worth every cent.”
It’s pretty obvious that this initiation to the world of music has had a lasting effect on Cheney. The Living End’s album Roll On oozes the classic rock spirit that AC/DC played such a big part in developing, and shows that behind the Clash influence and rockabilly trappings there is a very serious dose of rock in the ‘End boys. With songs like “Pictures In The Mirror” and “Roll On”, the Living End prove they are the real McCoy, part of a long and solid line of no-bulls#*t bands.
“Touring the last album we tended to listen to a lot of Rose Tattoo and the Who and AC/DC and stuff and I guess all that had some kind of influence on the direction we wanted to head with Roll On,” explains Chris. “We didn’t really write on the road, but when we stopped touring I guess all that had some influence of the direction we wanted to lead.”
Obviously the AC/DC lads are more aware of the influence they have had on the rock scene – they are without a doubt Australia’s biggest band, and even on a world scale, their influence has been profound. The list of people happy to sing their praises is almost as long as their discography, and the compliments all revolve around one major factor – their honesty.
Maynard James Keenan (Tool and A Perfect Circle) summed up the rock world’s attitude to AC/DC when he spoke to Esky earlier this year. Asked what his favourite Aussie band was, he didn’t even have to think about it.
“AC/DC. They are just so right. There’s not bulls#*t. When you look at some other bands who have tried to do the rock thing – bands like Poison or Motley Cue – there’s just no comparison. All the other bands try too hard. With AC/DC there is no trying, they just do.”
The attitude of AC/DC to this sort of respect is pretty much what you would expect – a shrug of the shoulders, a little grin and a wise crack. When Esky asked Angus how he felt about the influence issue, he was pretty straight up.
“It depends if they call us a good influence or a bad influence,” laughs the guitarist. “But, yeah, I think it’s good. I just hope they pick the good bits out of it, because my influences are people like Chuck Berry, and if they can get that out of it, they can’t go too far wrong.”
Behind all the humility and one-liners (we also asked Angus what he thought AC/DC’s greatest legacy would be and he wheezed, “Getting a leg over.”), the AC/DC story is a lot more than myth. They have proven for almost 30 years that you don’t need to be flashy or phoney, just be yourself. Angus once tried to explain it by saying, “I think we do what we do well, whatever it is that we do.”
But with the benefit of a different perspective, Cheney summed it up well.
“Maybe AC/DC is drinking music, but at the end of the day those guys aren’t stupid. You know the music they play is just stronger than words can describe – it’s just that powerful.”