As diehard music fans we all have those nights that are truly unforgettable, and one of those nights for me was on a Friday in September of 2000 when I lived in Los Angeles. Armored Saint, an all-time favorite of mine, had just come off of their tour supporting Ronnie James Dio and were playing a “welcome home” headlining show at the Troubadour. Preceding that however, AC/DC were being inducted into the Rock Walk in front of Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard, something as a huge fan I couldn’t pass up witnessing. Parking was a bitch, but I managed to get there just in time to witness DJ royalty Jim Ladd give a quick speech before the guys put their hands in cement like so many other Rock n’ Roll icons before them. I was about 100 feet from Angus, Malcolm, Brian, Cliff and Phil, and there were another few hundred people in attendance. Since the only person from AC/DC I’d ever met was drummer Simon Wright in passing at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, this was as special moment for me to say the least.
My brother and I, along with some cousins and countless friends, all grew up worshipping AC/DC together. Next to KISS and Cheap Trick, they were one of the earliest rock bands I obsessed over. I discovered the band when the Highway To Hell album was fresh, so I also recall when Brian Johnson took over after the death of Bon Scott and the day my brother and I first purchased Back In Black. Like thousands of others, my patronage toward the band waned little in the years that ensued, they were like a good friend you could always count on. Later as my tastes dove underground after discovering Slayer, Metallica, Voivod and D.R.I., I could always go back and revisit High Voltage, Powerage or For Those About To Rock for a great 40 minute listen. AC/DC were by far the biggest band in my high school, they were liked by everyone, even some of my teachers. I saw the band on a few tours and always purchased their albums even though some didn’t hold up as well as others.
Regardless, they were simply one of a kind, a band that refused to give in to outside influence almost as much as they refused to stray from their easily identifiable sound. They were stubborn like me, and no matter what I always championed them and gave them the respect they deserved. So needless to say, the idea of having Axl Rose front the most reliable band in my collection doesn’t sit well with me. It is most certainly a personal thing, but at the same time I’m very much not alone in my disdain for the inauspicious rumor than has now been 100% confirmed. Brian Johnson’s health issues seem to be secondary to Angus Young’s longing to fulfill the last segments of the band’s “final” tour, and although I have to give it up to Angus for wanting to see things through it seems as if he’s thinking of himself and not the fans given the majority of popular opinion when it comes to his choice of replacement. I don’t doubt Axl as a fan wanting to do this, but I do doubt Angus’ decision to find the BEST person for the job over who can garner the most media coverage for the remaining tour dates.
It was hard enough to watch Phil’s self-induced exit, and later discover why Malcolm could no longer be a part of the group he helped form. Both of those scenarios had outcomes that made sense, put guys in their shoes who had been there before. This decision however, makes no sense to me. And what is worse is how cold and ungrateful the band’s official statement came of this last Friday when released, it was as if Johnson was head of security or the highest member of the road crew totem pole, not the guy who took them from the darkest point of their career and helped lift them to the highest plateau a band could imagine. Angus Young has lost his mind, and the only logical reason I can come with is that at this point it’s all about headlines.
AC/DC were “Average Joe” rock stars long before bands of the 90s included that claim as part of their marketing plans and bios. The only time they put themselves above their fans was literally for those 90 or 100 minutes they played on stage each night. They are the working-man’s Rolling Stones, and their music is just as bullet-proof. For over 40 years the band’s songs have embodied the virtues of hard-nosed pride, self-preservation and blue collar integrity. I remember hearing many years ago about that the band had never hired limousines to take them to or from their shows and hotel rooms, that they rather had vans or SUVs in order to not be so lavish and toss additional money away in order to portray the stereotypical, larger-than-life rock star persona. Whether true or not, that spoke volumes to me as a fan and backed up everything I had come to love about AC/DC. It was all about the music and the fans, the money and fame were residual. They weren’t media whores or primadonnas, nor did they care about any trends in music. They didn’t bring their personal lives into their albums, and their vagueness when it came to political or social topics always allowed them to sidestep any allocations of soapboxing or personal vendettas. They always included the fans in their writing, because they knew early on that when you alienate your fans and begin using your music as a personal weapon you’re going to lose touch with them.
Boy how so many artists since them went down that wrong path so quickly, including one “small town white boy just trying to make ends meet” from Indiana. Axl Rose exemplifies none of the characteristics that made AC/DC so much a part of the everyday music fan and his or her lifestyle. Sure he came from humble beginnings and had the cojones to move to LA with nothing but a suitcase to follow a dream. But it took him no more than three or four years after his band’s debut album to believe that he was above his bandmates, the press, his record company, his negative words or actions and ultimately his fans. Since the Use Your Illusion era, Axl hasn’t given an ounce of shit for anyone but himself, to the point where it seemed like he just laughed at his fans’ gullibility as he cheated them time and time again. I assumed that it just got to a point where he sat in his hotel room or limo and wagered with the people in his entourage about how long do it would take the fans to start rioting or trashing the venue. What I really never understood was that he was never held 100% accountable for his behavior because the fans kept coming back for more. These are the actions of a true megalomaniac, pure and simple, and for some reason the fans let him get away with it. I’m not over exaggerating this statement, because (to my knowledge) there was never been any disclosure of a physical or emotional ailment from any licensed medical professional that would have kept him from performing or causing him to balk for so long before going on stage. It was a simple abuse of power and a crybaby action from someone who truly thought his emotions and well-being were more important than his fans’ night after night. For someone who fronted a band that has released one amazing and timeless full album, one great EP and a two decent partner albums since (sorry, the Illusion albums boil down to one solid full length of material, and you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise), he’s had a lot of nerve acting the way he has in the past. Yes, he was the singer of the biggest band in the world for several years, but only to later become a massive buffoon and butt of a thousand jokes with his behavior. Not only has he ridiculed Gn’R fans’ time and patience (no pun intended) for years, but he also has shown no signs of care when it came to the damage caused to venues and public property from fans while rioting during those nights when he decided that the stars weren’t perfectly aligned for him to actually give a performance to those who paid to see him. It became part of his shtick and part of his personality, even to the point of physically provoking and attacking his fans in the audience. No one else in more recent Rock N’ Roll history has displayed such totalitarianism, or such a lack of give-a-shitness to the people that put him where he was. To now think that he’s going to be taking the stage with Angus Young and Cliff Williams for a few dozen tour dates, well I’m still waiting for the punchline of this cruel joke to be delivered.
I worked with a guy during my record label days who was one of those Axl Rose fans who put up with it all. He worshipped the man and his actions, and in the early 2000’s when he attended a Gn’R show on the East Coast (Philadelphia I believe) where Axl decided he wasn’t showing up that night. After the fans waited patiently the inevitable happened, and my friend called me from inside the venue yelling, “Dude he didn’t show up! They’re going nuts…they’re tearing the place apart!” The call was dropped within seconds, and I seriously didn’t know if he was calling out of sheer joy that he witnessed the aftermath of an Axl temper tantrum or if he was scared for his well-being due to the rioting. He called again later, and much to my disappointment it was the former. My buddy got screwed out of the performance and his money, but he didn’t seem to mind because he got to witness the spectacle that only Axl Rose could incite without performing. That’s the power that Axl has enjoyed letting fly in the wind, and although that may have been years ago it really wasn’t that long ago.
I have another great friend who is fantastic musician who also loves Guns N’ Roses, to the point where he’s even found the greatness of Chinese Democracy. After the Troubadour “reunion” performance a few weeks ago we messaged each other the next day about several topics. He has seen some Axl performances over the last few years and gave them high marks, saying he’s in good vocal shape and actually performed on time. He also mentioned that he thought Axl had learned his lesson when it came to the way he treats his fans, and that he believes that he is ready to put on the greatest performances of his career. I don’t doubt that he wants to do well with the upcoming Gn’R tour (at $3+ million a show I’d hope he’d want to kick ass) as well as this AC/DC situation, but I’m one of those people who believes that most people don’t truly change no matter how much they want you to think they have. Is Axl going to not show up or cause an AC/DC show to begin 45 minutes late? Probably not.
Whether Angus gives him the go-ahead to do so or not, somehow and some way these shows will be more about Axl Rose and less about AC/DC. And maybe Angus has already hinted toward that by joining Gn’R on stage this weekend at Coachella, maybe he’s already let us all know that he’s more excited about having him in the band for two legs of touring over having Brian Johnson in the band for 36 years, 10 albums and thousands of live shows. Maybe I’m the only one that doesn’t understand how important it is to Angus Young to have Axl in his band. This soap opera has been the biggest headline generator for AC/DC since the death of Bon Scott, so perhaps this is Angus’ way of keeping his band’s profile as high as possible as they finish out their career. Regardless, the press will certainly do their best to keep all attention on Axl, although he really has nothing to lose with this. If he’s terrible and can’t pull it off, he can simply blame it on having two simultaneous bands and being exhausted. He’s already broken a foot just one show into his own band’s reunion tour, so anything is possible going into such a rigorous schedule. So already, whether intentional or not, he’s protected himself against ridicule and blame.
You can save your breath about how big of an AC/DC fan Axl Rose is, any hard rock lover in the world is probably a fan to any certain degree. I know he’s covered AC/DC songs in the past, and so have myself and 95% of musicians around the world. To be honest I can’t blame Axl at all for taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him, just like you can’t blame a second string athlete for getting a chance to play when the star quarterback goes down to an injury. I also cannot blame Angus Young for wanting to finish this final tour, and to be held accountable for what he as an artist has agreed to fulfill. But when you are AC/DC, second in line to the Rolling Stones in terms of current Rock N’ Roll supremacy, you can take this unfortunate situation and bow out gracefully while NOT letting your fans down. Their ticket money would be refunded, and the integrity of your band will remain intact simply because you wouldn’t be willing to continue without a key member and force majeure of 36 of your existing 43 years. If you must go on and finish your shows Angus, at least give the fans something they are expecting rather than jumping the shark and employing the one person who can bring an entire unwelcomed circus along with him. Hell, give us the tribute singer you auditioned instead of Axl, we at least know he’s going to perform the songs incredibly well and will not demand that every spot light be on him at all times.
I’ll never sell off my AC/DC collection or stop listening to the band’s music, I’ve got far too much time, money and emotions involved to cut all ties. Is my stance against Axl a selfish one? Absolutely, and maybe it comes off as dramatic or over-obsessive to you. But as a fan of AC/DC for almost 4 decades I’ve earned the right to be selfish, and Angus owes myself and the thousands of others like me the right to make my opinion known. I’m grateful I won’t be subjected to what is sure to be a Rock N’ Roll media circus of the year, and even if this version of the band is pleasing to the die-hard fans who witness it I’ll feel better knowing I didn’t contribute to the crumbling of the ultimate collapse of the band’s integrity. I would never expect anyone to sell their tickets that were purchased long ago, but personally I would never want my last memory of the band on stage to be fronted by someone who’s spent a good part of his career letting fans down and almost always coming off as bitter instead of grateful. Sorry Angus, I’ll love your music and playing forever, but I salute you no more.