Today, "Five Questions" are put to Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, released by St Martin’s Press in the United States. Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart. Preorder the Black & White Publishing UK edition from Amazon. Out in the UK October 16.
With AC/DC’s legendary cone of silence in place, we’ll assume you had limited access, if any, to the band. What kind of roadblocks did you encounter?
Hahaha. How long have I got to answer this question? Some readers and reviewers think, because it has the words “The Youngs” on the cover, that the book is a conventional biography of the Youngs. Really? This story is a little bit more complex, especially so because there is, as you say, a “legendary cone of silence in place”, which means getting access to the band to ask the questions any decent writer would like to ask – the tough questions – is nigh on impossible.
If fans want a book-length puff piece on the band, there are plenty of other options available to you already out there. The Youngs is not one of those books. The theme that runs through it is that the Young brothers, for all their talent and drive, also got to where they are today through the guidance, help, deep pockets, care, friendship and separate talent and drive of a whole host of forgotten people who deserve to be acknowledged. AC/DC could easily have fallen in a heap in the critical 1970s period were it not for some key people making some key contributions. The Youngs owed those people a lot more thanks than they ultimately got. You can be successful and also do the right thing. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I got no help from the Youngs themselves or their people. I was thwarted by their minders in the US and Australia. But I had an exchange with Stevie Young. I get on well with AC/DC engineer Mike Fraser. I had long conversations with Mark Evans, Tony Currenti, Tony Platt, Jerry Greenberg, David Krebs, Steve Leber, Mark Opitz and other important figures for the band during the pivotal period of 1974–83. I later met Ross Young, who told me his dad, Malcolm, had read the book and enjoyed it and his mom, Linda, had “loved” it. I was really happy to hear that. The Youngs wasn’t an easy book to write by any stretch of the imagination. It was a hard slog. Writing an original book about AC/DC is not a doddle. It’s very, very difficult. So I was really happy to be able to tell some totally new and important stories.
Any word from the AC/DC camp on their thoughts on your book?
I had a lot of feedback from people behind the scenes who’d worked with AC/DC, telling me “you got it right”. Jerry Greenberg, Tony Platt, David Thoener and other AC/DC identities rated it highly. Mark Evans told me it was “the best book I’ve ever read about AC/DC”, which was one of the highlights of my career. The closest I got to hearing from one of the Youngs was through Ross, as I mentioned. He’s a good guy. He was very polite to me and friendly. It was very satisfying to hear what he said about Mal and Linda. He also said he would help me if I ever wanted to write another book. I have no beef with anyone in the AC/DC camp. I admire all of them. I’m a fan of the band. But I’m not an unblinking fanatic, like so many so-called “fans”. They will not accept criticism of anything. At the end of the day, the guys in AC/DC are as capable of making mistakes and displaying human weaknesses as anyone else. Understand that. They’re not perfect.
You took on several authors and previous accounts, if not debunking them, at least casting doubt on several oft-told stories. Has there been any reaction from that part of the circle to your book?
I’ve had a few trolls. It’s very easy to post abusive things anonymously or use other anonymous people to sledge on your behalf. Some of the personal invective I’ve seen online is just staggering. I put my name to what I say and I stand by what I write. Maybe there’s some envy involved because the book has been doing so well, who knows? At the end of the day I get publicity because the book is well written and I work hard at what I do. I’m not going to please everybody, but that’s normal. So far we’ve sold the rights to half a dozen translations. It’s been nice to hear from guys like Joe Bonomo, who wrote a terrific little book about Highway to Hell, sending me messages of congratulations or posting about The Youngs on social media. I get a dozen positive letters from fans every day saying they loved the book. They get what I’m trying to do in my writing, which is great. Those who think I just bashed out The Youngs to make tons of money or cash in on AC/DC’s name are just idiots. They can say what they like; I have no time for them. I wrote it because it was a great story.
So, how close did the band REALLY come to tossing out Bon Scott for his reckless lifestyle?
Well, if Mark Evans’s testimony is to be believed – and why wouldn’t we believe him; he was in AC/DC with Bon, Phil Rudd and the Youngs – very close. Mark is the first member of AC/DC to ever publicly state that Bon had a heroin OD and it's the first time to my knowledge anyone from the band has publicly stated that the Youngs were thinking of getting rid of Bon. It’s why it made news around the world when the book came out in Australia. It goes against the line the Youngs have always held of them being fiercely loyal to Scott.
The band has a new album out in November, with Angus and Malcolm’s nephew assuming guitar duties for Malcolm, who is ill. That selection dovetails perfectly with the premise of your book. What do you know about Malcolm’s condition, and what can fans expect from his replacement Steve Young?
It was a good feeling to be vindicated with the official announcement that Malcolm wasn’t coming back to the band. As you know, a few months back I mentioned in a radio interview with Carter Alan in Boston that I wasn’t expecting Mal to return to the band and that got twisted into all sorts of misleading headlines. Some completely misrepresented what I said. What I was trying to do at the time was give fans some time to get their heads around the fact that Stevie Young was very likely going to be Mal’s replacement and that, going on the information I had received, Mal wasn’t miraculously going to get better and be able to go on a massive world tour. It was, I thought, a completely realistic evaluation of a situation that AC/DC themselves were saying very little about, which in turn had many fans totally convinced Mal would make a “speedy recovery” and that he’d be up playing guitar again very soon.
Of course, there were people who said I did it for publicity, which is rubbish. If publicity had been my motivation all along I would have written about the illness in the book, which I didn’t. There wasn’t one mention of it in the original Australian edition. Only because Mal’s illness was made public by an Australian entertainment reporter earlier this year did I briefly mention it in the US and UK editions, and the updated Australian edition slated for release in November. I fully respect Mal’s privacy and always have. It was extremely disappointing to see that an Australian newspaper publicly revealed Malcolm’s situation. What the hell is wrong with the media that they feel the need to expose the private medical issues of public figures? As far as I’m concerned they’ve crossed a line. It’s not right.
As for Stevie, he’s a bloody great guitarist. He wouldn’t be there alongside Angus, Brian, Cliff and Phil if he wasn’t. My message all along to fans has been to embrace the guy as a new member of AC/DC and, from what I’ve seen these past few weeks, that’s exactly what they’re doing. This wouldn’t be happening if Mal or Mal's family hadn’t given it their blessing. Mal remains the spiritual figurehead of AC/DC; he’s just not playing with the band anymore. Life goes on. No one is indestructible. Rock gods included.