author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC
Six Sharp Questions
1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?
The Youngs is a tribute to three extraordinary Scottish-Australian brothers – George, Angus and Malcolm Young – who changed the face of rock music around the world. It’s a critical appreciation that is told through the stories of 11 important Young songs, starting with The Easybeats’ ‘Good Times’ through to AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’; not a traditional biography. It’s the 40th anniversary of AC/DC’s formation in November and they’ve come a long way in that time to be the biggest band in the world. The Young brothers hurt a few people getting there. They’re very tough businessmen as well as being superb musicians. Last year they were adjudged to be worth about $300 million and didn’t make any music.
It’s my third book, a real departure from my last one, Laid Bare, and it was a lot of fun to write. It’s not just another AC/DC book. It’s offering something different. It tells a new story.
Getting an agent at a top literary agency in New York was probably the highlight, plus getting a film agent for Laid Bare in Hollywood. Having the right people in your corner makes all the difference to an author’s career. The Youngs is being published in the United States and I’m really looking forward to that.
Low point? A close personal friend losing her mother to cancer and then her father having a heart attack the same week. That put a lot of things in perspective for me. Live your life now rather than later.
3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us?
It’s a line from Tony Currenti, one of the drummers on AC/DC’s 1975 debut album, High Voltage, who walked away from music in 1977 and opened up a pizzeria. He hasn’t touched a drum kit since, despite his playing appearing on AC/DC releases (High Voltage, ’74 Jailbreak, Backtracks, Bonfire) that have sold millions. I asked him why he didn’t continue with music.
He replied: “It was easy to give it away. With a pizza shop it’s not possible to be a musician. It’s one or the other.” I’m still laughing at that. Quote of a lifetime. He played with AC/DC for god’s sake, was even asked to join the band, and he gave it all up to work with pizza dough. He’s a wonderful character.
4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.
Completely conform to the stereotype. I don’t start the day without a coffee at my favourite café in Potts Point and might as well live there. I’d like to. They took out the power points in spite of me. I do a bit of work on my laptop – the low-level ambient noise helps, I find – then I go for a run to the Opera House and back, stopping by my local gym. Running helps me formulate ideas and I always listen to music when I’m doing it. In the afternoons I go back to the café and do more writing on my laptop.
When I’m in book mode I tend to obsess a bit with rewrites and edits and that will see me work well into the early hours of the morning. It’s very hard to maintain a relationship while writing a book. You are consumed by the work, even when you’re not sitting down, writing. The majority of the work is mental: just thinking about what you’re going to write.
This book also involved a fair bit of travelling, research and countless hours spent trying to lock down interviews with people who had never been interviewed before. Plus many more hours of transcribing: an onerous task. I’m a crappy typist.
5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).
The marketplace has never determined what I’ve written or how I’ve written it. I’ve always approached a project being absolutely passionate about the subject rather than motivated by commercial opportunity. You don’t write books for the money. But I certainly appreciate the need to market books in a certain way and I learned a lot from Laid Bare, especially how writers are marketed and the crucial role of marketing in modern publishing. The fact that AC/DC was having their 40th anniversary in 2013 was just a bonus.
I wanted to write the book for other, more personal reasons, which I explain in the book. The Youngs aren’t going out of their way to write it themselves. They’re notoriously private.
6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?
You would probably want to select books that will awaken their sense of wonder, that are fun to read, that compel them to think about their place in the world, what they can contribute, and what it means to be human. So war/genocide, sex/relationships, popular culture, travel and soccer (the sport the world plays) are good places to start: Swimming to Cambodia by Spalding Gray, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, If You’re Talking To Me, Your Career Must Be In Trouble by Joe Queenan, Chasing The Monsoon by Alexander Frater and The Hand of God by Jimmy Burns.
Jesse, thank you for playing.